The signings are dropping faster than the snow in Michigan in these final weeks of the Hot Stove season, reshaping the Tigers' roster just before Spring Training begins in Lakeland, Fla. Add in Detroit’s virtual media week tour, and the team has been busy lately.
As we get ready for the warmth of the Florida sun, the sound of fastballs popping mitts and the crack of the bat, here are three things I’m thinking about:
1) Can Renato Núñez’s power play at Comerica Park?
Núñez has hit 43 home runs over the past two seasons, tied for 37th among Major League hitters. He has slugged more in that span than Nick Castellanos and Teoscar Hernández and as many as Luke Voit, J.D. Martinez and Josh Donaldson. That Núñez was let go by the Orioles at season’s end and eventually signed a Minor League contract with the Tigers that includes a non-roster invite to Major League Spring Training says a lot about how commonplace power has become in the game.
But if Núñez needed to prove his power stands out, a season of home games at Comerica Park should give him that opportunity. The park factors have alternated from year to year between pitcher- and hitter-friendly, but the vast distances in the outfield gaps remain the same. The good news for Núñez is that his heavy-pull tendencies go toward more hitter-friendly dimensions near the left-field corner.
A few things to keep in mind here:
• Though Núñez called cozy Camden Yards his home park for the past 2 1/2 seasons, he had nearly even home-road splits for home runs the past couple of years and ended up hitting more homers on the road for his O’s tenure.
• According to Statcast, eight of his 12 home runs in 2020 would have been homers at Comerica Park, tied with Arizona for the low. However, 26 of his 31 homers in '19 would’ve been gone in Comerica.
• Núñez has never actually homered at Comerica Park; he went 2-for-12 with no extra-base hits, a walk and five strikeouts during the Orioles’ three-game series there in 2019.
2) What does Nomar Mazara’s signing mean for Victor Reyes and Christin Stewart?
The Tigers looked into Mazara last winter before the Rangers traded him to the White Sox. They looked into him again early this offseason before signing Robbie Grossman to a two-year contract on Jan. 5, a move that seemingly set the Tigers' outfield. But then Mazara lingered on the market, and with less than two weeks before full-squad workouts begin in Lakeland, Detroit came back with a one-year, $1.75 million contract.
The Tigers’ roster of outfielders is getting long. Grossman and Mazara bolster a roster that has JaCoby Jones returning from injury, Reyes finally garnering regular playing time, Stewart’s career at a crossroads, Daz Cameron just getting his first Major League time and Akil Baddoo trying to stick as a Rule 5 Draft pick. Amazingly, Mazara is younger than Reyes and Stewart despite five seasons in the big leagues.
General manager Al Avila has made it clear for at least a year that the club is trying to create competition with signings rather than playing youngsters by default. If Mazara shows he can hit -- at least against right-handers -- he’s going to play. Even if he doesn’t hit in Spring Training, the Tigers aren’t likely to give up on him right away. And it’s nearly impossible to envision the Tigers carrying Mazara and Stewart on their 26-man roster with near-identical skill sets.
As for Reyes, he could well end up in a timeshare scenario with Mazara, playing against lefties and some righties. Statistically, Reyes has been a better pure hitter for his career against lefties, but all eight of his Major League home runs have come off righties.
3) Daniel Norris is driving around in someone’s 1988 Volvo station wagon!
One of the annual Spring Training stories back in the days of star-studded Tigers rosters was a check of the cars and trucks that players were driving. Part of this had to do with Spring Training parking lots being open back then. Part of it was Justin Verlander being a noted car collector who enjoyed talking about his latest set of wheels.
It’s too bad those stories are all but gone now, because I’m hoping Norris drives to Lakeland in his newly acquired 1988 Volvo.
Lost in the flurry of interviews around Detroit's recent virtual media week was the latest offseason adventure from Norris, who spent a good portion of his winter training in California before visiting Driveline and hanging with Matthew Boyd. It was in California that Norris made an impulse purchase of someone’s used car.
“I bought a 1988 Volvo station wagon,” Norris explained. “When I was in Santa Barbara I was going out, I was walking out to surf, had my board and walking through the parking lot and I saw one for sale. And I just took a picture of it and I was like, 'Oh, I'll see what he wants for it.' And so I texted whoever it was after I got done surfing, and I was like, 'What are you wanting for it?' And he was like, 'I was hoping to get like two grand.' And I was like, 'Oh, easy. Sold.' And I was like, 'How about we meet up tomorrow, we'll surf and then I'll drive it around, make sure it runs alright?’ And, yeah, we had a really good surf, and then I got in and drove it around.”