The Tigers have had an awful start to the 2021 season after a fun Opening Day win over Shane Bieber (You Can’t Predict Baseball!) and that has me looking more into the future already. With the team they have they are almost already out of even having to try and most of the rest of the season they will need players to prove themselves this season as only Jeimer Candelario looks like he can be part of any future winning team for the Tigers of anyone on their active roster. Also, possibly trade guys like Jose Cisnero who have some value and can net back a prospect who has a shot. Speaking of prospects, the Tigers do have some strong ones in Torkelson, Greene, Dingler, Paredes, and the group of pitchers coming up, but they have one missing piece: a quality veteran presence. Some of these prospects won’t live up to their potential, there’s so much variation and uncertainty with prospects that very rarely will everyone do exactly what you expect and if the Tigers don’t go out this off-season and get a solid veteran piece on offense, I fear that they will never move forward in their rebuild.
The Tigers have had 10 guys so far this year get at least an average of roughly two plate appearances and only three have a wRC+ of 100. This stat just weighs the hitters contributions at the plate against the league and scales to 100 for a good average midpoint. Those three are the aforementioned Jemier Candelario who is proving himself not only to be for real but a force in the line-up, Robbie Grossman: a lead-off man who walks a lot, and Niko Goodrum who is hot right now and has had a lot of luck with hits falling. Goodrum will likely regress but it is promising that he’s hitting well. Regardless, only being able to know two of your nine hitters starting every day in your line-up are above average and can help you is not a great feeling. The Tigers have those prospects coming up but every good team adds free agents to their line-ups as they are on the other side of their rebuild, a place the Tigers should be aiming to be. Here are some examples:
2006 Tigers had signed Magglio Ordonez and Ivan Rodriguez and traded for Placido Polanco, Carlos Guillen, and Sean Casey
2012 Tigers acquired Omar Infante and Prince Fielder after winning 95 games and losing Victor Martinez to injury
2016 Cubs had signed Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward along with trading for Miguel Montero and Dexter Fowler
2017 Astros had signed Josh Reddick, Yuli Gurriel and Carlos Beltran along with trading for Brian McCann and Evan Gattis
2018 Red Sox had signed J.D. Martinez and Mitch Moreland
2019 Nationals had recently signed Patrick Corbin, and less recently Max Scherzer but also bolstered the offense with supporting cast Kurt Suzuki, Howie Kendrick, Matt Adams, Yan Gomes and Adam Eaton
2020 Dodgers traded for Mookie Betts and signed AJ Pollock (not counting their minor moves that paid off like Muncy and Turner as they were gotten on minor league contracts)
So we have our proof here that the Tigers need to add something more than a high reward signing like Nomar Mazara or a supporting cast move like Robbie Grossman. With as bad as their offense has been the last two years, currently last in the AL in scoring, on base percentage and having a below replacement level WAR on offense. I think there’s three really obvious candidates to go after: Carlos Correa, Trevor Story or Kris Bryant. The shortstop position has been a hole since the Tigers let Jose Iglesias walk after 2018. Correa played under AJ Hinch and would fit right into the three hole in the Tigers line-up and would provide power and good play at a premium position. Story fits the team and park well as he has the most speed. He could challenge going 30-30 at Comerica, but even if he loses a little bit of power he has proven to be an elite player and his stat line even beats out Correa by a bit. Bryant would give the Tigers a bona fide middle of the order hitter with power, the ability to get on base and stabilize the middle of their order. If the Tigers got him then Candelario could move to first. Now any of these guys would be good and each brings their own specialty. I personally like Correa the most because he is the youngest and without some injuries I think he’d be considered one of the top shortstops in the game right with Lindor, Tatis and Bogaerts right now. Correa will be 27 and consistently hits the ball hard a good combination for 5-6 years of elite bat production for whoever does sign him. All of these guys are superstars and would add a lot to the Tigers.
The Tigers won’t be fixed in one move, but they need to spend again and add a big player along with signing other valuable players to come up with the prospects. Obviously the ideal model is to get your scouting department to keep hitting on draft picks and international signings like the Rays and Dodgers but the other model is what the Cubs did to get out of their slump by signing players like Heyward, Zobrist and Lester to come up with Bryant, Russell, Baez, Soler, Contreras and so on and use their existing pieces like Hendricks and Rizzo to combine to make a winning team. As much as people say a certain team is homegrown or bought on the market, most successful teams have a mix. The Tigers are hitting on some draft picks and have a really top heavy and good system but they’ll need to add veterans to fill in the holes and also provide stability to them if need. Even if the Tigers aren’t great until year 2 or 3 of a Correa or Story contract they’d still be under 30 and have some really good seasons left. They absolutely need to move forward though or they will reach a stagnant period. When you don’t have a positive hitting WAR you need to make every small improvement you can to build into a winner. I think with a signing like this, the development and bringing up Torkelson, Greene and everyone else within the next two years and continuing to make good moves to keep the system solid and add to the big league team will be recipe to make the Tigers into a contender, even if it seems crazy right now. Hopefully, also a few guys can break out and show they fit on the next winning Tigers team this year and they can continue to make improvements during the year both as a team and individual players, especially the young ones who can add the most to their game like Mize finding consistency and Skubal finding his command and how to use his stuff to get hitters out. Until then, all I can do is suggest the Tigers sign one of these guys and at 50 million under league average payroll they will have the flexibility to start spending soon.