It may not seem like it, but all things considered, the Detroit Tigers have had a successful offseason. They filled several positions of need with quality big league talent, and that should go a long way in helping this team win games in 2024.
However, there's still one glaring hole on this roste r— one thing we've been beating a dead horse on all offseason. You know where we're going with this.
Third base. The Tigers have yet to acquire somebody from outside the organization to play third base. It didn't have to be a free agent. It could have been a trade. The Tigers needed to find someone to play third base, and now with just nine days until pitchers and catchers report, it doesn't seem like they're going to do that. For the second consecutive offseason.
My colleague Rogelio Castillo recently wrote an excellent piece using data to explain why the Tigers need to find a long-term solution at the position. He goes through the last few years of Tigers baseball to see how many players the Tigers have had start a game at third base over the course of a season and see how much WAR they racked up. With the exception of 2021, the results weren't pretty.
Rogelio also referenced quote from A.J. Hinch on the New York Post Sports Podcast with Jon Heyman and Joel Sherman, where he talked about "optionality," and using platoons over one set player at a position. While that can work in theory, it's a bit of a waste of roster spots to use more than one player at one position instead of finding one player to play a position, as silly as that sounds.
Additionally, the Tigers used this same strategy last season, and it was an abject failure. Tigers' third baseman combined for a 72 wRC+, second-worst in baseball, and a -1.0 fWAR, fourth-worst in the league. They also combined for -18 outs above average (OAA) and -22 defensive runs saved (DRS). Both were the worst in baseball.
Now, I normally don't like to post my own tweets in my work because it can come off as me trying to promote myself, but that's not at all my intention. In fact, I'm going to call myself out here.
You see, the Tigers aren't truly going to run it back at third base in 2024. Many of the players the Tigers used at the hot corner in 2023 either aren't here anymore (Jonathan Schoop and Tyler Nevin) or aren't likely to make the Opening Day roster (Nick Maton). Most of the bad production actually came from Maton, who had -1.0 fWAR just by himself.
Hinch specifically mentioned Matt Vierling, Andy Ibanez, and Zach McKinstry as players that could see time at third base in 2024. In 85 games last season, that trio combined for 1.1 fWAR, 1 OAA, and -1 DRS. Props to former MCB Co-Expert Chris Brown for pointing that out.
So, yes, the Tigers aren't truly running it back. It's going to be a different set of players at the position, for the most part. Heck, Colt Keith could even see some time over there. But that set of players is still not likely going to be up to snuff.
Vierling is very limited as a hitter. He has trouble catching up to the fastball, especially if it's thrown inside. Zach McKinstry is a good defender, but he's terrible at the plate, as he just cannot lay off those inside breaking balls.
Ibanez is the only one that's worth anything offensively, as he at least has two seasons with 250+ ABs worth of slightly above average production. If he can keep up that kind of consistency, fans can at least feel okay about him. But man...this seems like such a bland solution at third base.
And, ultimately, I think that's what might sink the Detroit Tigers in 2024 — complacency. They're going to be okay with trotting out three average-at-best players at the hot corner instead of one good, or even great player. This is a team that's had a bottom-three offense each of the last two seasons, and has done very little to improve it.
Their overreliance on young players to keep improving, or even prospects in some cases, could be the death of this team. Development is not linear. Spencer Torkelson took a nice leap forward in 2023, but can he keep it up? Can Kerry Carpenter stay as consistent as he's been? How will Riley Greene look coming off of Tommy John surgery? There are just so many questions with this team heading into the season that it makes you wonder if they truly want to compete in 2024.