5 possible Detroit Tigers starting lineups that include 3 new free agent signings

Tigers sign Robbie Grossman, Wilson Ramos, Jonathan Schoop in free agency

Willi Castro #49 of the Detroit Tigers in action against the Houston Astros during a spring training baseball game at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on March 9, 2020 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (2020 Getty Images)

DETROIT – The Detroit Tigers made a trio of free agent signings over the last month to fill holes in the everyday lineup, but there are still many questions about the starting nine.

Early last month, the Tigers signed outfielder Robbie Grossman to a two-year deal. They added catcher Wilson Ramos two weeks ago and resigned Jonathan Schoop on Friday.

All three of those players will be on the field more often than not, but what will the lineup look like around them?

Here are a handful of possible lineup combinations we could see from A.J. Hinch in his first season as Tigers manager.

1. ‘Stick with your guys’

One of the biggest questions facing the Tigers is how the infield will ultimately shape up.

Last year, the Opening Day infield featured C.J. Cron at first base, Schoop at second base, Jeimer Candelario at third base and Niko Goodrum at shortstop.

Well, that was derailed early in the season when Cron suffered an injury. The Tigers addressed the hole at first base by moving Candelario across the diamond and trying a variety of players at third.

The key to where Candelario lands this season: Is Goodrum still the team’s starting shortstop?

Goodrum made offensive strides each of the previous two seasons and clearly looked like the best defensive option at short. While the latter proved true in 2020, his offensive numbers took a massive dip.

In 43 games, Goodrum struck out 69 times (38.5% of his plate appearances) while posting a .263 on-base percentage and .598 OPS.

Spring training will help the Tigers decide whether Goodrum gets another shot as the full-time starter. If that’s the case, the lineup could look something like this:

  1. Grossman, LF
  2. Schoop, 2B
  3. Cabrera, DH
  4. Candelario, 1B
  5. Castro, 3B
  6. Ramos, C
  7. Victor Reyes, RF
  8. Goodrum, SS
  9. JaCoby Jones, CF

2. Last year’s lineup

Hinch wasn’t the manager last season, but if he values 2020 statistics over spring performance, he could decide to go in a different direction at the top of the order.

The team’s best hitter the second half of last season was Castro, and it wasn’t even close. He posted a .349/.381./550 slash line with six home runs and 12 total extra-base hits in 36 games.

Reyes is a very difficult player to project. He was excellent through the team’s first 43 games last season, owning a .819 OPS with a .346 OBP that propelled him to the top of Ron Gardenhire’s lineup.

Victor Reyes #22 of the Detroit Tigers hits in the sixth inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on September 25, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri. (2020 Getty Images)

A 10-for-60 finish in his last 15 games decimated Reyes’ overall numbers, but it seems the Tigers like what they have in him.

Of his 50 games started last season, Reyes hit leadoff in 34 of them. Castro bounced around the lineup a little more than that, but his most common spot was No. 2.

Here’s what a lineup more prominently featuring Reyes and Castro could look like:

  1. Reyes, RF
  2. Castro, 3B
  3. Cabrera, DH
  4. Candelario, 1B
  5. Schoop, 2B
  6. Grossman, LF
  7. Ramos, C
  8. Goodrum, SS
  9. Jones, CF

3. ‘Let the kid play’

As much as the Tigers like Goodrum, he probably doesn’t have a long leash if he struggles in spring training or early in the regular season.

It’s possible the organization’s No. 6 prospect, Isaac Paredes, could break the starting lineup despite struggling last season.

Paredes posted a .568 OPS in 108 plate appearances as a 21-year-old, but showed flashes of his combination of power and plate discipline. This offseason, Paredes hit four home runs and 17 doubles in 42 Mexican Pacific Winter League games while batting .379 with a 1.060 OPS. He drew 27 walks and struck out just 12 times.

Isaac Paredes #19 of the Detroit Tigers bats during the Detroit Tigers Summer Workouts at Comerica Park on July 18, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. (MLB Photos via Getty Images)

The Tigers should be doing everything they can to get the youngster in the lineup.

There was some chatter about Paredes possibly testing the waters at second base this offseason, but his makeup is probably better suited for the hot corner, where he held his own in 2020. The Schoop signing also made that move less likely.

Here’s what a lineup featuring Paredes could look like:

  1. Grossman, LF
  2. Schoop, 2B
  3. Cabrera, DH
  4. Candelario, 1B
  5. Castro, SS
  6. Ramos, C
  7. Paredes, 3B
  8. Reyes, RF
  9. Jones, CF

4. Prospect heavy lineup

Paredes isn’t the only top prospect in the organization with a chance at the everyday lineup.

Daz Cameron and Jake Rogers have both made their MLB debuts already -- Cameron late in 2020 and Rogers in 2019.

It seems very unlikely that either would make the Opening Day roster in a starting role, but if they compete well during the spring, the Tigers have plenty of incentive to give younger players a shot.

Cameron, 24, is a potential five-tool player. His speed and defense were already on display in 17 games last season. The problem is he didn’t hit at all, though 59 plate appearances isn’t much of a sample size.

Rogers, 25, had similar struggles in 2019, but he did hit four home runs and draw 13 walks. Both players are at points in their careers where they should be at least in competition to win roster spots.

This lineup isn’t at all likely, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see one of the three prospects -- Paredes, Cameron or Rogers -- in the starting lineup when the season begins.

  1. Grossman, LF
  2. Castro, SS
  3. Cabrera, DH
  4. Candelario, 1B
  5. Schoop, 2B
  6. Rogers, C
  7. Paredes, 3B
  8. Reyes, CF
  9. Cameron, RF

Even though Cameron projects as a strong enough outfielder to play center, it feels like the Tigers would be more comfortable easing him in at a corner outfield spot, especially since Reyes filled in acceptably for Jones late last season.

5. My optimal lineup

Full disclosure: This lineup probably doesn’t have a chance. But unlike the prospect lineup -- which is unlikely because those players haven’t earned starting spots -- the doubt here stems from the Tigers’ reluctance to make certain changes.

One important piece of the optimal lineup that seems realistic is Grossman at leadoff. There’s no excuse to put the player with a career .350 OBP across 2,748 plate appearances anywhere other than the top. On-base guys have been hard for the Tigers to come by, and Grossman is proven in that regard.

Then, there’s the matter of the No. 2 hole. While the Tigers will probably go with someone like Schoop, the “reliable veteran who can handle the bat,” they’d be better served putting the best hitter in the lineup at that spot.

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 08: Jeimer Candelario #46 of the Detroit Tigers points to the sky as he crosses home plate after hitting a solo home run in the first inning during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on August 8, 2020 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) (2020 Getty Images)

Statistically, the No. 2 batter comes up in many high-leverage situations and also gets significantly more plate appearances across 162 games than players in the No. 4 or No. 5 holes. It makes sense that a team would want its best player to get more at-bats.

Cabrera is also an important consideration. It’s basically a guarantee he’ll hit third in the lineup, even though that shouldn’t be the case. Not only has Cabrera posted an OPS below .750 each of his last three full seasons (excluding 2018, when he missed the majority of the season due to injury), but he’s also a major clog on the base paths, and that can cripple rallies.

The Tigers will have one of the worst offenses in the league this season, but there are a few changes that could make them more competitive.

Here’s my personal lineup preference for the Tigers, as of Feb. 8, 2021:

  1. Grossman, LF
  2. Candelario, 1B
  3. Castro, SS
  4. Schoop, 2B
  5. Paredes, 3B
  6. Cabrera, DH
  7. Ramos, C
  8. Reyes, RF
  9. Jones, CF

Candelario was by far the best hitter on the team from start-to-finish last season, posting an .872 OPS with a steady combination of consistently getting on base and hitting for power. He’s among the best on the team at drawing walks and doesn’t strike out at a high rate.

Schoop would be a solid option at the cleanup spot because he has reliable home run power and doesn’t strike out often. He hit eight home runs in 44 games last season and surpassed 20 homers in each of the previous four seasons.

Paredes needs more at-bats, plain and simple. He’s one of the organization’s top offensive prospects, and putting him at No. 5 extends the heart of the order with someone who can work the count while also giving him more opportunities.

Reyes and Jones aren’t flashy, but the Tigers don’t have a lot of options in the outfield. Both have had stretches in which they looked like the best hitters on the team. Their reliable defense helps, too.

Other considerations

Schoop said when he resigned with the Tigers that Hinch might utilize his defensive versatility more often. Whether that means he’ll get chances at first base, third base or elsewhere remains to be seen.

Goodrum could also slot in somewhere else on the field if the Tigers want to put Castro at shortstop. He would need to pick up his offense, though, because defense at shortstop was the only thing keeping him on the field in 2020.

Reyes, Jones and Cameron could all play center field at some point this season, but when healthy, Jones has spent the most time there, so I went with him for these projections.

Castro played all three infield positions last season, so it’ll be interesting to see how he and Paredes fit into the lineup defensively if both are starters. The Tigers would likely move Schoop and Goodrum around to accommodate the younger players.


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