As pitchers and catchers prepare to report to spring training Wednesday, here’s a look at all seven free agent signings and how these players will fit into the fold for this season.
NOTE: The Tigers have made a number of other minor signings this offseason, but these are the most likely to affect the 2021 roster.
INF Greg Garcia
- Details: Signed to minor league deal
- Last season: .200/.279/.250 (.529 OPS) with 3 doubles, 7 walks, 18 strikeouts in 35 games.
- Likely role: Organizational infield depth
The Tigers rebuild is best known for its top-end pitching talent, but the cupboard is still a little bare in terms of position player prospects who are close to the MLB level.
Veterans such as Garcia, who will receive an invite to MLB spring training, give the Tigers some insurance if the infield is wrecked by injuries. Harold Castro will probably start the season as the team’s utility infielder, but Garcia could find his way to Detroit at some point.
OF Robbie Grossman
- Details: Signed a 2-year, $10 million deal
- Last season: .241/.344/.482 (.826 OPS) with 12 doubles, 9 home runs, 21 walks, 38 strikeouts in 51 games.
- Likely role: Starting left fielder
Detroit wasn’t in the mix for George Springer or any of the other top bats in free agency, but Grossman is a solid pickup on a cheap deal.
The 31-year-old outfielder has a career on-base percentage of .350 and is coming off a season in which he slugged a career-high .482.
Don’t be surprised if new manager A.J. Hinch puts Grossman at the top of the lineup to start the season. While he doesn’t have great speed, Grossman has posted an OBP between .334 and .386 each of the last five seasons.
OF Nomar Mazara
- Details: Signed a 1-year, $1.75 million deal, with possible incentives
- Last season: .228/.295/.294 (.589 OPS) with 6 doubles, 1 home run, 10 walks, 44 strikeouts in 42 games.
- Likely role: Part-time outfielder
A former top prospect who’s still just 25 years old, Mazara is the type of player the Tigers should be taking chances on, especially before the top outfielders in the organization reach the MLB level.
Mazara only received 149 plate appearances with the Chicago White Sox last season, but before that, he hit 20 home runs in 2016, 2017 and 2018 and 19 home runs in 2019.
Before making his debut as a 20-year-old in 2016, Mazara was the No. 14 prospect in all of baseball. His .744 career OPS is slightly below MLB average, but the Tigers are willing to take a no-risk chance on him tapping into some of that potential.
With Grossman, JaCoby Jones and Victor Reyes in the mix, it’s unclear exactly how Mazara will fit into the everyday lineup. It doesn’t hurt for the Tigers to have some depth at the position, though.
1B Renato Nunez
- Details: Signed to a minor league deal
- Last season: .256/.324/.492 (.816 OPS) with 10 doubles, 12 home runs, 17 walks and 64 strikeouts in 52 games.
- Likely role: Bench bat or starting first baseman
Nunez was signed to a minor league deal with an invitation to MLB spring training, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him make the roster, considering his offensive talent and the Tigers’ hole at first base.
Last year, Jeimer Candelario was moved to first base after an injury ended C.J. Cron’s season. If Candelario moves back to his more comfortable spot at third base, the other infield corner will be up for grabs.
It’s possible Niko Goodrum could get some time at first base. Or Candelario could stay there if Goodrum wins the shortstop job and pushes Willi Castro to the hot corner. Isaac Paredes could also battle for third base and keep Candelario at first.
But Nunez hit 43 home runs and 34 doubles for the Baltimore Orioles over 203 games the last two years. He posted a .783 OPS in parts of three seasons in Baltimore, which is what made his release so surprising.
Nunez would have been one of the best hitters on the Tigers’ roster last season, and he’s only 26 years old (he’ll turn 27 on April 4). If he hits well during spring training, there’s nobody blocking him from winning the first base job, or at least beginning the campaign as a pinch hitter.
C Wilson Ramos
- Details: Signed 1-year, $2 million deal
- Last season: .239/.297/.387 (.684 OPS) with 6 doubles, 5 home runs, 10 walks, 31 strikeouts in 45 games.
- Likely role: Starting catcher
The Tigers must think top catching prospect Jake Rogers is at least another year away from being the No. 1 option, because Ramos is an 11-year veteran who will come in and take the majority of the starts behind the plate.
Detroit probably likes the idea of Ramos, who has played in 946 MLB games since 2010, helping the young pitching staff as they test the major-league waters. Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and whoever else debuts in 2021 will benefit from having someone like Ramos behind the plate.
As recently as 2019, Ramos was a plus offensive catcher. He posted a .768 OPS that season with 19 doubles, 14 home runs and a .351 OBP (44 walks to 69 strikeouts). In 2018, he was an all-star who slashed .306/.358/.487 with 22 doubles and 15 home runs.
There’s no question Ramos will be an upgrade for the Tigers behind the dish, even if he has another mediocre offensive season.
2B Jonathan Schoop
- Details: Signed 1-year, $4.5 million deal
- Last season: .278/.324/.475 (.799 OPS) with 4 doubles, 8 home runs, 8 walks, 39 strikeouts in 44 games.
- Likely role: Starting second baseman
Schoop doesn’t need an introduction for Tigers fans, as he was the team’s second- or third-best hitter throughout 2020 before a wrist injury ended his season.
In his last four full seasons (excluding the pandemic-shortened 2020), Schoop has posted home run totals of 25, 32, 21 and 23 with the Orioles, Milwaukee Brewers and Minnesota Twins. Wherever he goes, he hits for power, and that was the case last year in Detroit.
Schoop was on pace to hit double-digit homers again before the injury, and his slash line was a slight improvement across the board compared to his career rates.
When the Tigers announced his signing, they included a quote that Hinch might utilize Schoop’s defensive versatility more this season. He hasn’t played anywhere but second base and designated hitter the last two years, and 805 of his 844 career games have come at the keystone.
RHP Jose Urena
- Details: Signed 1-year, $3.25 million deal
- Last season: 5.40 ERA, 6.06 FIP, 1.500 WHIP, 15 strikeouts, 13 walks in 23.1 innings.
- Likely role: Middle relief
Most of the team’s free agent additions went toward the offense, but Al Avila did add the 29-year-old Urena to the staff.
A starter for 98 of his 142 career MLB games, Urena figures to come out of the bullpen in Detroit, considering the team’s options in the starting rotation.
The career numbers aren’t pretty for Urena: a 4.74 FIP, 1.340 WHIP and just 6.1 strikeouts per nine innings. This is a low-upside innings eating move, and no more.
Here are some of the team’s other minor offseason moves:
- Signed LHP Ian Krol (remember him?) to minor league deal.
- Signed C Dustin Garneau to minor league deal.
- Designated C Eric Haase for assignment (outrighted to Toledo Mud Hens).
- Designated Troy Stokes Jr. for assignment (claimed by Pittsburgh Pirates).
- Signed RHP Erasmo Ramirez to minor league deal.
- Designated SS Sergio Alcantara for assignment (claimed by Chicago Cubs).
- Designated OF Travis Demeritte for assignment (claimed by Atlanta Braves).
- Designated John Schreiber for assignment (waivers pending).