DETROIT – Now that the Detroit Tigers have resigned Jonathan Schoop, have you started to imagine what next year’s lineup could look like if they add a free agent shortstop and call up their two top prospects?
Schoop and the Tigers reached a new deal over the weekend that will keep him in Detroit at least through 2022, and possibly the 2023 season, as well (player option). This agreement is good news for next year’s infield, but it’s been overshadowed by the organization’s weakness at shortstop.
It’s more obvious than ever that the Tigers need to attack the free agent shortstop class with a sense of urgency, and luckily, there are plenty of options.
As for the other holes in the lineup, the team’s top two prospects -- Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene -- should be ready at some point next season. Even if it’s not by Opening Day, they figure to debut at some point in 2022, barring injuries or setbacks.
If everything falls into place, the Tigers could field a very different-looking lineup in 2022.
There’s no game tonight, so what the heck! Let’s have some fun speculating on a day off. Here are your Imaginary 2022 Detroit Tigers:
1. Akil Baddoo, LF
The greatest blessing of the 2021 season has been Baddoo, who the Tigers essentially added for free and watched turn into their most exciting player.
Baddoo has had some ups and downs as a 22-year-old rookie, but overall, his .333 on-base percentage and consistent extra-base power is a perfect combination at the top of the order.
In his first 330 plate appearances, Baddoo owns a 9.4% walk rate and a manageable 26.7% strikeout rate. If you took out a miserable 50-plate-appearance slump early in the season, those percentages would look even better.
Baddoo has stolen 14 bases in 18 attempts and hit 10 home runs, 18 doubles and five triples. He can spray the ball all around the park and shows a knack for coming up with clutch hits. He’ll turn 23 years old next week and has fewer than 100 games of experience above Single-A, so it’s reasonable to expect even more improvement.
On defense, Baddoo has struggled, but there’s no reason to believe his tools won’t eventually turn him into at least a league average corner outfielder.
2. Trevor Story, SS
OK, this spot could belong to a few different free agent shortstops, including Carlos Correa, Corey Seager or Marcus Semien. Basically, you can take your pick, but I’m going to go with Story for a few reasons.
First of all, he likely won’t cost quite as much as Correa or Seager, who both look poised to receive mega deals with new teams. Speculation has linked the Tigers to Correa because he played for A.J. Hinch, but he’s known to be looking for a long, massive deal.
Story is having his worst offensive season since 2017, and he also comes with the uncertainty of a slugger leaving Coors Field for the first time. He still won’t come cheap, but that could make him a bargain compared to Correa and Seager.
Even in a down year, Story has hit 15 home runs and 25 doubles while stealing 17 bases for the Rockies. He’s a well-above-average defender and is worth 2.3 WAR (wins above replacement).
In his last two full seasons, Story was worth 6.2 WAR (2018) and 7.0 WAR (2019). Simply put, he’s been an elite player for his entire prime.
If the Tigers don’t address shortstop in free agency, there will be a massive hole in the lineup. Even Javier Baez would be a major upgrade, though I wouldn’t bat him in the No. 2 hole due to strikeout issues.
3. Jonathan Schoop, 2B
He’s the best hitter on the team this season, and he’ll be cemented into the heart of the order again in 2022.
Schoop has been exactly as advertised since joining the Tigers before 2020. He hit eight home runs and posted a .799 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) during the shortened season and has 19 doubles, 18 home runs and a .797 OPS in 109 games this year.
Since the team doesn’t have any options at first base, Schoop has stepped in and played the majority of his games there, but it’s not his best position. Moving him back to second base would fill a hole in the infield and also improve the defense. Schoop has been an above-average defender every single season of his career at second base, and grades out well below average this year at first base. It’s an obvious move.
It feels like Schoop has been around forever, but he’s still just 29 years old, so the Tigers will likely continue to get very stable, consistent production over course of his new contract. That’s an ideal profile for a No. 3 hitter.
4. Spencer Torkelson, 1B
The former No. 1 overall pick is generating a ton of excitement at Double-A Erie, but projecting him to bat cleanup in an MLB lineup next season is asking an awful lot.
With that being said, Torkelson has the tools to do it. He’s already sporting a .366 OBP with the SeaWolves, along with 11 home runs and nine doubles. His 24.6% strikeout rate is excellent for a 21-year-old in his first season of professional baseball, and the power and on-base ability are exactly what the Tigers envisioned.
In 76 minor-league games, Torkelson has played first base 36 times and third base 40 times. He has eight errors at third base, so the Tigers’ decision to try to move him across the diamond hasn’t gone without speed bumps.
There’s no real answer at first base in the Tigers’ organization, so putting Torkelson back where he flourished in college might be the best option. It would allow Schoop to return to second base and Jeimer Candelario to stay at third.
5. Jeimer Candelario, 3B
Candelario is one of the most underappreciated players on the Tigers roster, if not the entire American League.
He’s quietly leading the league with 30 doubles this season and pairing that with a .363 OBP. Remember, Candelario posted an .872 OPS with 21 extra-base hits in 52 games last season, so this isn’t out of nowhere.
The former top 100 prospect took a few years to find his footing, but since the start of 2020, he’s been a constant in the heart of the Tigers’ order. In 156 games across 2020 and 2021, he’s been worth 4.5 WAR.
Candelario’s defense has graded out slightly below average this season, but he’s pretty much settled in as replacement level year over year. It’s not really a concern.
6. Riley Greene, CF
Although he’s been in the organization for three years, Greene still has yet to turn 21 years old, which means a debut in 2022 would certainly qualify as a “fast track.”
But Greene’s numbers justify another promotion. He’s batting .280 with a .368 OBP in his first taste of Double-A ball, including 13 doubles, 12 homers and 12 stolen bases.
Strikeouts have been the one setback for Greene, but a 27.8% strikeout rate isn’t cause for panic in such a young player. He’s walking at an 11.3% clip and racking up a ton of base hits -- that’s more important.
7. Miguel Cabrera, DH
Full disclosure: I know the Tigers are never going to drop Cabrera this low in the order, especially behind a couple of rookies. But it’s what his overall production dictates, so I’m sticking to it.
Cabrera has been much more productive lately, but at 38 years old, he’s graded out as a more or less league average offensive player for the fifth season in a row.
Even over the last 38 games -- in which Cabrera has a .299 average -- his OPS has only risen to .688 on the season. The strikeouts are up and the power is down, but Cabrera isn’t hurting the Tigers like he was early in the year.
As he continues to chase career milestones, Cabrera is most likely going to remain in the No. 3 or No. 4 spot in the order -- for better or worse.
8. Robbie Grossman, RF
Do you realize how far this lineup will have come if the Tigers have a player with a .358 OBP and 17 home runs hitting this low? Grossman is under contract for another season after doing a fine job at leadoff and in the heart of the order.
Grossman has drawn 72 walks and stolen 13 bases this season, and if it wasn’t for Baddoo’s breakout, he’d still be setting the tone at the top of the lineup. Instead, he’s moved into the No. 3 hole and continued to get on base while also racking up 34 extra-base hits.
The defensive numbers have always been a bit below average, but Grossman isn’t a liability in right field. His offense is so valuable that there’s no question he’ll begin 2022 as an everyday starter.
9. Eric Haase, C
How does an .816 OPS and elite home run power sound at the bottom of the lineup -- especially behind an on-base machine like Grossman?
Haase is the most dangerous power threat in the lineup right now, with 18 home runs and 10 doubles in just 253 plate appearances. He’s always had over-the-fence pop in the minors, and it’s translated to the MLB level as the Tigers give him his first extended chance.
Most importantly, Haase is also playing well behind the plate, both defensively and managing the young pitching staff. That, combined with his 1.9 WAR offense, makes him an obvious choice to begin 2022 as the No. 1 catcher.
It only adds to Haase’s value that he can make the occasional start in left field, though the Tigers should be pretty deep at the position next season. He’s also one of the fastest catchers in the league.
It feels a bit unfair to leave out Derek Hill, who’s been a pleasant surprise on offense through 27 games. Hill hit his first MLB home run Sunday in Cleveland and has a .357 OBP.
Everyone knows about Hill’s elite defense and speed, so any value he can provide at the plate is just a bonus. Right now, I’d bet on him starting the 2022 season in center field before the Tigers decide to give Greene a chance.
Jake Rogers will be an option as the starting catcher, though Haase has clearly shown more offensive upside. Rogers is considered an elite defender, and actually posted an .802 OPS in 38 games before an arm injury this season.
Everyone is really mad at Zack Short right now because he cost the Tigers a game in Cleveland, but I still have hope for him as at least a utility option off the bench. He’s a good defender (yes, I know he made two whole errors) with power and speed -- he just needs to cut down on the strikeouts... a lot.
Right now, these are three starting-caliber players for the Tigers. If they’re pushed into reserve roles, that means the team has greatly improved its lineup and overall depth.