All offseason, Diamond Digest writers will be taking a look at each team’s 2020 season and looking forward at what moves each team might have to make to set themselves up for improvement in 2021. Today, Scott Bentley takes a look at the Tigers!
Another season, another top five draft pick. This has been the mindset of Al Avila and the Tigers for four years now, and that timeframe will likely reach half a decade after this upcoming season. Five of the last six seasons, along with four straight years of a bottom five record in baseball. When will it end? Well… not this upcoming season, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
It’s been almost a decade since the Detroit Tigers were in national headlines for any reason, nonetheless because of an offseason transaction the front office made. This year that changed. The Tigers went out and signed AJ Hinch just minutes after his suspension had ended, causing a stir of emotions in the Motor City. Did we really just hire a guy who was at the helm of the team responsible for the biggest cheating scandal of the century? Are we going to be cheaters now? Will the players want to play for him? What is the rest of the staff going to look like? Do I care about any of these questions? No. The fact of the matter is, we got by far the best manager on the market. Any other point made besides that is irrelevant. The Detroit Tigers have one of the best managers in baseball running their team, and that’s something I’ve never been able to say in my lifetime.
This team is still a bottom tier team in this league, and a majority of the major league players on this roster aren’t part of the long term plan. That being said, we have an ELITE coaching staff from top to bottom, and the kids are coming. Soon. The trajectory of this team is finally pointing up instead of down. This offseason is extremely important because it’s the first one where the team is building up, and not tearing down. It’s vital that we don’t screw this up, which is terrifying given our front office’s history. That being said, you can’t help but finally start having fun again. Let’s take a look at what this past season told us, what moves we should make this offseason, and what awaits us in 2021.
2020 Record: 23-35, 5th Place in AL Central
Team MVP: 3B/1B Jeimer Candelario
Team Cy Young: Jeez… uhhhhhhh. Gregory Soto? Spencer Turnbull? Yeah sure. We’ll go with him: SP Spencer Turnbull
Biggest Positive Surprise: 3B/1B Jeimer Candelario (Shoutout the entire Bullpen, and CF Jacoby Jones though)
Biggest Negative Surprise: RP Joe Jimenez/SP Matt Boyd/SS Niko Goodrum/OF Christin Stewart
What keeps teams that are going through a full-blown rebuild interesting? It’s the performance of individual players. We all knew this team wasn’t going to win a lot of games, but that didn’t take away from the drama of the audition tape all of these players were making for the front office. Players on rebuilding teams have to prove to front offices that they’re part of the long term plans, especially with a farm system that is as top-heavy as the Detroit Tigers. Some players etched their names in for years to come, and some may be on their way out.
The most obvious example of a player who was a maybe going into the season and now appears to be a part of this team’s plans for years to come is Jeimer Candelario. Candy had a rough start to the season, nearly starting the 2020 campaign 0-20… and Tigers fans had pretty much given up on him. There were talks of DFA-ing him to make room for prospects, or trying to trade him. He clearly didn’t like that very much. Candy would go on to finish the season with a slash line of .297/.369/.503 with an .872 OPS and a 135 OPS+. If you take out the 0-20 start to the season, Candelario’s OPS almost hits .950. He made an adjustment and it worked. He also played with emotion we haven’t seen out of any Tigers player in years. He’s lightning in a bottle and extremely competitive. This is a player we all had very high hopes for after trading for him and had been a massive disappointment. Disappointment no more. Jeimer is here to stay for a long time.
Jeimer was such a star that he deserved his own paragraph. So let’s dive into the rest of the players that made a case for being part of the future. First up we have Gregory Soto. BAH GOD THAT’S GREGORY SOTO MUSIC! What an electric factory Soto was for the first half of this season. It took him almost twelve appearances to give up his first run. The twenty-five-year-old lefty was a starter coming up through the Tigers system but struggled with command, and the ability to go deep into games. He was moved to the bullpen and immediately looked incredible. He throws a 100 MPH fastball/sinker with movement, as well as a wipeout slider that could quite literally end up anywhere. The command still needs a lot of work for all his pitches, but when he’s on, he’s quickly proven to be one of the best relivers in baseball. Tigers fans know bullpen pains best, which makes Soto all the more exciting.
Jacoby Jones also was putting together a very good campaign before being hit with a pitch in the hand and ending his season. With an OPS around .850 and a return to 2018 form defensively, he was proving to be one of the most valuable 9 hole hitters in baseball. He bought himself another season. I won’t say that he’s as cemented as Soto or Candelario because their percentiles and peripherals imply sustainability, while Jacoby’s aren’t as strong. That being said, he undoubtedly earned himself another audition year for 2021.
The last two on this list are Willi Castro and Spencer Turnbull, who both impressed this past season. Castro ended fourth place for AL ROTY and was extremely impressive down the stretch. That being said, it doesn’t appear to be sustainable. Looking at his percentiles its really a miracle he did as well as he did. He BABIP-ed his way to several Rookie of the Year votes and will need to prove that he can have good production in a full 162 game season to be added to my long term plans for this team. We’ll end on Spencer Turnbull, who had glimpses of promise on a team that showed very little in it’s starting rotation. Turnbull is a weird one. His percentiles? Weak. His stats? Solid. His performances? All over the place. At times Spencer Turnbull looked like he could be a middle of the rotation arm for this team for years to come, even with the insane pitching talent coming up. Then at other times, he appeared to be just a filler until the kids got here, with no long term potential. Consistency has always been a problem with Turnbull and our expectations next year are no different. He has to be more consistent, because his ceiling is very high, but it won’t matter if he can’t string good starts together. He was on more than he was off this year, which lead to a 3.49 FIP and an 8.1 K/9. Next year it will all be about command and consistency for Red Bull.
This list of disappointments is honestly an article by itself so I’m going to try my best to keep it short. We’ll start with Joe Jimenez. How the mighty have fallen. From an All Star as a rookie and being dubbed the “Closer of the future”, Joe Jimenez was barely a major leaguer this season. The competitive fire is there, and the stuff is solid, but he just hasn’t been able to get big outs, and he lost the closer job halfway through a sixty game season. His percentiles and stats will make a grown man cry, and 2021 is his last chance. I’ll end up saying this a lot, but I trust new Pitching Coach Chris Fetter with my life. If he can’t “fix” you, no one can. So… I’m giving all pitchers on this list one more season to prove their worth. Fetter is one of the best pitching coaches on the planet and given our lack of competitiveness, I don’t see why all of these guys shouldn’t get one more chance under the new staff. I’ll relay these same thoughts about Jimenez to Matt Boyd. Boyd has some promising percentiles still, and when he throws his changeup he’s still shown some promise. However, at some point you are your stats, and Boyd will be in the same camp as Jimenez. One last chance.
Next up we have OF Christin Stewart, who should never see an MLB field again. In what was truly one of the worst seasons I’ve ever seen from an everyday MLB starter, Stewart was nothing short of horrible. He was a zero tool player, with no reason to keep him on a roster. The former Minor League Home Run champ just hasn’t seen his power translate to the MLB level. The former highly regarded prospect appears to be on his last limb with the organization and will need to turn it around fast if he wants a job anywhere in the future.
The catcher position was also a massive disappointment this year. I can’t narrow this down to one player because quite literally anyone who put on the gear behind home plate was absolutely horrible. We have zero (0) catchers going into 2021, so it’ll be interesting to see what the offseason holds. Lastly, we have Niko Goodrum. It may seem odd putting a Gold Glove finalist on my list of disappointments, and to that I say “why are you booing me, I’m right?”. Goodrum was simply horrible at the plate, and there’s no way around it. There’s no percentile that gives you hope, there’s no stat that may encourage you, there’s no avoiding it. He sucked. His defense was good, but when you OPS under .600 and are in the first percentile in K%, you better be the best defender of all time. It’s time to realize what Niko is: a valuable utility man. He will never be a starter on a playoff team, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t hold value. His versatility holds great value for any team trying to get better. Goodrum is a fan favorite, and can stay here as long as he wants, as long as we all accept what he is.
2020-2021 Offseason Preview
Key Losses: 1B CJ Cron (FA), 2B Jonathan Schoop (FA), SP Jordan Zimmerman (FA)… … … … … SIKE! SEE YA ZIM!
Areas of Greatest Need: Catcher, Starting Pitcher, 1st Base, Corner Outfield.
As you can see, we have more holes than we do players leaving, which is always just a great sign of a good baseball team (pain). That being said, with a lot of holes comes a lot of possibilities. As stated earlier the catcher situation on this team is easily the worst in baseball. We need a catcher in the worst way possible. Starting pitching is also a concern. Even with the debuts of Mize and Skubal, the only two pitchers that are guaranteed to be in the majors consistently for the entire 2021 season are Boyd and Turnbull. Mize and Skubal are beyond exciting and even if they play a majority of the season in the show, they have yet to prove they can go deep into games. We’ll need to sign AT LEAST two starting pitchers just for innings purposes alone. Second base is interesting, as we have a lot of young infielders. I’m not sure the organization believes that any of them are ready to be everyday starters yet though, so don’t be surprised if we bring Schoop back or go after another similarly valued second baseman. First base and corner outfield aren’t even areas that need upgrading, we just legitimately have no one to play at these spots. A groundball to first would roll into right field and then all the way to the wall. Jacoby is a lock for one of the outfield spots, likely CF, and the rest is empty. But hey, besides all that we look good to go!
Desired Targets: OF David Dahl, SP Chris Archer, SP Taijuan Walker, SP Garrett Richards, C JT Realmuto, C Alex Avila (seriously), 2B Jonathan Schoop, OF Joc Pederson.
Is that everyone? Yeah, it looks like it. The perks of writing about a team that has so much flexibility and uncertainty on it’s roster is that my Desired Targets list gets to be a short paragraph long. We have a lot of holes to fill, and a new coaching staff that will work very well with a lot of guys that may be overlooked by other teams.
We’ll start with David Dahl. I. Need. David. Dahl. I want David Dahl in an old English D so badly it gives me butterflies. It makes too much sense. He’s young, a former all star, that would be cheap due to an injury history and a poor 2020. I NEED IT. Sticking in the outfield, Joc Pederson is interesting as well. While I would not want to overpay under any circumstances, if you can lock up a position on a rebuilding team for the next three to five years, that is a major accomplishment.
Heading to the infield, it sounds like the Tigers have interest in bringing Schoop back which would be perfectly fine with me. Shortstop is something that needs to be addressed, but I don’t want a long term solution there this offseason as SIX big name shortstops are all set to hit the open market next offseason. We have a hole at first, and I don’t want Candy moving back there, so this will need to be addressed; but really any one year deal for a 1B will be fine with me.
As you’re tired of hearing me say, the catcher situation is a joke. I want JT Realmuto, along with every other team in baseball. Why Detroit? Let me take you back to the 2003-04 offseason. The Tigers had just lost 119 games in a historically horrible season. Most teams would continue the tank and not spend money right? New General Manager Dave Dombrowski had other ideas and immediately signed Hall of Famer Pudge Rodriguez. Pudge would help lead us out of the dark ages and we’d make the World Series just three years later in 2006. This is that same situation. We are bad. Everyone knows it. But we have great pitching prospects. One of the best cores of pitching talent anyone has seen in some time. It’s so vital that we have a consistent catcher to receive for these guys as they come up and begin to get MLB playing time. We need a consistent catcher so badly. We need JT. Alex Avila is also on this list because I know his dad won’t spend money for us. JT is a need that we won’t get and he likely will just settle for his son for the third time in his career.
Lastly we’ll look at pitching. The bullpen was actually a huge pleasant surprise this past season, and I don’t see us spending big money on more bullpen arms. That being said we are going to have to do a lot in the rotation. Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal both debuted in 2020 and I could not be happier. As I said earlier, they are the light at the end of the tunnel. That being said, they struggled pretty mightily. With all of our injury problems last season, they had to debut because we didn’t have anyone else to start games. They’re on the fringe of being MLB ready but I think we probably see them start next season in AAA and likely return to the Show sometime in May or June. So… we need innings. I want to have fun with my innings cuz I am a fun person, obviously. We’ll start with my number one choice, Chris Archer. Archer is only two years removed from a very solid 2018 season, and is coming off a pretty major injury. This will make contenders stay away from him driving his value down. I think we can get Archer for relatively cheap and give him a second chance to restart his career. It’s a match made in heaven. There’s no pressure to be great again by coming to Detroit, but also you will have every opportunity to pitch as often as you can, not to mention the biggest field in the majors. I REALLY want Chris Archer, and will push this agenda all offseason. Taijaun Walker is another rumored arm who could come here for reasonably cheap. Walker is less of a long term piece, and more of a “raise your value so we can move you at the deadline piece,” which has landed us several important prospects over the years. Most importantly, he eats innings. Lastly, we go to Garrett Richards, who I have loved his entire career. When healthy he’s as lethal as they come. The problem is he’s rarely ever healthy. I think Richards could be someone that wants to prove he can start for an entire season again and if he plays well enough could be moved to a contender at the deadline. Most of these guys are only one year deals with not a lot of AAV, and as long as we sign them for that, I’ll be happy. That being said, when it comes to Realmuto… break the bank. We are paying NO ONE besides Cabrera. Pay players, get us out of the dark ages. It’s time to spend again.
While I don’t expect the Tigers to make any trades of even remote significance this offseason, I’ll play around with some ideas that I think could be realistic and beneficial to the future of the team.
Trade 1: Tigers acquire 1B Jared Walsh from the Los Angeles Angels for SP Matt Boyd
I love Boyd, and he’s done a lot of good for the city of Detroit, as well as shown promise at times on the field. The reality is we have a plethora of top end pitching talent coming up through the minors, and first base is a massive hole for this team. The Angels, on the other hand, have become somewhat famous for their desperate need of starting pitching. LA’s offense is one of the best in the American League and first base is a low value position. Walsh is a guy who topped out in the teens for the Angels organizational prospect rankings and was a rookie just this past season. Boyd, while struggling this season, has shown glimpses of being a solid pitcher in this league, and I believe the Angels are willing to move on from a non top prospect first baseman to get that starting pitching help they desperately need. I could see either side adding a few smaller pieces in this deal, but these two would be the biggest names swapped if a trade took place.
Trade 2: Build a time machine. Go back to the deadline of 2018 and trade Michael Fulmer to the Yankees, then go to 2019 and trade Matt Boyd to anyone.
I’m only half kidding. It’s ridiculous that both of these men are still on our roster in all honesty. It made zero sense to hold on to them at the time and it still makes no sense looking back on it. At the time, trading them was a huge debate in the Tigers community. Not surprising to anyone, I was right both times, but that’s not the point. The point is don’t be afraid to move people. We can’t keep holding on to people with value until they have no value. That’s one of Avila’s biggest crimes as GM. I’m not trying to cop out of an answer or just make a joke to be funny, all I’m trying to say is we need a better understanding of who is actually meant to be here long term and who isn’t. DON’T BE AFRAID TO MOVE POEPLE. DON’T BE AFRAID TO MOVE PEOPLE. DON’T BE AFRAID TO M…
2021 Projected Roster
This roster is in so much flux its kind of impossible to predict. However, because I’m amazing, I’ll do my best to combine realistic expectations, and my desired moves.
- LF Victor Reyes (I hate this btw)
- 3B Jeimer Candelario
- 2B Jonathan Schoop
- DH Miguel Cabrera
- RF David Dahl
- 1B I truly have no idea. Travis Shaw/Eric Thames/CJ Cron/Anyone except Jeimer
- SS Niko Goodrum
- C Alex Avila
- CF Jacoby Jones
Victor Reyes is not good and Tigers fans need to stop pretending like he is. He’s a fine fourth outfielder for a good competitive team. The problem is we have zero (0) people on this roster that can leadoff an MLB lineup, so he’s probably going to return there. The rest is similar to last season with just cheap holes plugged. Shortstop could be a one year rental free agent, and first base could be literally anyone. Jeimer should bat second, as he’s our best hitter, and Miggy will continue to get HOF treatment and get to bat in the middle of the lineup. This lineup is still horrible, but it fills holes and gives us the opportunity to move players at the deadline and swap out fillers for prospects when they’re ready. 2022 is when this lineup should start taking huge steps forward, between being ready to spend again and top minor league bats reaching the majors.
This is very hard to do so I’m going to do two sets of rotations, an opening day rotation and a game 162 rotation. We will likely have anywhere from ten to fifteen men start for us next season and will be sellers and the deadline as well, making this very hard to predict.
- RHP Spencer Turnbull
- LHP Matt Boyd
- RHP Taijuan Walker
- RHP Chris Archer
- RHP Michael Fulmer
- RHP Spencer Turnbull
- LHP Matt Boyd
- RHP Chris Archer
- RHP Casey Mize
- LHP Tarik Skubal
I honestly don’t expect Fulmer to be a starter next year, and if he is it won’t last long. The more likely scenario is a third free agent not on the team yet, but for the sake of this I’m going to stick with Fulmer because I’m not sure we can convince three pitchers to come play for this team. I also don’t expect either of the kids to be on the opening day roster but I do expect them to be called up within the first month or so of the season. The one wild card is Archer. I’m not sure Archer will be healthy enough by the break to be trade bait, and I also kind of want us to sign him to a two year deal for that reason. That being said, stop being afraid to trade people.
Here’s the highlight of the team!
- LHP GREGORY SOTO (ILY)
- RHP Buck Farmer
- RHP Jose Cisnero
- RHP Bryan Garcia
- LHP Tyler Alexander (Record Holder btw)
- LHP Daniel Norris
- RHP John Schreiber
The bullpen was the biggest bright spot of these three categories in 2020. As a team with a famous history for having a trash bullpen, the future looks a lot brighter and that’s exciting. Soto looks like he could be a dominant arm for years to come, and Garcia proved to be a solid late inning option. Cisnero, while older, looked good and could be moved down the road, and Schreiber is looking like he could be a solid Avila find. Buck Farmer is a staple and I don’t expect that to change either.
Lastly, I will calmly tell you to KEEP DANIEL NORRIS AND TYLER ALEXANDER IN THE BULLPEN. IF YOU TRY TO MAKE EITHER OF THEM STARTERS AGAIN WE RIOT. Both of these pitchers had exceptional years out of the bullpen, sometimes even piggybacking off of the opener, but when starters they were horrible. Stop trying. Realize what they are, and don’t make them something they aren’t. Thankfully I trust this coaching staff one billion times more than I did the previous one, so I don’t think this will be a problem.
Well that’ll do it. This offseason will be one unlike any other for a lot of reasons. This Tigers team is headed in the right direction, and this off-season’s moves may seem small, but are vital to continuing the positive direction this franchise is finally headed. There is finally light at the end of the tunnel. Thanks for joining me on this roller-coaster of emotions titled Offseason Outlook. Lastly, say nice things about Detroit.