Looking ahead to shaping Tigers' 2020 roster

November 1st, 2019

DETROIT -- Is this the offseason that the Tigers start pursuing top free-agent players again?

In a word, no. Though owner Christopher Ilitch and general manager Al Avila insist they’ll expand payroll to bring in impact veterans when the time is ready, that time isn’t now. They’re at least a year away from then, partly for competitive reasons, partly for the one remaining year on right-hander 's contract.

But the Tigers will bring in help, right?

In another word, yes. It’s likely to be an offseason of looking for undervalued free agents and non-tenders, but Detroit hopes for a repeat of two years ago (signing Mike Fiers and Leonys Martin) rather than last year (, , and ).

1. What one area will be the priority to bolster this offseason?
Though the Tigers need help in a lot of places, their most glaring need is a veteran run producer to help out and help along the crop of young hitters. With Cabrera limited largely to the DH role and no clear first baseman coming up from the Minors on the horizon, it’s an easy position for Detroit to fill with a short-term bat. Among the soon-to-be free agents who could be rebound candidates are Justin Smoak, Mitch Moreland, Yonder Alonso and Ryon Healy.

2. Who will be free agents and which players could return?
The free agents are shortstop Mercer, infielder Gordon Beckham, right-handers Edwin Jackson and Ross, and left-hander Moore. Of that group, most likely to return are Mercer and Beckham, since the Tigers have a need for veteran infield help. Jackson could be a candidate to return as pitching depth on a Minor League deal, giving him a chance to regroup this offseason and compete for a roster spot.

3. Who’s eligible for arbitration, and who could be non-tendered instead?
Here are the arbitration-eligibles: left-handers Matthew Boyd and Daniel Norris, and right-handers Buck Farmer, Drew VerHagen and Michael Fulmer. Outfielder JaCoby Jones is expected to qualify as a Super Two arbitration player with two years and 125 days of Major League service time.

The Tigers took care of several non-tender candidates Oct. 24 by removing catcher/first baseman John Hicks and left-handers Blaine Hardy and Daniel Stumpf from the 40-man roster, allowing all of them to become free agents. VerHagen was designated for assignment each of the past two seasons, but his success as a long reliever and piggyback starter should earn him a return.

This year’s non-tender deadline is Dec. 2, a week before the official start of baseball’s Winter Meetings in San Diego.

4. Could the Tigers sign an arbitration-eligible player like Boyd to a long-term contract?
The trend of teams signing young contributors to long-term deals well ahead of free agency, sometimes even before arbitration, is certainly catching on. The Tigers aren’t there yet, though. For one, there’s no guarantee the club won’t deal Boyd this offseason. Even if Detroit holds onto him, it has three more seasons before he’s eligible for free agency. That doesn’t rule out the Tigers pursuing a contract if the terms fit, but it’s unlikely.

5. Who must be added to the 40-man roster to avoid the Rule 5 Draft?
It’s a long list that includes MLB Pipeline Top 30 Prospects Isaac Parades (fifth), Daz Cameron (eighth), Beau Burrows (14th), Kyle Funkhouser (18th), Anthony Castro (20th), Jake Robson (27th) and Derek Hill (28th), plus unranked Danny Woodrow, Zac Houston and Jose Azocar. The Tigers have six open spots on their 40-man roster and will have three more once Mercer, Beckham and Jackson become free agents. Still, with roster spots needed for any free-agent signings, this could be the first year in a while that the club loses a prospect in the Rule 5 Draft.

Teams must submit their 40-man roster lists by Wednesday, Nov. 20.