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Inbox: Tigers could keep FA options open

Beat reporter Jason Beck answers Detroit fans' questions
@beckjason
November 4, 2019

With the Hot Stove season underway, it’s time to dig into the Tigers mailbag again to answer some questions. There were a lot of them this week, which is encouraging to see amid what has been a relatively quiet offseason so far.

With the Hot Stove season underway, it’s time to dig into the Tigers mailbag again to answer some questions. There were a lot of them this week, which is encouraging to see amid what has been a relatively quiet offseason so far.

I don’t think this is the offseason the Tigers go big at the top end of the market, but I do think they could be in position to snag a decent free agent late if the market crawls like it has the past few years. Detroit bucked the trend and moved quickly last offseason to sign Jordy Mercer, Tyson Ross and Matt Moore by the holidays. None of those deals worked out great, mainly due to injuries, and the free-agent shortstop signings later that offseason made Mercer’s deal look large. It would not surprise me if the Tigers kept their options open in some areas to see who might be available in January and February.

Tigers general manager Al Avila has pointed to next offseason as when they could start to consider higher-tier free agents. That’s when Jordan Zimmermann’s contract is off the books, as well as their payments to the Rangers to cover part of Prince Fielder’s contract as part of the Ian Kinsler trade. After that, Miguel Cabrera currently stands as the only guaranteed contract on the Tigers' payroll for 2021. I don’t think they’ll be as aggressive on free agents as they were during their glory days, or even as they were when they signed Zimmermann, Justin Upton, Mike Pelfrey and Mark Lowe four years ago. I do think they could finally look to address some of their trouble spots with multi-year deals.

The Tigers have had some deliberation about Smoak, a switch-hitting first baseman who could provide some power while also adding walks. Though he has a .243 batting average over the past three seasons, he has a .350 on-base percentage and an .819 OPS in that same timeframe. He was also a Gold Glove Award finalist the past two seasons. He turns 33 next month, though.

Edwin Encarnación's right-handed power and ability to draw walks certainly could help in Detroit. But he turns 37 in January, and he hasn’t made more than 60 starts at first base in a season since 2016.

The Tigers are expected to go after undervalued assets, so a lot of it depends on the level of interest other teams might have. The good news for Detroit is that the market is fairly deep in first basemen. The aforementioned names could be fits if other teams shy away. Another interesting name could be former Milwaukee first baseman Eric Thames, who became a free agent after the Brewers declined his contract option for 2020. He has left-handed power with the ability to draw walks.

Tsutsugo’s left-handed power profile and on-base percentage certainly could help in Detroit, plus provide some intrigue. But the Tigers haven’t been big players in the Japanese market, and aren’t fans of the posting-fee system. International players who can name their destination haven’t been knocking down the doors at Comerica Park in recent years, either, given the rebuilding project.

The Tigers are hiring a player development coach at every Minor League affiliate for next season. It’s supposedly not a new position, but it has an increased analytical influence. According to the job description they posted on FanGraphs, the coach will work with the manager, pitching and hitting coaches while collaborating with analytics, performance science and video operations. Responsibilities including technology support, data collection and advance reports, while also helping out with on-field sessions.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.