Just as their competitive window was opening, the Detroit Tigers’ playoff hopes have passed for this year and even next
Finding the best player for every single need was never going to happen in one offseason, but the Detroit Tigers entered the 2021-2022 offseason on offense for the first time in six years. They signed a veteran, mid-rotation starter in Eduardo Rodriguez, and an innings-eater in Michael Pineda to round out their rotation. They acquired a veteran catcher to help their young starters navigate big league lineups in Tucker Barnhart. They addressed the injured Riley Greene by bringing in the power-hitting Austin Meadows. They got their big-name shortstop with Javy Baez. They improved their late-inning options with Andrew Chafin.
While some were slightly disappointed their haul did not include Carlos Correa, this team was much better on paper than it was last season and much of the fanbase gave their seal of approval with the moves they made.
They head into Tuesday trailing only the Oakland A’s, who are actively trying to lose, for the worst record in the American League. Injuries are a variable in this equation, no doubt. Kyle Funkhouser, Jose Cisnero, Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Eduardo Rodriguez, Michael Pineda, Rony Garcia, Alex Faedo, Beau Brieske, Wily Peralta, Austin Meadows, and Riley Greene have all missed significant time or will be missing significant time.
Admittedly, if Mize, Manning, E-Rod, Meadows, and Greene were all healthy all season, my outlook of the club moving forward would look different, in part because their record would be better. I also would have anticipated more from their veteran players, though.
Jeimer Candelario, Robbie Grossman, and Jonathan Schoop are all below replacement level this year, according to Baseball Reference. All were coming off seasons in 2021 where they had supplied at least 2.0 bWAR each. And while Javier Baez has been one of the main power sources of this team and has supplied slick defense, his .637 OPS is well below his career average of .769; and Meadows has been MIA much of the season and is still without a home run.
This doesn’t factor in top prospect Spencer Torkelson, either–whom they were strong-armed to send down after an abysmal offensive start to his young career.
These factors in summation can explain such a record, but also shouldn’t be viewed as some excuse. Last year’s Atlanta Braves won a World Series without one of the top five players in the game and didn’t play for them after July 10–and really, some of the Tigers’ pitching depth has done an admirable job of filling in.
Barring some wholesale changes, this leaves the Detroit Tigers with way too much finger-crossing heading into next season. That Matt Manning is healthy and productive. That Mize can return and help at some point. That Turnbull picks up where he left off pre-Tommy John surgery. That Jonathan Schoop returns to form (or opts out). That Torkelson figures things out at the plate. They would additionally need to find a corner outfielder and a third baseman if they were to non-tender Candelario.
I have seen some suggest they trade their way to turnover and reset–the issue is, with the big league roster, there isn’t much that nets a significant haul outside of Tarik Skubal and Riley Greene–and those two are far from the problem with this current construction. Schoop, Fulmer, Candelario, Chafin, and Barnhart are all going to be viewed as rental pieces and thus the return would be meager in any event, performance aside.
The organization would be open to the idea of trading Torkelson in principle, but to say they would be selling low would be an understatement. I can’t see why any team would be willing to offer anything of significance now. Maybe they would have gotten a haul this time last year, but Torkelson and Greene were always viewed as integral parts of the club’s next contender.
Their chief commodities lie in the bullpen; particularly with Gregory Soto and Alex Lange. Fulmer is scheduled to become a free agent after this season and Andrew Chafin has a player option, so while both would be welcomed in many contenders’ pens, their lack of control would suppress any capital coming back. In addition, many executives believe the relief market to be robust this year with many buyers and sellers, so it remains to be seen if the Detroit Tigers will be in a place of leverage with their own high-end, high-octane arms.
It’s unfortunate and even unlucky in some regards, but this season has all but killed next season. If the front office is committed to winning now, it is going to take a Dipoto-esque level of action on all fronts. That means trading current MLB talents and trading prospects both, letting some of their expiring contracts walk, and taking massive action to fill those needs.