The Detroit Tigers still have an opening at third base; if they want to fill the need via free agency, these are their best options
I understand the Detroit Tigers offseason has been underwhelming to many fans who have now watched virtually every high-ticket free agent pick sign their respective contracts this winter. I, too, had my sights set higher than signings like Matt Boyd and Michael Lorenzen, no disrespect to either arm.
It was understood the Tigers would sign at least one pitcher this offseason given Casey Mize is unlikely to pitch until the second half of the year and there is a good chance Tarik Skubal ends up on a similar trajectory--but there are glaring vacancies at third base and in the outfield that have yet to be addressed.
While it is technically possible the Tigers could head into spring with Andy Ibanez, Ryan Kreidler, and Andre Lipcius battling it out for the starting third base job in 2023, I would still consider that an unlikely outcome, even considering their lack of involvement with position players thus far. But who is left?
Longoria is a long shot if a contender has anything to say about his free agency, as it is rumored he'd like to remain with a competitive club. It's understandable, especially as the 37-year-old's career winds down.
While Longoria is largely a shell of his younger self, he still supplied 0.6 bWAR to the Giants across just 89 games. His 14 home runs in just 298 plate appearances is also cause for optimism at his age and given the Tigers' situation, they could afford to allow Longoria to play third nearly every day--and while he's no longer the gold glover in Tampa, he's still far from unusable at the position.
The Giants' Oracle Park is fairly pitcher-friendly too, so it is fair to assume his offensive numbers would translate well to spacious Comeria Park.
If the Tigers are really desperate for some versatility following the departures of Willi Castro and Harold Castro, perhaps someone like Anderson would fit the mold and could be the heavy part of an in-and-out platoon at third base. Anderson, who was non-tendered by the Miami Marlins following the season, played 48 games for the Marlins at third base but also spent 44 games in the outfield.
While Anderson, 29, has some swing and miss to his game, he's also willing to work counts and take his share of free passes, too--with 37 walks in 383 plate appearances. For comparison--Harold Castro and Willi Castro walked 32 times combined in 2022, spanning 835 plate appearances between them.
Anderson has a career OPS of .750, which would have been tops on the Tigers last season. While there isn't much room for growth considering his age, a bounceback season is certainly possible.
If the Tigers wanted to take the more 'open competition' approach with third base, Matt Duffy could be an option for them. Duffy, who will be 32 in January, spent last season with the Los Angeles Angels and split time between third base, second base, and first base; although the majority of his time was spent at third.
He's an average defender all around the infield but hit a fairly hollow .250 across 77 games--just 2 home runs and 10 extra base hits in total. Duffy, Rookie of the Year runner-up in 2015, might be able to be acquired on a minor league deal, which would make his market more intruiging and would allow the Tigers some options at the position when stacked against their internal options.
Solano would be another versatility play for the Tigers--the 35-year-old split time between first, third, and second for the Reds in 2022 and amassed 0.8 bWAR across 80 games. Solano is another soft hitter but does possess some barrel control and strike zone awareness the Tigers' front office might appreciate.
Solano's .724 OPS in 2022 would have been second-best on the team last season and just as AJ Hinch worked in Harold Castro and Willi Castro by moving them around the diamond, Solano could see much of the same mix-and-match nature.
President of Baseball Operations Scott Harris was public about his desire to acquire a left-handed hitting infielder this offseason; unfortunately, all of the third basemen above are right-handed hitters. Still, they present the best free-agent options left on the market as the hot stove simmers down.
Admittedly, I squandered around to find some players who had historically played a position that would transition well to third base (an aging shortstop, for example), but there wasn't much there outside of someone like former Tiger Jose Iglesias--but Iglesias hasn't played third base since 2013, and coming off a fine season with Colorado, I'd expect he would find an opportunity to play shortstop again in 2023.
Other options to address the position via free agency include Charlie Culberson, Marwin Gonzalez, Edwin Rios, and Yu Chang. Plainly, if the Detroit Tigers want a serious upgrade offensively, they will need to address third base through trade.