Detroit Tigers Free Agent Target: Tyler Flowers

Aug 21, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves catcher Tyler Flowers throws out Miami Marlins third baseman Brian Anderson. Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 21, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves catcher Tyler Flowers throws out Miami Marlins third baseman Brian Anderson. Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /

Tyler Flowers makes a lot of sense for the Detroit Tigers.

Catcher Tyler Flowers turns 35 in a few days, but his mix of power, patience, and framing skills make him an ideal choice to guide the the Detroit Tigers’ stable of young arms.

So far the only catching addition the team has made this offseason is Dustin Garneau, a 33-year-old journeyman with 140 career games at the big-league level. It’s possible the Tigers want to hand the catching reins to Jake Rogers and Greyson Greiner to see if their in-house options have any hope of being pieces for the future, but Detroit doesn’t appear to be content with their current catching mix.

Just yesterday Jon Morosi tweeted the Tigers were “showing interest” in former Astros catcher Jason Castro…

…then he re-signed with Houston today.

The phrase “showing interest” is nebulous enough to be true. The Detroit Tigers probably are checking in with just about every free agent, but it seems unlikely they are making many concrete offers.

Morosi is well-connected with the Tigers, so it’s possible they give him the go-ahead to report they’re interested in players — Morosi did so again this morning with Marwin Gonzalez. This sort of quid-pro-quo makes it look like the Tigers are being active while also benefiting the players and agents by potentially pushing other teams to make offers.

It’s also entirely possible the Detroit Tigers actually made Jason Castro an offer, but he chose to return to Houston because he wants to be on a winning team. If the Tigers do want a veteran catcher, then Detroit should quickly pivot to Tyler Flowers, as he’s one of the last decent options remaining. So let’s learn a bit more about him.

Who is Tyler Flowers?

Tyler Flowers was originally drafted by the Atlanta Braves way back in 2005. He was taken out of the baseball factory Chipola College as a “draft-and-follow” in the 33rd-round. Back then teams had a year to sign draft picks, so they would often let junior college players compete for another season and then sign them shortly before the next draft.

Flowers signed in May 2006, but then immediately got popped for PED use and was suspended for 50 games. That missed time didn’t harm him too much, as he remained one of the Braves’ better prospects thanks to his offensive upside. He was traded to the White Sox in late 2008 as part of the Javier Vázquez deal, and he made his MLB debut with Chicago in September of 2009.

It would be three more seasons until Tyler Flowers saw any consistent playing time. He spent most of 2010 and 2011 in Triple-A, and he saw just 52 games in 2012 as A.J. Pierzynski’s backup. He flashed his power that season, however, hitting seven home runs in just 136 at-bats, and in 2013 he saw a plurality of action behind the plate, though he hit just .195/.247/.355.

He wasn’t living up to his bat-first reputation, and his below-average arm and mobility weren’t blowing anyone away, but Tyler Flowers had the good fortune to arrive just as the baseball world was learning how to quantify the value of his best skill: pitch framing.

The positive impact of Flowers’ framing bought time for his offense to catch up, and he did improve, hitting .240/.296/.378 in 2014-15, for a respectable wRC+ of 89. That was enough for a reunion with the Atlanta Braves, who signed Flowers to a 3-year, $9 million deal.

He had his best seasons with those rebuilding Braves clubs, batting .261/.360/.411 with 28 home runs (good for a 108 wRC+) from 2016-2018, and he ranked as the second best pitch framer in baseball, which helped him produce 9.4 fWAR in just 849 at-bats.

Atlanta re-signed him for $4 million in 2019, and though he took a step back (.229/.319/.413), his defense was strong enough to make him worth 2+ fWAR again. That led to one more reunion with the Braves last year, in which he served as a backup to Travis d’Arnaud. He played his typically strong defense while hitting just .217 with 1 home run and posting an ugly 43.5% strikeout rate in 69 at-bats.

Tyler Flowers Scouting Report

It seems likely Tyler Flowers’ skills have diminished since his prime years in Atlanta, but it’s also probably not wise to put too much weight into his rough 2020 season. It was a bizarre year for everyone, and it’s very hard to judge a player on 80 plate appearances.

We’ve touched on his skills above, but we can go a bit more in depth here. Tyler Flowers has never been a great hitter for contact — he sports a career 30.7% strikeout rate, and he hit just .154 with 4 home runs against breaking balls over the past three seasons.

But Flowers still has the plus raw power to do plenty of damage against fastballs, and his 10.8% walk rate over the past three years suggests he still has enough patience to get himself into favorable counts.

His defensive profile remains strange. His lack of mobility led to a league-leading 16 passed balls in 2019, and he has caught just 17% of base stealers over the past two seasons thanks one of the weakest arms in baseball, at least according to Statcast.

But Tyler Flowers is still a stellar pitch framer. FanGraphs ranks him as the second-best pitch framer since 2015, and Baseball Savant agrees, crediting him with 58 runs from extra strikes since 2015. In the same time period all Detroit Tigers catchers have combined for -47 runs from extra strikes.

The Cost of Tyler Flowers

It’s hard to know exactly how much Flowers will cost. Jason Castro is a year younger than Flowers, also had a bad 2020 season, and he has been objectively worse than Flowers on both offense and defense since 2017, but he just received a 2-year, $7-million contract.

On the other hand, Mike Zunino is 3+ years younger than Castro, grades out as a similar offensive player and a better defender, but he settled for one year and $3 million from the Rays.

Tyler Flowers is a Georgia native, and he has five young children, so perhaps he’s holding out hope for another reunion with the Braves. But kids are expensive, and a job is a job.

The Detroit Tigers signed Austin Romine for $4.1 million last year, so they should be able to offer at least as much to Tyler Flowers this year. And if they are truly serious about adding a veteran catcher, they should be willing to add a second year to the deal.

If they don’t act on Flowers soon, then they’ll be left to consider Wilson Ramos, Tony Wolters, or yet another reunion with Alex Avila.