The Astros made an offer to the Tigers for right fielder Nick Castellanos prior to last July’s trade deadline, according to Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press (via Twitter). Houston was known to be aggressively pursuing a big outfield bat last summer, even to the point of almost completing a trade with the Nationals for Bryce Harper, and also inquiring about Tommy Pham (then with the Cardinals) and White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia. Fenech suggests that Castellanos could again be a target for the Astros this offseason, and he explores in a longer piece for the Detroit Free Press that it is becoming increasingly likely that the Tigers will trade Castellanos due to a lack of extension talks between the two sides.
After thirteen seasons in professional baseball, outfielder Quintin Berry has officially hung up his cleats. Berry announces his retirement via Twitter, but adds that he will be joining the Milwaukee Brewers for the 2019 season as an outfield and baserunning coordinating (Twitter links). The Brewers have not yet announced the hire.
Berry’s most significant playing time came with the 2012 Tigers when he made his ML debut. He played in 94 games as a 27-year-old rookie, hitting .258/.330/.354 and stealing 21 bases in 21 attempts. Since then, Berry has been one of baseball’s few speed specialists, seeing time as an occasional stolen base threat off the bench, a la Terrance Gore.
Berry, who turns 34 years-old on November 21st, was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 5th round of the 2006 draft. He spent time with 12 organizations in total, including major-league appearances for the Tigers, Red Sox, Orioles, Cubs and most-recently the 2017 Brewers, for whom he stole two bases in three attempts after rosters expanded in September. Notably, Berry stole three bases in three attempts for the Red Sox during their World Series run in 2013. After pinch-running for David Ortiz, he stole second base off Yadier Molina in the eighth inning of a Game 4 Boston victory.
The Tigers announced that they’ve signed 12 players to minor league contracts (full list here), including veteran shortstop Pete Kozma and infielder Harold Castro — each of whom was outrighted off the 40-man roster and became a free agent two weeks ago. That pair will be invited to Major League Spring Training, as will former Astros right-hander Jose Cisnero.
Kozma, a former Cardinals shortstop, had two stints with the Tigers this season but hit just .217/.236/.348 in 73 trips to the plate. His Triple-A stats weren’t an improvement (.203/.260/.295), though the defensive specialist has always been primarily known for his glovework. He’s still just 30 years of age and won’t turn 31 until after Opening Day next April.
Castro will turn 25 at the end of the month and made a very brief MLB debut this past season, going 3-for-10 in limited action as a September call-up. He once ranked among the organization’s top 30 prospects, per Baseball America, but that was back in 2014, and he’s done little at the plate in recent seasons. He split the 2018 season between Double-A and Triple-A, hitting a combined .265/.283/.319 in 367 plate appearances.
Cisnero is exactly one year younger than Kozma and hasn’t appeared in the Majors since the 2014 season with Houston. He broke into the Majors as a 24-year-old in 2013 and showed a bit of promise, pitching to a 4.12 ERA with 8.5 K/9, 4.5 BB/9 and 1.03 HR/9 in 43 2/3 innings as a rookie. Elbow issues torched his 2014 season, though, and he’s only pitched 5 1/3 innings of affiliated ball since that season ended. He’s pitched exclusively in the Mexican League and in Winter Ball since that time — also all in limited fashion. He’s off to a strong start in the 2018-19 Dominican Winter League, having yielded three earned runs on four hits and four walks with 11 strikeouts through 10 1/3 innings of relief.
- Don’t look for the Tigers to return to their ways as big players on the free-agent market just yet, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press writes. Asked whether the Tigers could return to playing at the top of the open market, general manager Al Avila told Fenech, “One of these days,” before adding that the timing of such a return could be deduced “without me telling you.” Fenech goes on to suggest that the Tigers may not reemerge as prime free-agent players until the 2020-21 offseason, when the contract of Jordan Zimmermann is off the books and when much of the team’s increasing crop of minor league talent has begun to surface in the big leagues. For the time being, though, Tigers fans shouldn’t get their hopes up with dreams of splashy additions like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado or Patrick Corbin.
It stands to reason that the Detroit organization will continue to look for ways to find value from roster castaways from other organizations. In this case, they’ll take a look at a pair of players who earned first-time MLB promotions in 2018 but failed to impress at the game’s highest level.
Dixon, 26, raked in his second attempt at Triple-A but racked up 43 strikeouts and limped to a .574 OPS in his first 124 plate appearances in the big leagues. The former third-rounder is capable of playing the corners in both the infield and outfield but also has experience at second base, potentially making him a versatile piece if he can earn a shot with the Tigers.
As for Fernandez, he’ll turn 26 right as camp opens, just in time to push for a job in the Detroit pen. He’s exclusively a reliever and occasionally threw multiple innings in the upper minors last year, working to a 2.97 in 60 2/3 frames over 44 appearances. Though he has allowed a few too many free passes in recent years, Fernandez gets some swings and misses. He also showed a 94+ mph heater from the left side.
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The rebuild process continues for the Tigers, who will likely use the winter to seek more young talent while plugging a few roster holes, but they do have spending power to work with if they wish.
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B: $162MM through 2023 (includes $8MM buyout of $30MM club option for 2024)
- Jordan Zimmermann, SP: $50MM through 2020
Arbitration Eligible Players (projections via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz)
- Nick Castellanos – $11.3MM
- Shane Greene – $4.8MM
- James McCann – $3.5MM
- Michael Fulmer – $3.0MM
- Matthew Boyd – $3.0MM
- Alex Wilson – $2.8MM
- Daniel Norris — $1.4MM
- Blaine Hardy – $1.2MM
- Drew VerHagen – $900K
- Non-tender candidates: McCann
Other Financial Obligations
The Tigers head into the offseason knowing that their 2019 lineup will consist of Jeimer Candelario at third base, super-utilityman Niko Goodrum at one of a variety of positions, future Hall-of-Famer Miguel Cabrera at either first base or DH (with John Hicks supplementing him), and likely power-hitting prospect Christin Stewart in left field. Beyond these spots, however, the team has a lot of flexibility to work with as the Tigers continue to figure out who will be part of their long-term future.
At both center field and catcher, for instance, Detroit has to decide how it will best fill positions until some notable minor leaguers make their arrival. JaCoby Jones and Mikie Mahtook are the top in-house choices in center field, though it isn’t an ideal platoon since both are right-handed bats and neither delivered much at the plate last season. The Tigers could choose to augment the position with a veteran signing, as they did with Leonys Martin last winter, or just stick with Jones and Mahtook until top prospect Daz Cameron is ready (perhaps later in the season). Cameron has shown solid on-base skills over his four pro seasons, including a .285/.367/.470 slash line over 226 Double-A plate appearances last season, though he’ll need some more seasoning after playing just 15 games at Triple-A last year.
Catching prospect Jake Rogers could also enter the big league picture once he debuts at Triple-A and shows more consistency at the plate, as scouts and observers are already very impressed by his defense. That leaves the Tigers with the option of sticking with James McCann, Hicks, and Grayson Greiner until Rogers is ready, or perhaps trading or even non-tendering McCann to instead go with a combo of Greiner and Hicks behind the plate. McCann is coming off a sub-replacement level season both offensively and in terms of pitch-blocking and framing, though he did provide decent value (1.6 fWAR, 95 wRC+) in 2017. McCann is projected for a $3.5MM salary via arbitration, though that sum is modest enough that the team’s decision will just come down to whether or not it feels McCann is the best choice for the pitching staff going forward.
The most obvious hole in the lineup is at shortstop, as the Tigers were unable to move Jose Iglesias after months of trade rumors and will now allow the sparkling defender to reach free agency. Iglesias will get some attention from other teams looking for a defensive upgrade up the middle, though four straight seasons of below-average offensive production will limit his market. While Iglesias has already publicly said his goodbyes to the Detroit fans, he might very well end up fitting the team’s need for a relatively inexpensive veteran shortstop. Sticking with a known quantity like Iglesias might be preferable to signing another veteran in free agency (e.g. Jordy Mercer, Freddy Galvis, Alcides Escobar), though if the Tigers are thinking about flipping their veteran acquisition at the trade deadline, they could aim slightly higher with someone like Asdrubal Cabrera, who offers more at the plate.
An experienced shortstop would go a long way towards bolstering the infield situation for the first part of the season, as the Tigers surely hope that more than one of their best infield prospects (Dawel Lugo, Willi Castro, Isaac Paredes) can force a promotion to the big league roster later in the year. Lugo already made his MLB debut in 2018, so he and rookie Ronny Rodriguez are favorites as utility infield depth while Goodrum is probably the top choice at second base. Alternatively, the Tigers could use Goodrum and Rodriguez at shortstop while adding a regular second baseman. Someone like Galvis, Mercer, or Cabrera could fit either middle infield spot, of course, while free agent second basemen like Josh Harrison or Logan Forsythe would also offer a bit of versatility at third base. Perhaps the club could strike if it sees good value in a free agent who falls through the cracks a bit, with DJ LeMahieu seemingly an interesting hypothetical possibility as the market gets underway.
Goodrum did spend the bulk of his time at second base last year and the Tigers are likelier to just stick with him at the position, though his versatility makes him a nice asset for Detroit to utilize as they figure out the remainder of their roster. For instance, Goodrum could see some more time in right field should the Tigers take the leap on dealing Nicholas Castellanos. After three years of .285/.336/.495 production, Castellanos offers a lot of hitting prowess to any team looking for some short-term pop, as Castellanos is only under contract through the 2018 season. On the down side, the 26-year-old is due for a big raise in his final year of arbitration (a projected $11.3MM), and Castellanos hasn’t provided any defensive value whatsoever, either as a right fielder or at his old third base spot. Unsurprisingly, his poor glovework has reputedly limited his trade value before and will continue to do so.
The Tigers have resisted the idea of using Castellanos as a first baseman in the past, due in large part to other roster considerations. Now that Victor Martinez’s retirement has opened up the designated hitter spot, it might be time for Detroit to consider deploying Castellanos and Miguel Cabrera in a timeshare between the first base and DH spots. (Anthony Fenech recently explored the possibility in a piece for the Detroit Free Press.) Castellanos has never played first base as a pro ballplayer, though it would help his trade value — and perhaps also his future free agent value — if he could demonstrate at least passable glovework at even the least-demanding position on the field, rather than being a major negative in right field.
Stewart also isn’t much of a defender, so it would be a big help to Detroit’s pitching staff if the spacious Comerica Park outfield didn’t have Stewart and Castellanos both regularly manning the corner positions. Granted, the Tigers aren’t prioritizing winning in 2019, but it doesn’t help a young pitcher’s development if flyouts and singles are being turned into singles or extra-base hits due to poor outfield defense. While the Tigers have talked to Castellanos about an extension in the past, such a contract might only happen if the team is really intent on sticking with him as a right fielder. A move to first base might signal that Castellanos’ time in Detroit is nearing an end, as the Tigers certainly don’t want to clog up both the first base and DH spots with he and Cabrera for the foreseeable future.
Cabrera, of course, is still set to earn at least $162MM through the 2023 season, making him one of more untradeable players in baseball due to his age (36 in April) and an increasing number of injuries over the last two seasons. Jordan Zimmermann’s contract also makes him too hefty to be dealt, even if he did slightly rebound to post the best of his three seasons in Detroit.
With those two veterans unlikely to be discussed in any realistic trade discussions, that leaves Castellanos, Michael Fulmer, Shane Greene and Alex Wilson as possible candidates to be dealt before Opening Day. Greene had a brief DL stint in July that may have scuttled his chances at a midseason trade, and while the Tigers would be selling low in the wake of an inconsistent season from the closer, his peripherals indicated a much more solid performance than Greene’s 5.12 ERA would indicate.
The Tigers received a lot of calls Fulmer last winter and even throughout the year, and the 2016 AL Rookie Of The Year will still get interest given his four remaining years of team control as a Super Two player. Fulmer didn’t do much to help his value, however, after posting a 4.69 ERA over 132 1/3 innings and allowing a lot of hard contact along with spikes in his home run and walk rates. Barring a blow-away offer from another team, I wouldn’t expect Fulmer to be traded this offseason while his stock is at its lowest, as it makes more sense for Detroit to hope for a bounce-back performance in 2019.
Besides Fulmer and Zimmermann, the Tigers project to have Matthew Boyd, Daniel Norris, and Blaine Hardy rounding out their starting five. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see teams ask about the latter three in trade discussions, and could at least be considered as trade pieces by the Detroit brass. Boyd was solid last year and could draw some interest from teams looking for controllable starting pitching, though he hasn’t yet shown a lofty ceiling in the big leagues. Norris has long been seen as a talented pitcher, but has yet to harness his promise. Hardy, meanwhile, is already 31 and did show some unexpected potential as a starting pitcher last year. It’s arguable he’s the likeliest trade candidate of the bunch, though interest isn’t likely to be too intense. He could be a versatile piece for the right organization, but the Tigers might simply prefer to keep him themselves.
Whether or not any existing options are removed from the mix, there’ll be a need for some innings. The Tigers signed Mike Fiers and Francisco Liriano as low-cost rotation help last offseason, with Fiers eventually netting Detroit two pitching prospects after the right-hander was dealt to the A’s in August. Expect the Tigers to make at least a couple of veteran signings for the rotation and bullpen in this same vein, and a reunion with Liriano wouldn’t be out of the question, even if he seems more like a LOOGY at this point than a starting pitcher. Getting through games may require some creativity for skipper Ron Gardenhire. Using an opener for at least one of the rotation spots would be an interesting way of keeping Norris and Hardy fresh, and of breaking prospects Beau Burrows and Matt Manning into the majors if they’re ready for a late-season promotion.
All things considered, despite having some obvious needs, it’s hard to know whether the Tigers will fulfill them with significant MLB acquisitions. The payroll is well below its recent high-point, when it sat just below $200MM to open the 2017 season. But the club hardly seems ready to begin adding veteran pieces for the future, so any larger expenditures would likely occur only if there’s a sterling opportunity to achieve value. On the potential sell side, Fulmer, Greene, and perhaps Castellanos all may be better candidates to be dealt after (hopefully) building up value during the course of the season. Suffice to say, it could end up being another relatively quiet offseason in the Motor City.
Oct. 25: The Tigers have announced all the moves, adding that Coleman, Adduci and Kozma have indeed elected free agency. Castro, it seems, will remain with the organization.
Oct. 24: The Tigers have outrighted shortstop Pete Kozma, right-hander Louis Coleman, first baseman/outfielder Jim Adduci and infielder Harold Castro after each the four cleared waivers, per the team’s transaction page at MLB.com. They’ll join right-hander Artie Lewicki, who did not clear waivers and was claimed by the D-backs, as the first five offseason roster casualties for the Tigers.
Kozma, still just 30 years old, had two stints with the Tigers this season but hit just .217/.236/.348 in 73 trips to the plate. His Triple-A work wasn’t any prettier (.203/.260/.295), though the defensive specialist has always been known more for his glovework than his bat.
Coleman, 32, racked up a fairly significant workload in Detroit this year, tallying 51 1/3 innings out of manager Ron Gardenhire’s bullpen. His 3.51 ERA looks fairly appealing at first glance, but he managed just 7.2 K/9 against 4.2 BB/9 and worked off a fastball that averaged 89.1 mph. Coleman benefited from a strand rate (78.8 percent) well north of the league average and a BABIP (.270) that was a good bit shy of the league norm, though both those numbers were in line with his career marks.
The 33-year-old Adduci has spent time with the Tigers in each of the past two seasons but mustered only a .267/.290/.386 batting line in 185 trips to the plate in 2018. The Canadian-born veteran has had plenty of success in Triple-A (career .287/.354/.414 hitter) and also fared well in a pair of seasons with the Lotte Giants of the Korea Baseball Organization (.307/.369/.530).
Castro, 25 next month, went 3-for-10 in his big league debut this season after having his contract selected in late September. He didn’t give the organization much reason for optimism with his Triple-A showing, hitting .257/.270/.310 in 251 plate appearances, and it’s been four years since he was ranked 28th among Tigers farmhands by Baseball America.
All four players — certainly Kozma, Coleman and Adduci — seem likely to become free agents and look for new minor league pacts in the offseason. Both Kozma and Coleman would’ve been arbitration-eligible this offseason, with MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projecting Kozma at a modest $700K and Coleman at $1.1MM.
This year’s cutoff for players to achieve Super Two status, and thus be eligible for arbitration a year early, has been set at two years and 134 days of Major League service time (written as 2.134), tweets ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick.
In order to reach Super Two status, a player must be in the top 22 percent of players with between two and three seasons of MLB service (in terms of total service time) and must have spent 86 days of the preceding season on a Major League roster or disabled list. That designation allows those players to reach arbitration eligibility a year early and go through arbitration four times as opposed to the standard three.
Not only does this increase players’ earning power in the ensuing season, but it also has a substantial impact on their earnings years down the line, as arbitration salaries are built upon the prior year’s earnings. By getting to arbitration early, players jump-start their earning potential a full year sooner than most of their peers. It’s hardly a surprise, then, that the current single-season salary record holder for an arbitration-eligible player, Josh Donaldson, reached Super Two status early in his career ($23MM). Nor is it surprising that Nolan Arenado, who is projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to break that record this offseason, was also a Super Two player. Swartz projects Arenado to take home a whopping $26.1MM salary in his final winter of arbitration eligibility.
Here’s how this year’s 2.134 cutoff compares to recent years:
- 2017: 2.123
- 2016: 2.131
- 2015: 2.130
- 2014: 2.133
- 2013: 2.122
- 2012: 2.140
- 2011: 2.146
- 2010: 2.122
- 2009: 2.139
This year’s cutoff is the highest in a half decade, leaving a handful of players ever so slightly on the outside of the bubble. Among them are the Mariners’ Edwin Diaz (2.121), the Athletics’ Andrew Triggs (2.123), the Dodgers’ Austin Barnes (2.124), the Rays’ Mallex Smith (2.125), the Nationals’ Justin Miller (2.128), the Rangers’ Matt Bush (2.132) and the Reds’ Scott Schebler (2.132).
Conversely, there are a few players who ever so narrowly squeaked into Super Two status under the wire. Chief among them is Nationals shortstop Trea Turner, who exemplifies the benefit of reaching Super Two status. Had Turner accrued even two fewer days of big league service than the 2.135 years he presently has, he’d have been in line for a six-figure salary not far north of the Major League minimum. Instead, he’s projected by Swartz to earn nearly 10 times that amount — a salary of $5.3MM. He’ll get a raise based on that starting point in 2020 and continue earning raises through the 2022 season, after which he’ll be a free agent.
Beyond Turner, Tigers left-hander Matthew Boyd just barely surpassed the cutoff at 2.136 and is projected at an even $3MM. Cubs righty Carl Edwards Jr. and Braves lefty Jacob Lindgren each landed at 2.134 on the dot, making both arbitration-eligible this winter as well. Edwards is projected to earn $1.4MM, while Lindgren projects at $600K due to the fact that he missed the 2018 season recovering from surgery and did not throw a pitch.
The Diamondbacks have claimed right-hander Artie Lewicki off waivers from the Tigers, per the MLB.com Transactions page (hat tip: MLive.com’s Evan Woodbery, on Twitter). Lewicki underwent Tommy John surgery back in late August.
The 26-year-old Lewicki (27 in April) has generally turned in quality results in the upper minors but has yet to have much success as a big leaguer. In 2018, he turned in 38 1/3 innings of 4.89 ERA ball with 7.0 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 0.93 HR/9 and a 40.3 percent ground-ball rate with the Tigers. However, he posted a 2.03 ERA with terrific K/BB numbers in Triple-A in 2017 and owns an overall 3.79 ERA with 8.5 K/9 against 2.5 BB/9 in 92 2/3 innings at the top minor league level.
Obviously, Lewicki is highly unlikely to pitch for the D-backs in 2019. It’s not even a given that Arizona will carry him on the 40-man roster through the duration of the offseason. The Diamondbacks could try to run the right-hander through waivers themselves and then send him outright to Triple-A, retaining his rights but shedding the requirement to carry him on the 40-man roster. If Lewicki does survive the offseason on Arizona’s 40-man, he could be immediately added to the 60-day disabled list next spring, thus freeing a spot for the remainder of the 2019 season.
As he prepares for the World Series, Red Sox right-hander Nathan Eovaldi says he has yet to have any talks with the club regarding a deal that would keep him off of the open market, John Tomase of WEEI.com reports. The hurler says he’d “love to be back,” though unsurprisingly it looks as if he’ll test the open market first. It’s certainly possible to imagine a fit with Boston, though the same could be said of quite a few other organizations as well.
Here’s more from the American League:
- There’s some belief that the Rays will land Cuban righty Sandy Gaston, according to MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro (Twitter links). Two other top players, the Mesa brothers, landed with the Marlins today. The Orioles had been seen as a chief competitor for these and other top young players who are eligible to sign rather than entering the draft. To date, though, the club has largely kept its war chest intact. Frisaro says it’s believed that it would cost Tampa Bay around $2MM to secure the amateur.
- The lack of a suitable defensive position has long been the primary concern with Tigers slugger Nicholas Castellanos. As Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press writes, GM Al Avila says the current plan remains to keep Castellanos in right field, where he has “made some strides.” As Fenech writes, though, there are some good practical reasons to consider utilizing Castellanos at first base, where he’d be less of a concern defensively and wouldn’t clog up a spot in the outfield for other other players the club would like to get a look at. Of course, the first base position is spoken for, at least for part of the time, by Miguel Cabrera.
- Despite a disappointing end to the 2018 season, the Astros enter the winter with a great deal of confidence in their existing roster, as Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle reports. Unsurprisingly, though, GM Jeff Luhnow identified starting pitching and catching as two areas that will need to be addressed. In other Astros news, the organization is expected to retain all of skipper A.J. Hinch’s coaches, Luhnow tells Rome (via Twitter). All are already under contract, per the GM. Of course, bench coach Joe Espada has received strong interest from other organizations as a managerial candidate, so it’s still possible the club will need to make a new hire.