The Detroit Tigers have had a bad start to the offseason. Not only have they failed to address any of their plethora of gaping roster holes, but they have done nothing roster-wise to generate fan interest or excitement surrounding the team. They must act swiftly and fearlessly to salvage the offseason.
This week, the already shaky morale of the Detroit Tigers fanbase frustrated by the continuous lack of roster improvement has been driven further into the ground after GM Al Avila declared the team will not be big spenders in free agency this offseason. Jon Erkilla took a shot at interpreting Avila’s comments, which really boil down to setting more low expectations for the team’s free-agent signings. These comments likely signal that owner Chris Ilitch is interested in pocketing as much money as possible in the midst of pandemic uncertainty, while the front office will continue to churn out excuses.
As the winter meetings have come and gone, frustration among the fans has continued to rise. I was personally reminded of the team’s ineptitude when Fangraphs released their annual ZIPS projections this week, predicting another horrific season ahead for the Detroit Tigers. Fangraphs projected two Tigers hitters, Willi Castro and Jeimer Candelario, as very slightly above average at the plate, with the rest of the lineup below average. Even more damning, they predicted every single pitcher on the Tigers roster to have an ERA over four, many over five. These projections are obviously not shoo-ins to become reality, but they were a wake-up call that the Tigers are on pace for another top-three draft pick next year barring some significant intervention from management.
So this begs the question, what can the front office do to rescue the offseason? The Tigers have certainly missed an opportunity to do anything of consequence thus far, but the season is still far away. There is still time to salvage the offseason, even if spending big money is not an option.
The Plan of Attack
It’s clear that there is no desire from the Tigers management to add significant salary to the books this offseason, likely taking them out of the market for a guy like JT Realmuto, the top catcher and one of the top players available overall. That being said, there are some cheaper options out there that can really help the team build their foundation.
Ha-Seong Kim: Kim should be the top priority on the market for the Detroit Tigers. The KBO product represents a unique opportunity to bring in a day one starter at the biggest position of need in the whole organization without sacrificing other assets. Kim has long been one of the most productive players in Korea, surpassing a .830 OPS in each of the last six seasons, while providing a speed threat on the bases. There are questions about his ability to stick at shortstop in Major League Baseball, but many believe he will be able to provide average defense there. He may get a bit pricey depending on demand but he should be affordable enough for the Tigers to stay involved (somewhere in the range of 10-12 million per year should get the job done). There is certainly some risk associated with signing Kim, but the Tigers can’t just hide out of fear of failure forever.
Jason Castro: the Detroit Tigers badly need to bolster their catching depth. The organization showed that their confidence in Jake Rogers is low last season when they refused to call him up, even in meaningless end-of-season games. The need for an MLB-caliber catcher goes beyond just filling a hole in the lineup. The Tigers are going all-in on their prized pitching prospects’ development, and the last thing they need is for that development to be hampered by inadequate catcher options. Jason Castro is likely not starter-caliber at this point in his career, but he is a quality veteran option. Former Cincinnati Red Curt Casali could also fill this role well.
CJ Cron: Barring a surprise cameo from Spencer Torkelson to start the season, the Tigers are bereft of a first baseman. 2019 Tiger of the Year Jeimer Candelario needs to be at third base, where his defense maximizes his value. Following the news that Carlos Santana has signed with the Royals, the first base market is brutal. Re-signing Cron, who seemed to enjoy his time in Detroit prior to season-ending knee surgery, would be a smart move.
Left Field – At this point, the Tigers need to sign anyone who can play left field who isn’t named Christin Stewart. The fans took to social media to recruit a flawed player in David Dahl, which tells you about all you need to know about their desperation. Take your pick from the bargain bin: Nomar Mazara, Yasiel Puig, Robbie Grossman, etc.
Outside of the free-agent market, the Tigers and their fans are yearning for a trade to inject some life into the team. Before he was traded to Texas, I was screaming for the Tigers to target Rays first baseman Nate Lowe. The fans are desperate to see some creativity from the front office, even if past trades indicate they could be on the losing end of any player swaps.
No More Waiting Around
Now is the time for the Detroit Tigers to be aggressive. The front office has seemingly picked solid players at the top of recent drafts, but there is not enough of a foundation in the farm system to simply wait for them to come up and expect to be good. Instead, the Tigers need to be aggressive in their pursuit to strengthen their foundation to give themselves a shot at opening their playoff contention window sooner rather than later. There is no room for fear of failure or sheer negligence. The time is now to improve; no more waiting around.