What is Tigers' mindset for Winter Meetings?

December 4th, 2020

Normally this would be the time when the Hot Stove season would be buzzing, as people from around baseball gather for the Winter Meetings. Not surprisingly, the pandemic that has thrown so much of the sport into uncertainty has affected the Winter Meetings, too, putting those into a virtual format. Teams will still meet in that respect, but for many GMs and officials, it’ll be like a normal week of text messages, phone calls and emails between clubs. Still, now that non-tendered free agents are on the market, expect some moves to start happening.

Here are a few thoughts heading into baseball’s virtual Winter Meetings next week:

Lefty bats abound on the market

Look at the list of players non-tendered around the Majors this week, and you’ll see several players who fit a similar profile: Left-handed-hitting outfielders with average or above power, average or below on-base percentage, high strikeouts and shaky defensive metrics. Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber was the biggest name, and Colorado’s David Dahl was a surprise, but the list also includes Nomar Mazara, Eddie Rosario, Ben Gamel, Brian Goodwin and Tyler Naquin.

Some of them will garner interest from contenders, where they’ll have a chance to land on the strong side of a platoon, if not a regular role. Others will look for an opportunity with as much playing time as possible for a bounceback season, setting up either a better deal on the free-agent market next winter or a better place in arbitration. The Tigers have a chance to offer that in one of their outfield corners. This could be a situation where one signing from the group sets off a series of others as players fill slots.

No Rule 5 pick?

One consequence of the Tigers’ decision to tender contracts to all their arbitration-eligible players is that their 40-man roster remains full. That means unless Detroit designates a player for assignment in the next few days, the team won’t be part of the Rule 5 Draft for the first time since 2015. It’s arguably a milestone of where the Tigers stand in their rebuild, now valuing their own prospects first for roster spots, but it also might be a reflection of this year’s Rule 5 Draft, which is more of a risk than usual.

Like every year, teams have left some good prospects unprotected. Unlike past years, there was no Minor League season on which to judge those prospects, only data from alternate training sites and Summer Camps. That won’t stop a lot of teams from making picks, but some scouts suggest mistakes will be made as a result.

Can Paredes sway Tigers’ thoughts at third in 2021?

While general manager Al Avila scours the free-agent market for a corner infielder to pair opposite Jeimer Candelario, Isaac Paredes is raking in the Mexican Pacific Winter League. After going 3-for-4 with a solo homer Thursday night, Paredes is batting .365 with a 1.019 OPS in 18 games for Mazatlan, good for fourth and sixth in the league, respectively. He has nearly twice as many walks (11) as strikeouts (six).

Paredes is no stranger to the Mexican League, having played for Obregon the previous three offseasons. His at-bats against older pitchers there was one reason Avila cited in believing he wouldn’t be overwhelmed by Major League pitching when he made his debut this past summer. It’s early, but his numbers so far suggest he’s putting his experiences from Detroit into practice, which raises the question: Can Paredes work his way back into the mix in Detroit next season?

The Tigers would like Paredes to spend some time at Triple-A Toledo, making up for lost developmental time, which showed during a 2-for-36 slump at midseason. It would also be easier for the Tigers to move Candelario back to third and sign one of the many free-agent first basemen as a stopgap. But if Paredes can use winter ball as a springboard into Spring Training, don’t be surprised if he makes an impression and, depending on how the Tigers address their infield needs this winter, maybe even a push.

Best wishes for longtime scout

The Tigers parted ways with some outstanding scouts at season’s end, some of whom had been with the organization for a very long time. For Dick Egan, this year ended an association with the Tigers that went back more than 60 years.

Egan was a lanky 20-year-old left-handed pitcher out of California when he first signed with the Tigers in 1958. He jokes that when he reported to Lakeland, Fla., for Spring Training, his jersey had a three-digit number. He broke camp in a school bus bound for Erie, Pa., then a Class D team in a tiny ballpark outside of downtown. After stops in Montgomery, Ala.; Portland, Ore.; Knoxville, Tenn.; Denver; Birmingham, Ala.; and Hawaii, Egan made his Major League debut in 1963 as a Tigers reliever, pitching in 43 games over two seasons before he was traded to St. Louis.

“I knew I wanted to play baseball forever,” Egan said recently.

Egan couldn’t, of course, but he became a baseball lifer. After his playing career ended, he joined the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau, then got into coaching with the Rangers. He got back into scouting with the Marlins, then followed Dave Dombrowski back to the Tigers as a Major League scout in 2002.

“I made it full circle,” Egan said.

Egan recommended countless players who helped Detroit, but he was behind one of the most important moves of the team’s revival. Egan knew Kenny Rogers from his coaching days with the Rangers, and he recommended him to Dombrowski as a free agent despite a rocky ending in Texas. He ended up being one of the key pieces of the Tigers’ World Series run in 2006.

Egan’s wealth of pitching knowledge has remained valuable into his 80s. He made it back to Erie last year to evaluate Detroit’s top prospects, and he watched Casey Mize’s last start for the SeaWolves before he was shut down. Now 83, Egan hopes to remain involved in the game. Here’s hoping he gets that chance, whether it’s with the Tigers or another club.