The Tigers have been quiet so far in free agency, but that might be about to change. While the initial group of free agents didn’t spur Detroit’s front office into action, this week’s group of non-tendered players might.
Free agency has been a mixed bag for the Tigers the last few years, but their success stories have often involved non-tendered players. General manager Al Avila pounced when Mike Fiers and Leonys Martin hit the market three years ago, signing each to a one-year deal. Both provided productive half-seasons before being moved at the Trade Deadline; Martin’s trade to Cleveland brought back then-shortstop prospect Willi Castro.
Likewise, the Tigers moved quickly last winter when the Twins non-tendered C.J. Cron, expressing interest almost immediately and signing the slugging first baseman a few weeks later. He became Detroit’s cleanup hitter this past season and hit four home runs in his first 11 games, including a go-ahead homer in Cincinnati, before suffering a season-ending left knee injury on Aug. 10.
With the Tigers again in need of offensive help, this week’s addition of dozens more non-tenders widens Avila’s options. He could be competing with more GMs this time around as teams look for short-term deals, but Detroit can offer more playing time at key positions. Here’s a handful of players whose resumes and ages could fit the Tigers’ needs:
David Dahl, OF
While many of Wednesday’s moves were long-speculated and expected, David Dahl was a surprise, a 2012 Top-10 Draft pick and '19 All-Star who had a subpar (.470 OPS), injury-shortened (24 games) 2020 campaign just ahead of his first turn at arbitration. He also had right shoulder surgery on Sept. 29 to address a frayed labrum and a bone spur, but reportedly is expected to be ready for Spring Training. The 26-year-old left-handed hitter has some power and the potential for three years of contractual control for whichever team signs him, meaning he could conceivably be around when Detroit hopes to contend again. He also won’t necessarily be looking for a one-year rebound in a hitter-friendly park. When Dahl has been healthy, he has hit, as evidenced by three seasons with at least 110 OPS+. His .248 average away from Coors Field is concerning, but he was actually better on the road than at home in '20. The Tigers have taken chances on players with injury histories before, such as Matt Moore, Tyson Ross and Josh Harrison. Depending on other teams’ interest, this could be another opportunity.
Kyle Schwarber, OF
The Tigers have been tied to Kyle Schwarber in trade rumors with the Cubs over the years, but so have plenty of other teams. Now he’s free to sign anywhere, but will a team still trying to claw back into contention and with a big ballpark appeal to him as he nears his 28th birthday in March? His power is his overwhelming appeal, boasting 121 homers over 551 career games, including an opposite-field blast at Comerica Park last season. That power comes with plenty of strikeouts, but he balances it with a good walk rate. Detroit can offer him fairly regular playing time in left field and a run-production spot in the batting order, but would have to live with defensive questions. With one year to go before qualifying for free agency, he might find better situations.
Eddie Rosario, OF
The Tigers know plenty about Eddie Rosario, having seen him for the past six seasons with the American League Central rival Twins. The 29-year-old left-handed hitter has crushed Detroit pitching, hitting 12 homers in 55 games since 2017, but he’s a career .243 hitter at Comerica Park, where his up-and-down defense (down this past season) could also be a liability. He’s a more disciplined hitter than Dahl or Schwarber and makes contact at a better rate when he chases, but his hard-hit rate might be a concern for some teams.
Tyler Naquin, OF
The Tigers have seen the best and worst from Tyler Naquin over his five seasons in Cleveland. The 2012 first-round Draft pick hit .317 with two homers and six RBIs against them in '19, nearly duplicating his '16 damage (.319), but he went just 4-for-30 against Detroit pitching in '20. And yet, his Statcast ratings on hard-hit rate (93rd percentile), exit velocity (87th) and expected batting average (71st) and slugging (73rd) suggest he was better than his .218 average and 40-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Incredibly, he hit just .183 off fastballs last season after doing damage against velocity the previous two seasons. Like Dahl, Naquin has a long injury history, but he would be more of a project for new hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh.
Tony Wolters, C
Tony Wolters was one of two catchers non-tendered Wednesday, along with former Tigers Draft pick Curt Casali, though Wolters had been a primary catcher in Colorado. He made 121 starts behind the plate in 2019 and 35 this past season. The 28-year-old had high defensive marks, particularly for throwing out baserunners, before taking a downturn in 2020, and he has a good reputation for working with pitchers. He’s also a left-handed hitter -- though not an impactful one -- who could pair up with Jake Rogers or Grayson Greiner in a lefty-righty platoon. Detroit could give Wolters a fresh start; Wolters could give the Tigers a stopgap.