10 Free Agents Who Make Sense For Tigers

The team has needs across the roster.

Will Burchfield
November 06, 2019 - 4:23 pm

© Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

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No team in baseball has lost more games over the last three seasons than the Tigers. Things hit rock bottom in 2019 -- they did, right? -- when Detroit finished 47-114. Everyone understands the team is going through a rebuild, but the Tigers can't afford another year like that. 

Which means they can't field another team like that. The roster by the end of last season was more fit for Triple-A than the big leagues. The Tigers are still at least a year away from spending big in free agency, but the onus is on Al Avila and Co. to find some players this winter who can move the needle next summer. Especially after last offseason, when Detroit swung and missed on its four veteran acquisitions.  

The team sunk $15.5 million in Tyson Ross, Matt Moore, Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison, then watched the quartet languish on the injured list for most of the year and combine for a negative WAR. 

"We didn’t do very good bringing in the veterans this year," Ron Gardenhire said at the end of last season. They got hurt and it just didn’t work out too well, so I think the organization understands we have to do a really good job here and find the right people." 

The Tigers have openings across the roster, including pretty much every position in the infield. They want badly for a first baseman who can drive in runs; this version of Miguel Cabrera is finished. They have a hole in right field in the wake of the Nicholas Castellanos trade, which also left them without a true middle-of-the-order bat. They could use a proven arm or two as well. This team won't improve on its own. 

Are there reinforcements within? Sure, but Detroit's top prospects, particularly its position players, aren't quite ready for the bigs, and the prospects that are here have yet to make an impact. That means more gap-plugging this winter, which hopefully yields a couple bargains next season. With the team's rebuild moving slowly and fan approval at maybe an all-time low, expect the Tigers to open the checkbook just a bit further this year. 

Let's go around the diamond and look at 10 free agents that make sense for Detroit. 

Catcher

1. Travis d'Arnaud
2. Stephen Vogt

Jake Rogers remains Detroit's catcher of the future, but his cameo last season -- gobs of strikeouts and a .481 OPS in 35 games -- proved he's still a step or two away. The Tigers have moved on from John Hicks, leaving the job of opening-day catcher up in the air. 

You might remember d'Arnaud as the Blue Jays catcher of the future, and then the Mets catcher of the future. It never clicked for him in New York, but he found something last season after he was picked up by the Rays. He posted 16 homers and a .782 OPS over 92 games. The 30-year-old could use a short-term deal to continue rebuilding his value. 

Vogt, 35, put himself back on the radar last season after a shoulder injury in 2018 nearly ended his career. He posted an .804 OPS over 99 games with the Giants, and the Tigers could use his left-handed bat. An eight-year vet and a two-time All-Star, Vogt would also be a good mentor for Rogers. 

First Base

3. Eric Thames
4. Mitch Moreland

If the Tigers have any inclination to spend this winter, this is where they should focus. Miguel Cabrera is a DH at this point, and first base has become a black hole in his absence, both now and moving forward. Jeimer Candelario will get a shot here in 2020, but his bat has been missing since the second half of 2018. 

Thames would be an ideal addition. He hit 25 homers with an .851 OPS over 149 games last season with the Brewers, who declined his $7.5 million option for 2020, and he would fill Detroit's need for a left-handed hitter. He's a late-bloomer at 32, which actually bodes well for the years ahead. 

Have we mentioned the Tigers could use a left-handed bat? Moreland, 34, is another option. He posted an .835 OPS in 2019, was an All-Star in 2018 and drove in a total of 205 runs over the last three seasons with the Red Sox. Switch-hitting Justin Smoak, who hit 85 homers over the last three seasons with the Blue Jays, should be on Detroit's radar as well. 

Second Base/Shortstop

5. Starlin Castro
6. Adeiny Hechavarría

Ideally, Harold Castro will build upon his breakout season and man second base in 2020, and Willi Castro will prove capable of taking over at shortstop. But that's a lot to ask. Willi, in particular, looked overmatched in his first taste of the bigs last season. In all likelihood, the Tigers will target a veteran to shore up the middle of the infield. 

Let me just say it. I love Starlin Castro -- always have, always will. (And might as well add to the family, right?) He plays the game with a smile, and he won't be bogged down by the losing in Detroit. The four-time All-Star posted career-highs in homers (22) and RBI (86) last season, on a terrible Marlins team. Castro, 29, can play both second and third, and shortstop in a pinch. 

The market for shortstops is thin, and the Tigers might avoid it altogether. But if they're inclined to bring in a stopgap, especially one who can help mentor Castro in the field, the sure-handed Hechavarría would be a good fit. 

Outfield

7. Kole Calhoun 
8. Corey Dickerson

Right now, the Tigers only have two guarantees in the outfield in 2020: JaCoby Jones and Christin Stewart. Victor Reyes might be a third. Beyond that, spots are up for grabs, including the everyday job in right. 

The Angels declined Calhoun's $14 million option for 2020, and maybe he's still out of the Tigers' price range. But he could give their lineup a serious boost in right field. He hit 33 homers with a .792 OPS while playing just about every day last season and, oh, look, he hits left-handed. 

Dickerson isn't the ideal fit as a left fielder, but Stewart didn't exactly stake his claim to the job in 2018. Meanwhile, Dickerson -- when healthy -- has done nothing but hit since 2014. He has an .836 OPS over that span, including an All-Star campaign in 2017 with the Rays. There's a lot of upside here. The Tigers might also consider bringing back Matt Joyce, who spent his rookie season with the team in 2008. 

Starting Pitcher

9. Julio Teheran
10. Ivan Nova 

Detroit's rotation heading into 2020 features Matthew Boyd, Jordan Zimmermann, Daniel Norris and Spencer Turnbull. Michael Fulmer isn't expected back until the second half of the season, and the big arms in the minors won't arrive any sooner. The Tigers need another starter, ideally one they can count on to take the ball every fifth day. 

Once an ace on the rise, Teheran, 28, has fallen off a bit the last few years. He's lost his control and a good deal of velocity, resulting in a 4.09 ERA since 2017. Not great. But he's extremely durable, having made at least 30 starts each of the last seven seasons, and the Tigers, at this point, could likely afford him. 

Speaking of durable arms, the 32-year-old Nova led the majors with 34 starts last season. He also led the league in hits allowed. But he throws strikes and pitches to contact, which Ron Gardenhire loves, and he'd give the Tigers a starter they could rely on throughout the year. Tanner Roark, who ranks 11th in the majors in innings pitched since 2016, would fit here as well.