Detroit Tigers: What are the options for free agent catchers?

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MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JULY 09: Jake Rogers #34 of the Detroit Tigers throws against the Minnesota Twins on July 9, 2021 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JULY 09: Jake Rogers #34 of the Detroit Tigers throws against the Minnesota Twins on July 9, 2021 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images) /
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Over the last few years, general manager Al Avila and the Detroit Tigers front office have introduced new faces to player development staff, and it finally feels like there’s a new air of confidence drifting through the city.

The Detroit Tigers finished the 2021 season sitting third in the AL Central, just under .500 but revealed to fans that there’s still reason to be invested again.

The end of August and September truly did not disappoint.

With Miguel Cabrera blasting his 500th homerun and well underway to 3000 hits, to Jonathan Schoop hitting a grand slam and Alex Lange earning his first career save, it seems like the club senses a shift too.

The Tigers rebuild has been ongoing for the last six years, but the overhaul isn’t completed. Tigers’ fans have banded together and aren’t shying away from letting it be known that they want a certain shortstop to don the Olde English D in 2022.

The shortstop free agent market is hot and Tigers fans top choice is Houston Astros Carlos Correa. He has proven to be a leader for the Astros this October, but if I’m being honest, I’d rather spend a similar sum on Toronto Blue Jays Marcus Semien. Semien is coming off an extremely successful year even if his perch was mostly second base this season.

They will both undoubtedly get paid this offseason, but the Tigers are in a position where they need to spend in more areas than one. This is where Avila and I are in agreement: one, pricey player isn’t going to sling the team into contention, no matter how popular.

Along with a shortstop and a probable starting pitcher, the Tigers need an established catcher in their rotation. With Alex Avila gone and retired, it’s slim pickings for catchers.

Of the handful of veteran catchers available in the free agent market, two notable names stand out.

Mike Zunino, Tampa Bay Rays

Mike Zunino, 30, showed up this season. Slashing .216/.301/.559 and knocking 33 homeruns Zunino had the best season of his playing career. Though he penned a one-year re-sign with the AL East champs this past offseason, Zunino has a club option that significantly increased from $4 million to $7 million because of his 100 plus game incentive. It’s worth noting that the Rays turned down Zunino’s club option prior to signing him to the one-year deal. If the Rays aren’t willing to opt in, Zunino could enhance the Tigers roster with his backstop experience.

Tucker Barnhart, Cincinnati Reds

Tucker Barnhart has spent the entirety of his playing career with Cincinnati, and at age 30, he’s solidified himself as a dependable catcher for the Reds. Things are tricky with 25-year-old Tyler Stephenson back in the mix, as it seems likely that the Reds won’t pick up Barnhart’s $7.5 million club option. He’s got a $500k buyout which leaves room for the Tigers to add the veteran Gold Glove catcher to the roster at a potentially lower salary grade than Zunino.

The Tigers took a blow when catcher Jake Rogers underwent Tommy John this past season, with his rehab likely boiling over into the majority of 2022. The catcher duo of Rogers and Eric Haase showed some encouraging signs of improvement, but with Rogers on the IL and Haase having a slower second half, the Tigers need that experienced replacement as soon as possible.

Detroit is at a pivotal point.

By acquiring a catcher, Dustin Garneau and Greyson Greiner’s futures in Detroit remain uncertain, but with a collection of outfielders, a trade could seem attractive to other teams.

A.J. Hinch at the helm has proven two things: a collective fire has been lit and the Tigers are a team ready to contend.

It’s time to make moves.

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