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Some of the most intriguing free agents for the Detroit Tigers don’t begin the offseason as free agents.
We’ve seen evidence of that already.
Eric Thames dropped onto the market on Monday when his option was declined by the Milwaukee Brewers. Wilmer Flores was added to the list of free agents last week when the Arizona Diamondbacks bought out his deal.
There will be more to come as teams finalize their decisions about who they will sign and who they will “non-tender” in the weeks ahead.
These players can be more alluring than traditional free agents (with six years of Major League service time) because they’re younger and sometimes cheaper.
Free agency is just getting under way and there’s no rush for the Tigers to sign anyone. They could even wait until January or February to do much of their shopping.
But they have money to spend and more needs than they can count. Here are five guys whose agents they should call right now and say, “Don’t make any decisions until you talk to us.”
AP photo by Jim Mone
Yes, the Tigers have two young catchers (Jake Rogers and Grayson Greiner), but the Tigers desperately need some offensive help at the position.
If they could snag a veteran on a one-year deal (preferably a left-handed hitter), it would be ideal.
Castro, who turns 33 in June, fits the bill. A well-respected defensive backstop, he’s coming off a very solid offensive season with the Minnesota Twins. A left-handed hitter, Castro would fit nicely into a strict platoon with Greiner or maybe a 50-50 split with Rogers, depending on how the Tigers decide to approach 2020.
How much would he cost? He’ll probably seek a two-year deal, but we’ll say one-year, $6 million plus an option.
Backup plan: For all the same reasons listed above, how about Alex Avila? He’s a veteran lefty and, having played for the Tigers twice before, is very familiar with the pitching staff.
AP photo by Andrew Harnik
The Tigers need to add some power to their lineup, and there’s usually no easier, cheaper way of doing so than signing a first baseman.
Thames, who turns 33 this month, has had success in Korea and might opt to go back overseas. But perhaps the Tigers can convince him to stick around.
Thames hit 25 home runs and slugged .503 in 149 games with the Brewers in 2019. He’s terrible against lefties, but that’s OK because the Tigers have plenty of right-handed options for a platoon (Jeimer Candelario, Brandon Dixon or maybe even Miguel Cabrera) at first base.
How much would he cost? No idea. The Brewers didn’t think he was worth $7.5 million. So let’s say one year, $6 million.
Backup plan: Justin Smoak. Wouldn’t it be fun to have a Tiger who could draw a walk every once in a while? The ex-Blue Jay would be a great fit in Detroit.
AP photo by Rick Scuteri
Did you know that over the last four seasons Flores has posted a 110 OPS+ in 1,411 plate appearances? He’s very quietly been a solid and consistent hitter. And now he’s a free agent at the still-young age of 28.
Why is Flores unemployed? While he can play every spot on the infield, he plays none of them very well.
He could play first (and maybe even platoon with Thames or Smoak!), but he would deliver more value as a second baseman, where he’s been only a little bit below-average defensively, according to the metrics. He would deliver a huge offensive upgrade over Harold Castro or Ronny Rodriguez at second.
How much would he cost? One year, $4 million.
AP photo by Alex Gallardo
The Tigers could use a veteran outfielder. If they can find one who plays great defense, that would be even better. That’s what makes Calhoun such a great fit. It’s been a while since the Tigers have had a competent defensive right fielder.
Calhoun had 33 home runs in 2019, a feat that he is unlikely to repeat in 2020. But he’s still likely to provide league-average run production with above-average defense. That’s worth a one-year deal, right?
How much would he cost? One year, $7 million.
Backup plans: Among affordable corner outfielders who play above-average defense, Corey Dickerson comes to mind. For a bounce-back candidate on a minor-league deal, what about Lonnie Chisenhall?