Detroit Tigers: It's now or never to spend big on a shortstop
If the Detroit Tigers are going to spend big on a shortstop, now is the time to do so
Detroit Tigers president of baseball operations Scott Harris shut down any specuation that the Tigers would splurge on a shortstop again this offseason at the GM Meetings by saying that Javier Baez will be the team's starting shortstop in 2023. That was kind of to be expected. But here's one of many problems with that.
This year's crop of free agent shortstops is stacked once again: Danaby Swanson, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, and Trea Turner headline the group of star shorttops available on the market this offseason. It's the second consecutive year the shortstop market has been this strong.
Of course, the Detroit Tigers went and spent a lot of money on Javier Baez last season. So far, that deal hasn't worked out. Baez is probably better as a second baseman now because of his erratic throwing arm, and his offense leaves a lot to be desired due to his high strikeout rate and low walk rate.
The Tigers have a chance to atone for their sins of last offseason. Three of the four free agents on the market this offseason would all be better options than Baez. If they're going to do that, now is the time—because there won't be another free agent class like this for some time.
As our friends over at Call to the Pen pointed out, the earliest any star shortstop could hit the open market after this offseason is 2024, when Tiger-killer Tim Anderson and former Tigers prospect Willy Adames are set to be free agents. But even that's not a guarentee. Their respective teams could sign them to extensions.
It's the same thing the following offseason. Toronto's Bo Bichette and the Cubs' Nico Hoerner are set to become free agents after the 2025 season. But again, there's no guarentee that'll happen.
Now's the time to strike for the Detroit Tigers. They have a much higher probabilty of being competitive next season with a star like Bogaerts or Correa on their team. But for right now, they seem content with Baez—which is disappointing.
It's not like they don't have the money, especially with the luxury tax threshhold going up to $232 million this year. Spotrac has the Tigers currently at about $83 million in player salaries next season before tendered contrcts are added, which will probably put the team a little over $100 million when that's all said and done. Either way, they have plenty of room to add payroll, especially with the Miguel Cabrera contract coming off the books after next season.
There's probably one of two things going on here: the Tigers are very high on a prospect like Cristian Santana or Peyton Graham for the future, and will move Baez to second when they are ready to make their major league debuts.
Or, the more likely scenario, Chris Ilitch is too cheap to spend on a big-name shortstop—or any big-name free agent, for that matter. He wouldn't go over $300 million on Correa last year. Keep in mind that this ownership group is the fourth-richest in the league.
It's very frustrating to see the Tigers not spend as much money as they could. Look at all the top teams in terms of payroll last season, and throughout history—most of them were playoff teams. Who knew that spending money on top talent equates to wins?
Anyway, if the Tigers were going to spend big on a shortstop, now is the time. If they don't—and they likely won't—they may have to wait a while for their next chance.