It’s hard to keep track of everything that happens during the off season — especially when much of the news cycle was dominated by a team from three years ago. As such, it might be nice to have a quick little refresher of what’s changed around the division.
Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be dishing out primers on the new faces and notable departures throughout the rest of the AL Central.
Let’s get started with last year’s last-place finishers: the Detroit Tigers.
It’s hard to find too many notable departures on a team that lost 114 games last season. Really, one of their biggest names left mid-season, when Nicholas Castellanos was traded away to the Chicago Cubs, where a late-season tear boosted his profile and earned him a four-year deal with Cincinnati.
There were guys like Edwin Jackson (who posted an 8.47 ERA during the Detroit leg of his major-league tour). There were also folks like Tyson Ross, Gordon Beckham, and Josh Harrison; three recognizable names that seem too young to have washed their way out of the league already, but who have each only garnered minor-league contracts after disappointing seasons on one of the league’s worst teams.
Relievers Blaine Hardy and Drew VerHagen were both career Tigers; VerHagen was released and Hardy chose free agency over a minor-league assignment (you’ll remember he then signed a minor-league deal with us, back in November.)
The Big Additions
The Tigers scooped up half of Minnesota’s 2019 infield, when they signed first baseman C.J. Cron and second baseman Jonathan Schoop, on the same day (December 21st), for the same price (1 year/$6.1 million.) There’s a market inefficiency somewhere.
This move in particular adds some character to a lineup mostly devoid of any sort of threat. Even with Miguel Cabrera playing in 136 games, no Tiger finished the year with more than 15 homers (credit to Brandon Dixon and his .290 OBP.)
Cron and Schoop hit 25 and 23, respectively. A big-picture looks shows us that they were both just slightly above the league average where OPS+ is concerned, but a quick glance at the 2019 Tiger lineup is enough to tell us that Cron and Schoop will be an upgrade to any of the current Detroit starters.
On the topic of old friends, it’s worth noting that Kennys Vargas is back in the USA, on a minor-league deal. He’s struck out in all three of his at-bats this spring. They’ve also picked up Hector Santiago, who struggled through nineteen games between the Mets and White Sox last season.
Apart from Schoop and Cron, Detroit general manager Al Avila dished out three more major-league contracts. One goes to outfielder Cameron Maybin, who will enjoy his third stint with the Motor City Kitties after debuting with them in 2007, and returning in 2016. (Maybin, as you may remember, was part of the prospect package that went to the then-Florida Marlins in exchange for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis.) Perhaps third time’s the charm for Maybin, who’s never played a full season in Comerica Park. He put up solid numbers in 82 games for a playoff Yankees squad just last season.
Speaking of former Yankees, Austin Romine was also brought in to take over as the starting catcher, after backing up Gary Sanchez these last few years in the Bronx. Romine has always been light with the bat, but has a good reputation as a defensive backstop.
And speaking of speaking of former Yankees, Ivan Nova will join the rotation following a 2.0-WAR season and a 5.5 K/9 sure to titillate Ron Gardenhire’s coaching staff.
So, should we be worried?
It’s a big ask for a 114-loss team to catch up to a 101-win team in just one winter. While the Twins went from worst-to-Wild-Card toward the end of last decade, they were also at a very different place in their rebuild. Guys like Casey Mize may yet crack the big-league roster soon, but they have very little established talent around them to make their contributions particularly useful.
Besides, the Tigers aren’t trying to compete this year. Indeed, a lot of these players signed one-year deals for a reason: that they might get hot this summer and find themselves traded away to a contender. (Signing with the Tigers is a bit like baseball’s version of the Monty Hall problem.) Similarly, Detroit would love to get a couple good months out of Ivan Nova and get some prospects back from a team closer to the Wild Card mix. I don’t think anybody’s banking on Cameron Maybin becoming a long-term cornerstone in the corner outfield. That’s just not where the team is at with these signings.
So while it will be fun to rekindle a relationship with the litany of Twins-associated personnel in the organization, the Detroit Tigers will not be any sort of threat to Minnesota this year. There’s plenty of other teams to worry about...which we’ll get to in the coming weeks.
Should we be worried about the Detroit Tigers?
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