On the eve of the 2021 MLB season, while most Detroit Tigers fans were snug in their beds, the New York Mets and shortstop Francisco Lindor were agreeing to terms on a 10-year, $341-million contract extension.
This is a good thing for baseball. Big-market teams like the Mets should always flex their financial muscle, and now they have two of the top ten players in all of baseball.
How does Francisco Lindor’s contract affect the Detroit Tigers?
The Detroit Tigers are in year five of their interminable rebuild, and they haven’t stepped into the deep end of the free-agent pool since 2016. But for the past two seasons fans have heard assurances from the organization, relayed through beat writers and columnists, that the dollars will flow again when the time is right.
Just yesterday Lynn Henning dropped a vague bombshell on Twitter:
We don’t know what A.J. Hinch’s expectations are, or what promises the Detroit Tigers may have made, but the implication here is the team will soon spend to get better.
And for most observers that means jumping into the feeding frenzy for next year’s historic shortstop crop. So let’s look at each of these impending free agents and guess what it might take for the Detroit Tigers to sign them.
Above you see the Age, number of career games played, overall offensive production (wRC+), FanGraphs defensive rating (DEF), and FanGraph’s WAR for each player.
Javier Báez and the Detroit Tigers
Positives: We’ve actually written about Javier Báez coming to the Tigers before, but it’s worth recapping here. Báez is one of the most exciting players in baseball, thanks to a mix of incredible bat speed, plus-plus raw power, lighting-quick hands on defense, and above-average speed. He’s one of nine players in MLB history to hit 30+ home runs and steal 20+ bases in a season while playing at least 40% of his games at shortstop.
Negatives: The biggest negative with Javier Báez is his frightening plate discipline. He strikes out at a 28% clip and walks fewer than 5% of the time. That’s the main reason he’s been a league-average offensive player in his career, and it leads to some ugly stretches of baseball. One such stretch came last year, when he hit just .203 with 8 home runs and a 32% strikeout rate, and he’ll need a big season to erase those memories.
Contract Projection: 6 years, $160 million
Carlos Correa and the Detroit Tigers
Positives: We’ve written about Carlos Correa and the Tigers, too. He has obvious connections to A.J. Hinch, he’s a terrific offensive player, and he can still play above-average defense at the six thanks to a cannon of an arm. And for optimistic Tigers fans, Carlos Correa is already an all-time great postseason performer, with a playoff OPS of .869 and 17 home runs in 63 games. He’s going to be costly, though, and he reportedly turned down a pair of offers from the Astros.
Negatives: For all his physical talent and promise, Carlos Correa has never put together the MVP-caliber seasons it seems like he should. He’s had strong stretches of play, but too often those have been interrupted by injuries, both routine and bizarre. He’s big for a shortstop, and he’ll likely have to move to third base relatively soon. There’s also that whole cheating thing, and the fact his power and patience both took noticeable dives last year.
Contract Projection: 9 years, $270 million
Corey Seager and the Detroit Tigers
Positives: It’s hard not to compare Corey Seager and Carlos Correa. They’re both 6’4, they show flashes of tremendous offensive ability, they’re still 26, and they’ve been surprisingly strong defenders at shortstop. But Corey Seager has been even better than Correa on both sides of the ball, and he excelled in 2020 where Correa struggled. He’s no slouch in the postseason either, with a career .812 OPS and 11 home runs in 49 games, and he’s a left-handed hitter, which might be considered a bonus.
Negatives: Unfortunately, another thing Seager shares with Correa is injuries. He’s not had as many as Correa, but he had the more serious injury, going down for Tommy John surgery in 2018. Seager is a below-average runner, and he’s a good bet to move to third base in the next several years.
Contract Projection: 10 years, $290 million
Trevor Story and the Detroit Tigers
Positives: Remember the note about Javier Báez being in a small group of shortstops to hit 30+ home runs and steal 20+ bases in a season? Story is in that group too. In fact, he’s one of just six players to reach those power and speed milestones while playing 100% of his games at shortstop. And he’s the only player in MLB history who has done it twice. He’s also a terrific defender.
Negatives: It’s a relative thing, but he’s the oldest player among this group of free agents, which may limit the number of years on his contact. There’s also that pesky Coors Field factor. Trevor Story owns a career .994 OPS at home, but it drops to just .760 on the road. There are some pretty notable examples of players continuing to perform when they leave the Rockies, but those splits may still cost him some money.
Contract Projection: 8 years, $240 million
So Who Will the Detroit Tigers sign?
It’s hard to picture the Tigers signing any of these players. There will be at least a dozen clubs competing for their services. And for all their hinting about a future of big free-agent investments, the largest contract Al Avila has handed out during the Chris Ilitch era is Robbie Grossman’s 2-year, $10-million deal.
It’s a bit of a leap to go from that to the quarter-billion-dollar deals these shortstops will land. But hey, if the pot gets too big for the Tigers, they can always go bargain shopping again. José Iglesias, Marcus Semien, and Andrelton Simmons will all be free agents, too. Or maybe Willi Castro will go out and do a Javier Báez impression, and the Tigers can save their money to spend big on old fan favorites like Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.