To the credit of the Detroit Tigers' front office, they've been transparent about their goals for the offseason and have executed accordingly. The Tigers value their young, homegrown players like Spencer Torkelson, Riley Greene, and Kerry Carpenter, and they haven't traded any of them away. The pitching staff needed help, so they went out and got two starter pitchers and two bullpen arms. Scott Harris and the Tigers staff vowed to develop their players rather than sign big free agent hitters, so they haven't made any offensive additions outside of a trade for Mark Canha to encourage the team to walk more. Detroit's approach to the offseason has been to supplement what they already have.
It's good to have a front office that's straightforward about their goals and then actually accomplish them; it's a lot more than other fanbases can say about their teams' front offices. However, the problem with not displacing young hitters is that the issues that plagued them and the variable defensive configurations the Tigers went through in 2023 won't be resolved anytime soon. Things are looking pretty set for the rotation — they have at least six capable pitchers — but what about the defense, especially the middle infield?
Chris McCosky of The Detroit News released a new report (subscription required) full of interesting insights into what the Tigers will look like on a daily basis next year. Some things, we already know — Akil Baddoo's future is still up in the air; Riley Greene, Parker Meadows, and Mark Canha will be the primary outfielders; and JD Martinez most likely won't be a Tiger. However, McCosky also dropped some hints that indicate a confusing future is in store for Detroit in terms of the lineup and what defense will look like on the field.
Why Tigers fans shouldn't expect consistency in 2024
The Tigers seem set on retaining their do-it-all players in Matt Vierling, Zach McKinstry, and Andy Ibañez. Vierling and Ibañez are serviceable and sometimes even better than that; Ibañez had the third highest fWAR of all Tigers position players in 2023. McKinstry struggled more, bouncing all over the field during his 148 games while hitting a paltry .231/.302/.351. Vierling's bat was a lot better, but he left a lot to be desired at third base, which the team taught him to play. Despite wishes from the fans that the Tigers would go after someone like Matt Chapman, a Gold Glove-winning third basemen, doing so would go against the front office's philosophy and displace Vierling. Keeping these utility men clearly means that the Tigers will shuffle them around again in the same way they did last year.
One of the more intriguing nuggest in McCosky's report has to do with who will serve as the team's everyday designated hitter. Despite the Tigers' excitement about and investment in Carpenter, who struggles defensively but can rake as a DH, McCosky doesn't believe that he will fully step into that role in 2024. Instead, he'll split his time between DH and right field, while Mark Canha will get a lot of at-bats as DH. This contradicts a report from Evan Petzold of The Detroit Free Press (subscription required), who believes that Carpenter will be the everyday DH.
McCosky and Petzold are two of the most plugged-in Tigers journalists we have, and even they can't seem to pin down the team's plans for their position players in 2024. This is bad news for fans who wanted a little more consistency out of their defense; we should expect the same kind of shuffle and confusion that we got in 2023.