With approximately six weeks until pitchers and catchers report for spring training, the Detroit Tigers have notably bolstered their pitching depth this off-season and added veteran hitter Mark Canha.
But, there are still a couple of question marks, like who's going to lock down second and third base. Looking at the depth chart, though, the Tigers have a few good choices for second base as the season kicks off. Colt Keith, who just had a monster 2023 season, could snag a spot on the 40-man roster and take over second base, maybe alongside Andy Ibáñez.
Right now, third base for the Tigers is pretty much up in the air. It could be anyone from Ryan Kreidler, who's looking to make a comeback in full health, to Matt Vierling. Jace Jung begins getting reps at third base over in Toledo, but he could be a year away. But there's a noticeable gap: power hitting. It seems like that's the missing piece in the puzzle for them.
Where will the power come from?
The Tigers did finish 24th in home runs last season, a step up from their historically low offensive performance in 2022. Looking at Detroit's outfield as we head into 2024, it's Kerry Carpenter leading the charge with his 20 homers. This suggests they're on an upward trend, but there's still room for more power to boost their lineup. Evan Woodbery of Mlive.com made a good suggestion of former Tigers outfielder J.D. Martinez, which would give Detroit a significant upgrade at DH.
Amid the remaining free agents, one name that keeps popping up on the podcast is outfielder Jorge Soler. Fresh from a 36-homer season with Miami, Soler is expected to land a multi-year deal. Given the way Scott Harris has been building the team, it might seem like the conversation should stop there. But, what's the harm in exploring this idea? Soler could bring the power punch the Tigers are looking for, making it a topic worth discussing.
Soler had a fiery start in 2023, smashing 23 home runs and earning himself a spot in the All-Star game. He wrapped up the season with a solid .512 slugging percentage and an OPS of .853. Notably, his walk rate stood at 11.7%, above the league average. This aligns well with Detroit's ongoing emphasis on strike zone control, showcasing his ability to be a disciplined, powerful hitter at the plate.
His swing percentages on pitches both inside and outside the plate are impressive, especially in terms of batting average. This shows his ability to effectively handle a wide range of pitches, making him a versatile and formidable batter at the plate.
Soler's performance at Comerica Park is particularly noteworthy. He's posted impressive stats there with a .307 batting average, a .400 on-base percentage, and a .654 slugging percentage, culminating in an OPS over 1.000 across 101 plate appearances. Remarkably, six of his eight career home runs at Comerica came in 2019, the same year he led the AL with 48 home runs.
Jorge Soler did have some injury concerns early in his career, but he's shown considerable resilience since 2019. As Mark Feinsand from MLB.com highlighted in a recent article, Soler has played in at least 137 games in three of the past four full seasons. While he spent last season mostly playing right field and DH, similar to what the Tigers currently have with Kerry Carpenter, Soler also has the capability to play left field. This versatility in the outfield adds another layer to his value, offering the Tigers potential flexibility in their lineup.
However, that would imply a few things. One, that a player like Akil Baddoo, who has two minor league options left, could start the season in Toledo or a player could be traded. There has been discussions that Detroit is “listening” on offers for LHP Tarik Skubal. The Tigers are taking a measured approach, not looking to make a trade just for the sake of it. This strategy mirrors their approach to free agency, where they've focused on strategic moves to fill the depth the team needs. It's a sign of a thoughtful, calculated plan to build a stronger, more cohesive team, rather than just accumulating players.
The Tigers are in a unique position with their minor league depth. Eddys Leonard, acquired from the Dodgers for cash, is transitioning from the infield to the outfield, showing potential versatility. Justice Bigbie, coming off an impressive 2023 season, is set to start in Toledo, but his future impact remains uncertain. Additionally, Riley Greene is bouncing back from an injury, and Parker Meadows is gearing up for his first full season in the majors. These factors create a mix of promise and uncertainty, indicating the Tigers are still shaping their future outfield landscape.
With 48 days left until Spring Training, it's a pivotal moment for the Detroit Tigers. This is often the time when teams and players start to make decisive moves. Detroit now faces a strategic decision: do they stand pat, effectively folding in this poker analogy, or do they call and up the ante by throwing in a few more chips? The path they choose will be telling.
Bringing in a player like Jorge Soler through free agency, or trading for another impactful bat, could be the kind of creative move that positions Detroit as a strong contender to clinch the AL Central in 2024. The coming days are crucial, and it will be interesting to see how they navigate this period.
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