Detroit Tigers: It’s time to invest heavily in international free agency

Tigers prospects Cristian Santana, Manuel Sequera and Roberto Campos wait to take batting practice.
Tigers prospects Cristian Santana, Manuel Sequera and Roberto Campos wait to take batting practice. /

The Detroit Tigers need to be more active in the international free agent market

Al Avila did a lot of things wrong as Detroit Tigers GM. He didn’t draft well, and he was notoriously awful at trades. But one of the things he was lackluster at that often falls under the radar was his ability to identify and sign talent on the international free agent market.

For the longest time, the Detroit Tigers never really did anything during the international signing period, even going back to the Dombrowski days. His biggest signing was Willy Adames, who he ended up trading to the Rays in the David Price trade. Adames has turned into a nice player since being traded to the Brewers, putting up a 4.7 fWAR in 2022. But that was really the most impact international signee from the Detroit Tigers organization over the past couple of decades.

Avila really didn’t do much in international free agency until 2019, when he spent $2.85 million on OF Roberto Campos. He just wrapped up his first season in A-ball, where he had a .711 OPS in 112 games. He splurged again in 2021 when he signed INF Cristian Santana for $2.95 million, a team record. He also just finished his first season in A-ball, where he only hit .215, but he had a .384 OBP and the power came on down the stretch. There’s a lot to be excited about with him.

The other big signing from the 2021 class was SS Abel Bastidas, who showed some good things in rookie ball this year. He was signed for $1.175 million. He slashed .260/.361/.409 in 44 games. He struck out 33 times compared to 24 walks.

But another potential black eye on Avila’s tenure was his big signing in the 2022 international sigining class, SS Javier Osorio. While he’s still just 17 years old, he struggled mightily to the tune of a .508 OPS in 46 games in the Dominican Summer League. He still has a ton of time to figure things out, but the fact that he struggled that much as the lowest level of professional baseball is not very encouraging.

So an effort has been made to invest more into international free agency over the past several years, but it’s been pretty hit and miss. That suggests a scouting and development issues, something the Tigers have been working on even while Avila was still at the helm. Scott Harris has further attempted to fix this probem by bringing in a new assistant GM in Rob Metzler and a new scouting director in Mark Conner.

Still, all the efforts in the international free agent market have been made in Latin America. When was the last time the Tigers signed someone out of Asia? Not just Japan, but players from other Asian coutries as well, such as South Korea and Taiwan. The last Asian-born player to play for the Tigers? Reliever Fu-Te Ni, who pitched in 58 games from 2009-10. He was a native of Taiwan.

It would be a much-welcome sight to see the Detroit Tigers be more active when a player out of Asia gets posted. Lynn Henning from The Detroit News reported back in June that the team had some interest in Japanese OF Seiya Suzuki last year, but he ended up signing with the Cubs. He had a solid season in 2022, putting up a 116 wRC+ and a 2.0 fWAR in 446 plate appearances.

The reason I bring this up now is Japanese star Masataka Yoshido is hoping to be posted, and his numbers are oustanding. He has a career OPS of .957 and has over 100 more walks than strikeouts over his career. The rumor right now is that he would prefer to play for the Phillies to play alongside his idol, Bryce Harper. But if the Tigers could entice him with enough money, he could potentially be a huge get.

I know players from overseas don’t always work out—just look at Shogo Akiyama and Yoshi Tsutsugo. But the Detroit Tigers don’t even try to sign players out of Asia. Scott Harris has talked about taking calculated risks, but the Tigers haven’t taken *any* kind of risks in the Asian free agent market. They reportedly had scouts at a recent outing for 20-year-old Taiwanese SP Chen-Hsun Lee, so maybe things are changing after all.

Next. Detroit Tigers: Jonathan Schoop snubbed out of Gold Glove award. dark