DETROIT – The deadline for MLB teams to extend qualifying offers to prospective free agents passed this weekend, and those decisions will have an impact on the Detroit Tigers as they hurtle toward an active offseason.
In total, 14 players received $18.4 million qualifying offers from their teams, meaning they can accept that deal for a single season in 2022 or elect free agency. If they choose the latter and sign elsewhere, the team that made the qualifying offer gets draft pick compensation from the player’s new team.
Here’s how the qualifying offer decisions could affect the Tigers.
Possible targets receive qualifying offers
Some of the players who received qualifying offers were never going to be on the Tigers’ radar this off-season: Freddie Freeman, Brandon Belt, Nick Castellanos, Michael Conforto and Raisel Iglesias. But the other nine should be under consideration.
Carlos Correa is the high-profile name Tigers fans are Googling every morning, and it was a no-brainer for the Houston Astros to make him a qualifying offer because he will certainly decline it and yield free draft pick compensation. The same is true for Corey Seager, Trevor Story and Marcus Semien -- three other potential shortstop targets for the Tigers.
Correa, Seager, Story and Semien will all get massive deals this off-season, whether it’s from their current teams or others. If the Tigers sign any of them, keep in mind that draft picks will be part of the equation.
Chris Taylor is the other interesting offensive player on the list. Although he’s not considered an everyday shortstop, Taylor can play any position on the field. He’s posted an .804 OPS (on base percentage plus slugging percentage) across 2,382 plate appearances with the Los Angeles Dodgers the last five seasons and combined for 14.9 WAR (wins above replacement) during that span.
The Tigers probably won’t be in the mix for Taylor, but they could certainly use him.
The remaining four players are starting pitchers: Robbie Ray, Noah Syndergaard, Justin Verlander and Eduardo Rodriguez. All four would help bolster a Tigers rotation that falls off drastically behind Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal.
If the Tigers open the pocketbook for a high-end shortstop, Ray probably won’t be one of their targets because of his price tag. Rodriguez and Syndergaard are both risky upside plays -- Rodriguez because of his strong underlying numbers and Syndergaard because of his injury risk.
Verlander receiving a qualifying offer at 38 years old coming off two straight lost seasons is a bit of a surprise. It might be a ploy by the Astros to get a free draft pick if they think he’s leaving no matter what, or Verlander could end up with a nice $18.4 million prove-it year ahead of 2023.
If there’s any single player whose free agency is affected significantly by a qualifying offer, it’s Verlander. It adds draft pick compensation to a list of cons that already includes age and injury concerns.
Other relevant decisions
Javier Baez is the only elite free agent shortstop who didn’t receive a qualifying offer, and he wasn’t eligible because the New York Mets traded for him during the season. He carries the most baggage of the top available shortstops because of his strikeout rate, but the fact that he isn’t tied to draft pick compensation will be a secondary consideration in his favor.
Perhaps the most interesting player not to receive a qualifying offer -- at least from a Tigers perspective -- was Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Jon Gray. After they failed to trade Gray at the deadline, the Rockies are apparently content to let the 30-year-old walk without receiving anything in return.
Despite playing his home games at pitching purgatory in Denver, Gray held his own from 2015 through 2021, posting a 3.91 FIP (fielding-independent pitching) with 9.2 strikeouts and 3.5 walks per nine innings. His career 4.59 ERA and 1.338 WHIP will almost certainly improve when he finds a new home.
Toronto decided not to extend an offer to lefty starter Steven Matz after his solid season, a decision made with the knowledge that both Ray and Semien are certain to decline their offers.
Marcus Stroman, of the Mets, has already accepted a qualifying offer previously, so he was ineligible and has no draft pick compensation tied to his free agency. The reliable veteran would be a great addition to a young Tigers pitching staff.
Anthony DeSclafani is another name to monitor, though he might end up resigning with the San Francisco Giants. He didn’t receive a qualifying offer following his career season and should be one of the top arms in free agency.
What the Tigers should do
Qualifying offers alone shouldn’t be enough to change the Tigers’ game plan in free agency. This is simply another variable to factor into the much bigger equation.
Al Avila needs to add a star shortstop and two starting pitchers to make the Tigers playoff contenders next season. For example, Correa, Gray and Stroman would solidify the lineup, add a Gold Glove defender at the most important infield position and patch two massive holes in the pitching staff.
Detroit has money to spend and young players to build around. Unless the CBA negotiations between the league and the player’s union derail the entire off-season, the next few months should be fun to watch.