Tiger Trouble: A History of Roster Mismanagement

Image Credit: Detroit News

As a Detroit sports fan, it has become natural to feel blows of disappointment year after year.  The last one of the four core sports teams in the Motor City to win a playoff series was the 2013 Tigers.  Earlier that year, the Red Wings triumphed over the Anaheim Ducks in the NHL Conference Quarterfinals.  The most recent playoff victory for the Pistons came in 2008, and the Lions sole postseason win in the Super Bowl era was in 1991.

I still remember attending game four of that 2013 ALDS on my birthday, when my Tigers bested the A’s in a 8-6 battle.  At the time, my just-turned nine year-old self felt my favorite sports team was invincible.  6’8” Doug Fister took the mound that day, and none other than game one starter and future hall of famer Max Scherzer came out of the bullpen for two innings, earning the victory for the Bless You Boys.  We would head back to Oakland and win the series two days later.  I haven’t been to a playoff game since, and the Tigers haven’t won a series either.

Tigers GM at the time, Dave Dombrowski, has led four teams to league pennants and has accrued World Series wins with both the 1997 Marlins and the 2018 Red Sox.  Known for spending money on offensive talent and high-end rotation studs, each of the organizations he has been with has resultantly fallen off the map.  Dombrowski hasn’t been shy about shipping away young talent for little to nothing.  For more on the DAVE-D team building methodology, click here for an in-depth analysis of Dave Dombrowski written by my M-SABR colleagues.  

So, what occurs when Dombrowski leaves an organization?  Well, the Marlins have still yet to dig themselves out of the hole he dug them into (although the 2003 World Series appears to be an outlier), the Tigers rebuild has lasted over seven years now, and the Red Sox appear to be entering a difficult era as well.  We’ll just have to wait and see how the Phils fare in some years from now.

So many Tigers fans, like myself, have felt as if every time a young player is waived, DFA’d, or traded for an aging veteran, he goes on to have at least a solid season or two elsewhere.  Largely blaming Dombrowski, his prodigy, Al Avila, has been the subject of our criticism as well.

Now that the Dombrowski-Avila era has finally reached its conclusion (Detroit has welcomed former Giants President of Baseball Ops, Scott Harris, into the organization), I’ll attempt to assemble a roster of players who have been sent away for next to nothing since 2002, Dombrowski’s first year with the organization.  I will then take a look at similar moves made this most recent offseason in an attempt to predict what former Tigers may breakout down the road.

Catcher: James McCann​​

Image Credit: Robin Buckson, Detroit News

James McCann is honestly the reason I began to think about this phenomenon.  A first-round draft pick and fan favorite in Detroit, McCann threw out baserunners at a steep rate and, for a catcher, his offense was serviceable.  Although he never lit up the box scores, McCann had a career .240 BA in four full seasons in Detroit (which is fairly strong for the modern day catcher).  

Of the 23 catchers with at least 2500 innings caught between 2015 and 2018 (McCann’s four full seasons in Detroit), only Martín Maldonado had a higher caught stealing percentage.  McCann even edged out Salvador Pérez, who was an All-Star each of those four seasons.  Concerned with his playing time?  McCann, in this four year span, had the sixth most innings caught in the MLB.

In his final year in Detroit, McCann had the second most innings caught in the MLB (behind another multi-time All-Star, Jonathan Lucroy) and was swiftly non-tendered following the season by Al Avila.  A disappointing end to a highly touted Detroit prospect’s career in the Motor City would lead to a signing by the Chicago White Sox.  In his first year with the ChiSox, McCann would attend his first career All-Star Game and finish the season with a .273 BA, 18 HR, and 60 RBI season.  Many Tigers fans are still questioning Avila’s decision.  Was it based on money, or did the Tigers staff truly feel they had already seen the best of McCann?

1st Base and 2nd Base: None

My pursuit for Tigers players in the past two decades to have been released or otherwise by the organization, resulting in their success elsewhere, came to a halt at both first and second base.  Sadly Detroit fans, these were the only two positions where I couldn’t find a player fitting this criteria. Although, we may see the Cast-bros assume the positions, but they’ll be talked about later.

Shortstop: Eugenio Suárez

Image Credit: Fansided

Eugenio Suárez is arguably the most successful of the position players the Tigers threw away their shot of having.  Signed internationally and spending his entire farm league stay with the Tigers organization, Suárez quickly showed glimpses of his ability to hit for average and steal bases (which is ironic, since he is now considered a swing-and-miss power guy with next to no speed).

In 277 plate appearances with the major league squad in 2014, Suárez had his share of high’s and low’s.  I particularly remember how consistent he was defensively at shortstop, albeit lacking flashiness.  There was clear potential, though, as this was a fairly highly touted player coming out of the minors (#6 in the system heading into the season, with notables Nicholas Castellanos and Avisaíl García ahead of him).

In the 2014-15 offseason, Suárez was traded by Dombrowski to the Reds in the recruitment of aging veteran starter, Alfredo Simón.  The known eephus-baller was an All-Star the year prior, but his age was of concern; the trade appeared more so as a last ditch effort at fielding a productive rotation following Max Scherzer’s turned down offer in free agency.  Simón would go on to post a 5.05 ERA and negative WAR in the Tigers first season missing the playoffs since 2010.

As for Suárez, he would immediately make an impact in Cincinnati, where he contributed a .280 BA and had increased power in his first season.  The next two seasons he would post season with 20+ HRs, leading up to his All-Star 2018 campaign with a .283/.366/.526 line.  Suárez, now a third baseman, has had four 30+ homer seasons, peaking in 2019 with 49.  It is safe to say the Reds won this trade, considering Simón would return to their squad the year after he struggled in Detroit and then proceed to retire.

Suárez’s success following the trade from the Tigers causes one to wonder whether or not a player of this magnitude could have shortened the rebuild which is continuing to persist to this day. 

Third Base: Hernán Pérez

Image Credit: Tim Fuller, USA TODAY sports

A lesser known name, Hernán Pérez became the Brewers starting third baseman after being waived by Detroit in the middle of 2015 at only 24 years of age.  He had been a highly touted young hitter in the organization and had limited stints with the major league squad in each of 2012-2015.  

Never given a full opportunity to showcase his abilities in Detroit due to the offensive depth built by Dombrowski, Pérez’s talents were clear to Milwaukee, who gave him consistent at-bats.  Realizing they had a gem on their hands, their veteran third baseman, Aramis Ramírez, was traded to Pittsburgh.  The player waived by Detroit earlier that season had already found a starting role elsewhere.

Due to consistent production and defensive versatility, Pérez saw consistent at bats through 2018 and into 2019 when injuries began derailing his career.  In his first full season with the team, 2016, Pérez hit .272 and fielded well at seven different positions.  He would remain fairly consistent during his time in Milwaukee and is another example of an exciting player Dombrowski let walk for nothing in return. 

Left Field: Avisaíl García

Image Credit: Rick Osentoski, US Presswire

A fan favorite dubbed “Mini Miggy,” Avisaíl García was quickly loved by Detroit fans.  With comparable size to the Tigers star slugger and a powerful swing from the right-handed side, it was thought that the annual AL Central champs had added yet another strong bat.  Making his debut in 2012, García was off to a torrent start, hitting .319 in 47 at-bats.  During the Tigers postseason run that year, García played well.  In their four game sweep of the Yankees in the ALCS, Mini Miggy hit .455.

Although less successful after making the roster in 2013, García was given a mere 88 plate appearances before being dealt in a three-team trade.  There was no question García was a budding star, but this instance is a bit of a criteria buster for me.  Dombrowski deserves credit, as he saw the potential of top prospect third baseman Nicholas Castellanos and converted him to the outfield.

With Jhonny Peralta on an expiring deal, it was time for the Tigers to go after their shortstop of the future.  In a deal between Detroit, Boston, and the ChiSox which moved Jake Peavy and a young Frankie Montas, the Tigers received flashy young shortstop José Iglesias.  Iglesias would miss the 2014 season with injury but would go on to be an All-Star in 2015 and a highlight reel each and every day with the glove.  Tigers fans, including myself, cannot be disappointed in our time spent with Iggy (who remembers the Flying Tiger play?).

Nonetheless, García would go on to perform well after his short stay in Detroit.  Only 22 years old when traded, it would take Avisaíl some time to adjust to MLB pitching, but he quickly found himself a place in Chicago’s starting lineup.  After serviceable seasons in 2015 and 2016, García broke out in 2017, with a .330/.380/.506 line and an 80 RBI season.  He finished second in the AL in batting average behind only league MVP, José Altuve.

Ever since, García has proved somewhat inconsistent, as he has somehow managed to perform well at the plate every other season.  This up-and-down trend calls for another strong offensive season for the slugger in 2023, as he enters his second as a Marlin.  Despite the inconsistency, Mini Miggy has produced strong numbers throughout his career and would’ve been another contributor to a shortened Detroit rebuild.

Although the trade for Iglesias makes a clear argument for the case of Dombrowski, the chance of having future hall of famer, Miguel Cabrera, and his younger counterpart, García, in the middle of a Tiger lineup for an extended period of time is something I will forever envy.   

Center Field: Andrés Torres

Image Credit: David E. Klutho, Sports Illustrated

Throughout his tenure with the Detroit, there were two aspects of baseball which Dave Dombrowski felt were woefully unimportant.  The bullpen was a clear issue for Detroit in late October playoff series, and defense was always sacrificed in the face of acquiring hitting talent.  While it can be agreed upon that you cannot win without key offensive pieces (Dombrowski’s 2022 Phillies were a clear example of this), defense always proved to be an issue for the Tigers throughout his tenure as GM.

During the Tigers 2006 World Series loss to the Cardinals, errors led to crucial runs being scored in close games.  These were often in the late game with runners on base due to poor relieving.  The team, which was also lacking speed, could have used a high average, quick defensive replacement like Andrés Torres.  

This speedy outfielder was a league leader in steals and defensive workhorse throughout his time in the Tigers minor league system.  When the young outfielder was given a shot in the majors in 2002, Dombrowski’s first season with the team, he showcased his defensive ability and stole a few bases despite limited plate appearances.  From 2002-2004, Torres was repeatedly recalled and sent down, never being given a consistent opportunity despite the Tigers woes (compiled an atrocious 170-315 record those three seasons).

Torres, after a mere 264 major league plate appearances, was released by Dombrowski following the 2004 season.  He would then bounce around minor league systems until landing back in Detroit in 2007.  A consistent minor league producer, Torres once again showed promise, with added power during his second stint with the Tigers Triple-A affiliate, Toledo.

Despite a .292/.363/.484 minor league line, Torres was never given a shot with the Tigers in the big leagues and was released again after the season.  Although continuing to produce in the minor leagues for the following seasons, it wouldn’t be until 2009, his age 31 season, that Torres would be given a shot at consistent at-bats.

Bursting onto the scene in San Francisco, Torres performed well in limited time in 2009, leading to a starting outfield role for the Giants the following season.  In their magical 2010, Torres would go on to post a .268 AVG with 16 HRs, 63 RBIs, and 26 SBs en route to a World Series win.  Through their playoff run, Torres was a star, hitting over .300 throughout October and playing immaculate defense.

Torres played a few more serviceable seasons before retiring but did so with a World Series ring, something the Dave Dombrowski Detroit Tigers were never able to accomplish. 

Right Field: Matt Joyce

Image Credit: MLive

Did you Tigers fans know longtime Rays outfielder Matt Joyce was drafted by and played for Detroit?  I did not (I will blame my age for this).  Drafted out of Florida Southern College (located in the Tigers spring home: Lakeland, Florida) in the 12th round in 2005, Joyce quickly worked his way through the minors.  It was clear early on that the young outfielder had the potential to be a key piece for Detroit.

Not excelling in any one area, Joyce was the definition of a solid big league ball player; he could hit for average, didn’t strike out excessively, had some raw power, and played serviceable defense.  His potential was clear, too, to the Rays who, after only 277 major league plate appearances in Detroit, traded up and coming arm, Edwin Jackson, for him.

Now Tigers fans can’t complain about the long term result here, as following an All-Star 2009 from Edwin Jackson, the right-handed pitcher was traded alongside Curtis Granderson in a three-team deal which sent Austin Jackson and Max Scherzer to Detroit.  Nonetheless, Jackson’s tenure in Detroit was short-lived, and Joyce went on to have a long, reliable MLB career.

Joyce took on a starting role for the Rays in 2011 following a strong minor league stay.  In his first full season, the 26 year old outfielder was an All-Star.  He finished the season with a .277/.347/.478 line, 19 HRs, 75 RBIs, and 32 2Bs.  Joyce would go on to produce four more double digit homer seasons and be a critical member of some playoff bound Tampa teams.

Although not an egregious move to trade Joyce for Jackson, it is difficult to perceive how this trade was viewed at the time.  Joyce had done nothing but show off his talent during his tenure in the Tigers system and was a left-handed bat which would have complemented the Detroit playoff teams of 2011-2014.   

Starting Pitcher: Robbie Ray

Image Credit: Getty/USA

Left-handed pitcher Robbie Ray is likely the first who comes to mind when considering some of the poorest moves made by Dave Dombrowski.  While the three team deal he was involved in resulted in the Tigers receiving Shane Greene, a solid reliever who was turned into current young arm, Joey Wentz, when dealt to the Braves.  No return, though, could have been satisfactory for a pitcher who would go on to win a Cy Young Award.

Originally drafted by the Nationals, Dombrowski went against his typical outlook and hoped to return prospect arms for veteran pitcher and fan favorite, Doug Fister.  Ray, along with reliever Ian Krol, went back Detroit’s way.  In hindsight, this deal was a steal.  Fister was never anything beyond a mediocre arm, and Ray would turn into one of the better pitchers in the entire league.  The problem was, though, he wouldn’t be doing so as a Tiger.

Called up to the major league squad in 2014, Ray, as most young arms do, struggled.  Only a year after he was traded for, Dombrowski dealt the rare power armed lefty to Arizona.  The Diamondbacks had just received a commodity in the baseball world.  After nine strong starts in Triple-A Reno, Ray was called up to the big league squad in 2015.

That season, he immediately became a valued member of the rotation, posting a 3.53 FIP in 23 starts while striking out nearly a batter every inning.  His swing and miss potential, though, wasn’t fully realized until a year later, when he posted 11.3 K/9 in a full, 32 start season.  This led to 2017 when Ray would become an All-Star for the first time in his career.  He finished the season leading the league at 12.1 K/9 and posting a 2.89 ERA.

2018 and 2019 were much the same for the former Tiger, as he posted 12+ K/9 each year, proving himself to be one of the best strikeout artists there is.  It was clear Ray’s consistency would be sought after on the trade block, but he struggled in the shortened 2020 season.  The Blue Jays bought low on the talented arm approaching his prime years.

Toronto was spot on, as Robbie Ray would win the AL Cy Young Award in 2021, leading the league with a 2.84 ERA, 193.1 innings, 248 strikeouts, a 157 ERA+, and a 1.05 WHIP.  Simply putting it, Ray was dominant and the clear top pitcher in the American League.  Performing so well in his contract year led to Ray signing a $115M deal with Seattle in free agency.  With expectations high, Ray’s 2022 campaign was somewhat disappointing but consistent with his career numbers.  It is expected for 2023 to be more of the same from arguably the best strikeout artist in the MLB.

Looking back on Dombrowski’s decision with Ray, I simply can’t find an explanation for the move.  After seeking out young arms in dealing away Fister and hitting on one with Ray, the power arm is given six starts and is swiftly traded.  Finding a left-handed pitcher topping in the high 90s with a wipeout curveball has been rare in any era, and it seemed almost obvious that Ray would turn into a bonafide pitcher in this league.  This one is beyond me.

Starting Pitcher: Jair Jurrjens

Image Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn, MLB Photos

Jair Jurrjens is yet another Tigers arm who turned into an All-Star after being dealt away by Dave Dombrowski.  Developing in the minor leagues during the same period as Tigers 2004 first round selection, Justin Verlander, Jurrjens was dominant during his time in the farm system.  There was no doubt the nasty right-handed pitcher was going to be a strong arm in the MLB.

Jurrjens quickly progressed through Detroit’s system and was called up from Double-A Erie during the 2007 season.  In a year following a World Series berth, the Tigers rotation struggled, with only Verlander posting strong numbers.  As a result, it appeared as if Jurrjens would be able to solidify himself as a member of the squad’s rotation.  Despite this, it only took seven starts and a 4.70 ERA for Dombrowski to trade him in his 2007-08 offseason pursuit of big bats.

Jurrjens, a coveted young arm, was traded for five time all-star and aging veteran Édgar Rentería.  Although Édgar was coming off an extremely strong season with Atlanta, the fit just didn’t make sense.  Rentería was a shortstop, and the Tigers had all-star Carlos Guillén in place.  Also, Rentería was on the last year of his contract and was likely not going to be returned following the season.  

Oddly enough, Rentería wasn’t the only player on the left side of the infield to be acquired by Detroit that offseason, as another promising arm in Andrew Miller, along with five other players, were dealt for Marlins star third baseman Miguel Cabrera over a month later.  While I’ll admit this particular deal worked out well, as Cabrera quickly adapted to first base, these appeared as the typical efforts of Dombrowski to buy hitters with no defensive concern.

Despite making these blockbuster moves, the Tigers finished 74-88 and last in the AL Central in 2008 due to poor defensive structure and an aging pitching staff without a bullpen.  Not a single starter for the Tigers finished with a better ERA than Jair Jurrjens in 2008 as the young arm quickly cemented himself as the ace of Atlanta’s staff.

Jurrjens improved upon his third place finish in the NL Rookie of the Year voting with an impressive 2009, in which he finished the season leading the entire MLB with 34 games started while posting a 2.60 ERA.

Following an injury-filled 2010, Jurrjens rebounded in 2011, headlining a playoff pitching staff alongside veteran Tim Hudson.  That year, Jurrjens made the All-Star Game and finished the season with a sub-3.00 ERA once again. 

Although his career would quickly derail due to injuries after this, the strong four year campaign Jurrjens produced was during a time headlined by a struggling Tigers pitching staff.  Despite rolling out one of the best lineups in the league, Detroit continued to fall short of the playoffs from 2008-2010.  And what could Detroit have used during their 2011 ALCS loss to the Texas Rangers?  An All-Star starting pitcher like Jair Jurrjens.

Relief Pitcher: Corey Knebel

Image Credit: Carlos Osorio, Associated Press

Corey Knebel has, in recent years, experienced his fair share of injury woes and struggles on the mound but has cemented himself as one of the better relievers in the league.  He, of course, began as a Tiger.  A late round pick by the Tigers out of UTA in 2013, Knebel took a mere two years to arrive in the MLB at only age 22.

His talent as a reliever was extremely high and, in Detroit’s last ditch effort to succeed prior to tearing down and beginning a rebuild, Knebel could have been an important piece had he not been dealt.  Instead, though, Dombrowski made the decision to trade Knebel alongside top prospect who failed to ever pan out, Jake Thompson, to the Rangers for an aging reliever, Joakim Soria.

This old Tiger team with its variety of large contracts did not need more of the same with Soria.  It wouldn’t take long, either, for both Soria to be traded away and for Knebel to be sent to Milwaukee from Texas.  Since both stays were short lived, the trade was basically a wash, with neither team accruing any significant benefit.

The Brewers, though, had a young gem of a reliever on their hands, as they rid themselves of Yovani Gallardo (an aging pitcher at the time who now headlines M-SABR’s yearly collection of the league’s worst performances).  Knebel had only pitched 8.2 innings as a Tiger and, following a brief Triple-A stint, became a core piece of Milwaukee’s bullpen at only 23 years of age.

Two years later, in 2017, Knebel was tasked with the closing role on an improving Milwaukee squad.  He did so with success and was arguably the best reliever in the entire MLB during his age 25 All-Star campaign.  In a league leading 76 appearances, Knebel posted a 1.78 ERA, an astounding 14.9 K/9, and 39 saves.  He did so with one of the best benders in the league and a mid-90s fastball.

A solid 2018 was cut short when it was announced Knebel required Tommy John surgery which would sideline him for the entirety of 2019 and cause difficulties returning in the Covid-shortened 2020 season.  Despite grappling with a variety of other injuries, Knebel managed to post strong numbers in both 2021 and 2022.

He became a vital component for a Dombrowski team this past season, as he was one of the Phillies main bullpen arms throughout the season until he was, once again, injured.  While Dombrowski would reunite with the star bullpen arm, his decision to trade Knebel away back in 2014 appears a poor one.  Luckily for the reliever, though, he has been able to spend time in the back end of the bullpens of winning Brewers, Dodgers, and Phillies teams.

Relief Pitcher: Joe Mantiply

Image Credit: Robin Buckson, Detroit News

Joe Mantiply of the Arizona Diamondbacks is yet another short-lived Tiger who would go on to become an All-Star.  A crafty lefty, Mantiply was a 27th round pick out of Virginia Tech in 2013 by the Tigers.  After a long, yet consistent journey through the minors, Mantiply arrived at the show.  He would only stay for 2.2 innings and proceed to be cut by Dave Dombrowski and company.

Following stays in New York and Cincinnati, Mantiply found his home years later in 2020 with the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Right out of the gate in 2021, the aging arm made significant changes to his plan of attack and became a vital component of the Serpientes bullpen.  

Further improving in 2022, Mantiply would become one of the better relievers in the MLB.  With a 2.85 ERA in 60 innings and an All-Star berth, the former Tiger had finally found his place in this league and enters 2023 as a top bullpen option for Arizona.  He is currently in a competition for the team’s closing role.

While I cannot truly blame Dombrowski for this one since Mantiply took a long time to pan out and made a lot of changes during his journey to the All-Star Game, I will note that Dombrowski’s lack of care for the bullpen has resulted in his heavily paid teams struggling in the playoffs on a number of occasions.

For my analysis of Joe Mantiply’s journey from the farm to the 2022 All-Star Game, click here

Relief Pitcher: John Schreiber

Image Credit: Detroit Free Press

John Schreiber is exactly the type of reliever every team needs.  In a game of high velocity, high spin back-end relievers, a change of pace is vital.  While lefties are often thought of as crafty with the ability to deceive batters, having a similar pitcher from the right hand side of the rubber can be very difficult for batters to adjust to.

Schreiber fits this description with a low three-quarters arm slot, low velocity, and ideal use of gravity to create pitch movement and deception.  When I first watched this young arm throw out of the Tigers pen in 2019, I felt the potential was there.  The break on his sinker was obvious and he got a lot of swing and miss for a low 90s rightie.  Schreiber was unfortunately marred by missing spots and lack of opportunity.

After two seasons and a total of 28.2 innings pitched, Schreiber was waived by GM Al Avila.  The Red Sox hopped on the young rightie who was a bullpen work horse in the minor league system.  He spent virtually the entirety of 2021 in Triple-A Worcester, where he compiled a 2.71 ERA in 66.1 innings pitched.  He showcased his ability to be an opener and a long reliever for the squad as well.

All of this success unsurprisingly led to a breakout 2022 with the Red Sox.  He was, simply putting it, the most consistent pitcher in the entirety of Boston’s struggling staff last year.  In 65 innings, he had a 2.22 ERA and a sub-1.00 WHIP.  His season was so strong that he became their everyday closer by the end of the year.  With the signing of Kenley Jansen this offseason, though, it is unlikely Schreiber will retain the role.  Nonetheless, he will be a key component for the team in 2023. 

From loading up on left-side infielders at the expense of young pitching talent to waiving a catcher who would immediately become an all-star, the Dombrowski-Avila era has had its fair share of sold stories.  While it feels as if, with all of these wasted opportunities, the Tigers could have truly had a completely different set of results in this era, I can’t imagine changes in Dombrowski’s philosophy could have yielded a Detroit Tigers championship.

A focus less offense-based and with greater emphasis on defense and the bullpen would have likely yielded further hitting woes to supplement those relevant in the Tigers 2012 World Series loss.  Unless Steve Cohen’s endless money approach was adopted, it doesn’t feel as if the Tigers could have truly made a single championship level change.  In 2012, the bullpen and defense simply didn’t lose it for the squad.  Although the argument could be made otherwise for 2006, the offense still didn’t perform at the level it had for the entirety of the season.  

Even for Dombrowski’s 2022 Phillies, poor defense throughout the season was surmounted in order to win the National League pennant, and it wasn’t the cause of their loss to Houston in the World Series.  There is really no questioning Dombrowski and his two World Series wins and five league championships.  It would have been nice as a Detroit sports fan, though, to have earned a ring, Dave.

Al Avila’s questionable leadership is hazy, as it is unclear how much spending and what type of financial decisions were pushed by owner Christopher Illitch.  For me, though, waiving James McCann was a deal breaker and was the first moment I was truly prepared to root for a different organization, even one in Ohio (I’m kidding, I’m kidding).

Albeit, as a Tigers fan seeing an entire new regime stepping into the front office for 2023 and longest tenured Tiger, Miguel Cabrera, entering his final season, I am interested in what path the Motor City squad takes moving forward.

This offseason alone, a number of players were let go by the organization and could be future candidates to join this roster of short-lived Detroit stories.  All seven have found new homes for 2023 and may all have a shot at seeing some playing time:

Víctor Reyes, CWS

Image Credit: USA Today Sports

Ever since he was taken by the Tigers in the Rule 5 Draft in 2018, I’ve been a fan of the lanky Tigers outfielder.  Showing his potential with a .304 AVG in a limited half of a season’s worth of at bats in 2019, Víctor Reyes has clear talent.  Reyes added 20 pounds of muscle before the 2021 season in the hopes of adding power to his contact and speed repertoire.  The changes haven’t statistically paid off, but Reyes is hitting the ball harder.

His now 6’5” 215 lb frame plays well, and he showcases a wide range of skills.  Reyes has the ability to play any outfield position with consistency.  He has a wide range defensively with plus speed and an above average arm.  He’s shown glimpses of high average ability but has never been a consistent staple of a Tigers lineup.  It is apparent, though, that he lacks the power stroke that is so valuable in the modern game.

Prediction: Since he’s not the Dombrowski-type player which is dominating the MLB right now, I don’t believe Reyes will ever see consistent time in a lineup.  I do believe, though, that he has the ability to remain a consistent bench piece for a White Sox team which has been so often inhibited by injuries in the past.  As this is the case, Reyes could possibly even slot into a starting role eventually as a defensive asset and potential .300 hitter.  Also playing to his benefit is his ability to switch hit.

Jeimer Candelario, WAS

Image Credit: AP Photo/Jose Juarez

Jeimer Candelario came over to Detroit from Chicago as the biggest piece in the return for Alex Avila and Justin Wilson in 2017.  He quickly displayed his potential and became a strong voice in the locker room.  The switch hitting third basemen has shown glimpses of power but has garnered more success in the contact game.  His best season so far was 2021 when he led the league in doubles (largely a result of Comerica Park’s dimensions), hit 16 homers, and had a .271/.351/.443 line.

2022 was disappointing, as was the case for virtually all of Detroit’s offense.  I can’t imagine the locker room is going to respond well, though, to Candelario being let go despite the recent struggles.  The Candy-Man will also be missed as a fan favorite for Tiger fans.

Prediction: Candelario has never lived up to the expectations we, as Tiger fans, placed on him.  He has shown glimpses here and there but is inconsistent.  As a patient hitter, it would be thought he would draw more walks; a high swing and miss rate limits this.  As a result, I can’t see Candelario ever surpassing the high of his 2021 season unless he makes significant mechanical changes.  It will be interesting to see, though, what type of role the Candy-Man plays in a decimated Nats lineup.

Harold Castro, COL

Image Credit: Getty/USA

“Hittin” Harold Castro has done nothing but rake righties since he entered the league in 2018.  Although 2022 was a bit of an enigma as he actually hit better against left-handed pitchers than against those throwing from the right side, Harold has a career average of over .300 against RHPs.

His total career average is .284, as his unique approach at the plate is similar to those of some of the better contact hitters in the game.  He is, in a way, a left-handed version of a young José Altuve.  No, I am not saying Harold Castro is anywhere near the caliber of Altuve, but his outside of the zone approach and thinking ball first is similar to the approach of the Astros star.  Neither Altuve nor Castro are ever swinging for the fences; they are simply trying to put the bat on the ball no matter where it is thrown.  The difference, though, is the lack of power Harold has by comparison.

Prediction: Hittin’ Harold’s contact approach plays well in matchups against right-handed pitchers.  He can also play any position on the diamond (although his defensive skills are not naturally strong).  In Colorado, it is likely Castro will find his power stroke a little more than he was able to in Detroit (going from the most difficult hitter’s ballpark to the easiest).  Due to his lack of specialized skills and power, though, it is unlikely that Castro will see anything beyond a utility role.  Nonetheless, hitting over .300 in limited plate appearances at Coors Field seems plausible.

Willi Castro, MIN

Image Credit: Evan Petzold, Detroit Free Press

Yes, I fell for the trap of Willi Castro.  In 140 plate appearances in the shortened 2020 season, a 23 year old Willi Castro had a .349/.381/.550 line.  I thought the Tigers had struck gold and that our woes in the middle infield had been solved.  Here we are, two years later, and Castro is no longer an infielder and no longer a Tiger.

The last two seasons, Castro has worked hard on his defensive skills in the outfield and has actually become serviceable.  He was a clear liability at shortstop, and much was the same at second.  His defensive efforts have coincided with poor offense, as Willi has failed to find the consistency he had during his unlikely 2020 stretch.  His uppercut approach and heavy strikeout rate feels similar to another failed Tiger shortstop, Niko Goodrum.

Prediction: Just like Goodrum thus far, I really don’t see Willi putting up any significant numbers in the future.  He will be extremely lucky to make the roster in Minnesota and doesn’t present any abilities which a number of their young talents don’t already possess.  Slotting into a utility role doesn’t seem likely either since Castro’s defensive skills are subpar.

Derek Hill, WAS

Image Credit: AP

I love Derek Hill.  This long time Tigers prospect flashes elite speed, Gold Glove defensive ability, and a grit and grind attitude.  There is no flyball or line drive which Hill won’t lay his body on the line for.  Unfortunately, this style of play has been his downfall.  Just like Byron Buxton for the majority of his career, slamming into walls (and teammates) has been the source of injury.  Buxton has been forced to change his style of play and has become a consistent superstar as a result.

I genuinely believe Hill is as strong a defensive player as any player in the league, and there is no doubt he could win a Gold Glove.  There is nothing the 27 year old outfielder can’t do with the leather.  Winning such an award, though, would require the speedy Hill to accrue consistent at-bats.  Even in the minors, he has never been able to do as such.  He simply doesn’t have the bat to ball ability.  He is a hard working kid, though, so I wouldn’t put it past him.

Prediction: Washington is probably the best place Derek Hill could have ended up this offseason.  Beyond starters Corey Dickerson, Víctor Robles, and Lane Thomas, the Nats have a lack of outfield depth.  Dickerson has been injury prone throughout his career and is a defensive liability.  Although unlikely, I do feel there is opportunity here for Derek Hill to make his mark.  Due to his defensive upside, Hill’s future is dependent on whether or not he can hit consistently, which he has yet to do at any point in his professional career.

Daz Cameron, BAL

Image Credit: AP

Daz, son of long time big leaguer and power bat Mike Cameron, has the ability to dazzle with his speed.  A stolen base wizard throughout his time in the minor leagues, similar to Hill, Cameron has never been able to produce consistently at the plate.  His defensive consistency has been questionable at times as well, but his speed and range is undeniable.  The athleticism Cameron possesses is off the charts.

Originally, Cameron, a first round selection in 2015 by Houston, was thought to potentially be one of the better pieces the Tigers received in the Justin Verlander trade.  Alongside Jake Rogers, these returns were less than ideal for Detroit fans but showed promise nonetheless.  Despite this, Cameron has never hit consistently at any professional level.

Prediction: For years, I’ve thought it was possible, given his mechanics, for Cameron to find his power stroke.  Although I still believe this to be the case, I don’t think Daz offers enough offensive upside to ever see consistent at-bats in the future.  The Orioles have developed some strong outfield depth, as well, so it will be a surprise if Cameron plays much time at the major league level this year and beyond.

Kyle Funkhouser, TEX

Image Credit: Evan Petzold, Detroit Free Press

Hard-throwing reliever Kyle Funkhouser missed all of 2022 as he required shoulder surgery.  It came as a surprise that the Tigers weren’t going to be returning the arm for the 2023 season despite his strong 2021.  He was one of the more reliable bullpen pieces for the Tigers that year when he posted a 3.42 ERA in 68.1 innings.

Funkhouser was drafted in the 4th round of the 2016 draft by the Tigers as a starting pitcher and was quickly ranked amongst their top prospects.  He remained as such until an uncharacteristically poor 2019 in the Tigers minor league system.  It was at this point that the organization decided to convert Funkhouser into a bullpen arm.  As his 2021 campaign displayed, Funkhouser thrived in the role.

Prediction: Funkhouser fits the modern reliever mold well, as his high velocity attacking approach is now commonplace.  As a result, I do believe Funkhouser will have an opportunity to showcase his abilities in a thin Rangers bullpen.  The obvious question surrounds how Funkhouser will return from missing the entirety of 2022, but he will have his opportunities.  I believe Funkhouser may prove to be one of the more interesting stories of the players listed here and could see his pitch mix resulting in future success. 

Although I am cautiously optimistic about the seven players listed above who weren’t brought back by new President of Baseball Operations, Scott Harris, the same could be said of players like Eugenio Suárez, Robbie Ray, and Corey Knebel following their short stays in Detroit.  I feel, given what has occurred in the past, any one of these seven could see future success in the MLB.

Predicting such occurrences is difficult, but given current situations, I feel as though Víctor Reyes, Harold Castro, Jeimer Candelario, and Kyle Funkhouser have the easiest paths to becoming All-Star ball players.  Although it may seem far-fetched given their careers up to this point, Dave Dombrowski and Al Avila have given us reason to believe that the careers of these individuals are far from concluded.

Categories: Analysis, Articles

Tags: ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: