DETROIT -- The Tigers have been relatively quiet this offseason, waiting out the free-agent market. Monday's non-tender deadline was part of the reason for their patience.
Now that teams have made their moves, Detroit has more options to ponder as general manager Al Avila tries to find ways to improve a 114-loss team on a budget.
The Tigers played the non-tender market skillfully two years ago, signing right-hander Mike Fiers and outfielder Leonys Martin to incentive-laden one-year contracts before trading both for prospects late in the year. Martin’s trade to Cleveland netted shortstop Willi Castro, who is now Detroit's No. 11 prospect per MLB Pipeline. The Tigers would undoubtedly like similar fortunes this time around, but that could depend on other teams in better positions to contend.
What the Tigers can offer more than many other teams, in many cases, is playing time. With Detroit still in the midst of a painful rebuild and top prospects still working through the farm system, manager Ron Gardenhire has opportunities to offer.
Here’s a look at 10 non-tenders who could help the Tigers and fit their needs:
C.J. Cron, 1B/DH
The Tigers badly need more offensive punch in their lineup, and a first base/designated hitter type to pair with Miguel Cabrera is an obvious spot to add it. Arguably no one on the non-tender market offers more pop than Cron, the son of former Double-A Erie manager Chris Cron. The former first-round Draft pick hit 55 home runs over the last two seasons between Tampa Bay and Minnesota (including seven against Detroit in 2019), but he struggled to a .229 average after the All-Star break this past season before undergoing right thumb surgery. If his positional limitations and health hamper his market, the Tigers might find a one-year deal.
Yolmer Sánchez, 2B
The Tigers hope to have an infield glut by season’s end if Isaac Paredes slugs his way to a callup, but they could use middle infield help in the meantime. Detroit officials have seen plenty of Sánchez, a .300 hitter against the Tigers last season, while manning second and third for the White Sox. The reigning American League Gold Glove winner at second could provide some much-needed middle-infield defense while adding a switch-hitting bat with two years of club control. The 27-year-old Venezuelan hails from Maracay, the same hometown as Cabrera.
Maikel Franco, 3B
The 27-year-old slugger should have enough interest on the market to bypass Detroit, but if not, the Tigers might be able to find a fit. Franco’s right-handed power goes beyond the hitter-friendly dimensions in Philadelphia, but he comes with a career .302 on-base percentage and 93 OPS+. He has also registered a minus-32 Defensive Runs Saved over parts of six seasons at third base. Franco would have two years of club control before free agency.
Travis Shaw, 3B/2B/1B
Like Cron and Franco, Shaw brings power, but from the left side. He hit 30-plus home runs in back-to-back years in Milwaukee before a miserable 2019 season prompted the Brewers to cut ties rather than go through arbitration. Shaw should have plenty of interest from teams in better situations, especially with two seasons before free agency, but the Tigers could offer playing time at multiple positions, much like they did with waiver claim Brandon Dixon.
José Peraza, 2B/SS
The Reds’ decision to non-tender the 25-year-old Peraza was a surprise until news broke of their impending deal with free-agent slugger Mike Moustakas. Peraza was Cincinnati’s everyday shortstop in 2018 until Jose Iglesias’ arrival pushed him into a utility role. He has the contact rate and speed to fit into a Gardenhire lineup. With age and service time (three more seasons before free agency) on his side, Peraza would be a good upside signing for a lot of teams, the Tigers among them.
Kevin Gausman, RHP
The Tigers have taken their chances on former LSU pitchers the last couple years, leaning on Al Avila’s close relationship with coach Paul Mainieri. Gausman, a former first-round Draft pick in 2012, could fill Detroit’s need for a veteran starter while offering the 28-year-old a chance to rebuild his market on a one-year deal. He has battled rough first halves the last few years and finished this past season in Cincinnati’s bullpen. Gausman's fastball has been hit hard in recent years, but his strikeout rate jumped in '19 with increased use of a splitter. He’s only a year away from free agency.
Cheslor Cuthbert, 3B/1B
If the Tigers wanted to fill at-bats at first base with a lower-level signing, they could take a flyer on Cuthbert, whose .707 OPS in 160 career plate appearances against Detroit is 28 points above his overall rate. But Cuthbert’s power numbers haven’t overwhelmed, even with parts of six seasons in the Pacific Coast League at Triple-A Omaha. The 27-year-old has three seasons of team control remaining.
Ryan Buchter, LHP
The Tigers are low on lefty relief options after Blaine Hardy and Daniel Stumpf became free agents. But with Major League Baseball headed toward a three-batter minimum for relievers next year, the traditional short-outing southpaw is in trouble. That could create a chance for the Tigers to snag an undervalued lefty such as Buchter, who was outstanding against right-handed batters in 2016 and ‘17 but struggled against them the past two seasons. His .799 OPS allowed belies his 2.98 ERA and 50 strikeouts over 45 1/3 innings in ’19.
Trevor Hildenberger, RHP
Gardenhire likes relievers who offer different looks, such as Louis Coleman a couple years ago. The sidearming Hildenberger fits the profile. His brief stint in Minnesota this past season was ugly, highlighted by an overall drop in velocity. Even so, Hildenberger's expected slugging and weighted on-base average suggested he could’ve fared a little better given his stuff.
Kevin Plawecki, C
Monday’s non-tender list included several veteran catchers, adding to a free-agent glut. Virtually all of them are right-handed hitters, but Plawecki brings the added value of pitch framing, having posted the second-highest strike rate of all big league catchers this past season, according to Statcast. That gives him appeal to plenty of teams in better situations, but the Tigers could offer him a better amount of playing time, at least while the club's No. 7 prospect Jake Rogers works on his development.