By Joe Underhill
The Detroit Tigers are expected to be major players in free agency this off-season. A lot of time and space will be devoted to shortstop, as it is a glaring need on a Tigers team that posted a winning record after May 8th. The Tigers will sign a shortstop but that is something we probably won’t know until January or February, depending on the new CBA being signed.
The Tigers have already addressed their catching need, agreeing to a trade for former Cincinnati Reds backstop Tucker Barnhart, a two-time Gold Glover who will lead that position along with 2021 breakout player Eric Haase. The catching market was going to be thin anyway, so adding via trade and only giving up Nick Quintana (without a great start to his minor-league career) is a strong first move.
With the star market most likely to be delayed, and catching checked off the to-do list, there is only one (actually two) spot Tigers GM Al Avila has identified on his off-season priority check list: starting pitching.
In his off-season comments Avila has stated the Tigers would like to add a pair of starters. That is especially important as the young trio of starters (Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning) continue to establish themselves at the major-league level.
While as a fan I would love it, there has been and will be plenty written about Justin Verlander, so in looking at four starters who might interest the Tigers, I’ll skip JV for the time being.
- Marcus Stroman: 10-13, 3.02 ERA, 179 IP, 1.145 WHIP, 3.6 WAR (baseball-reference).
Stroman put up a solid year for a pretty disappointing Mets team. He made 33 starts in 2021 and only gave up more than three earned runs in four starts. He doesn’t wow with his strikeout numbers, punching out just 21.6% of batters faced, but he balances that with a low walk rate at just 6.0% and low home run rate of 2.3%. Stroman would give the Tigers a consistent presence in the rotation and be a good mentor for the younger pitchers. He is not eligible for a qualifying offer, so the Tigers would not lose any draft capital to sign him.
- Jon Gray: 8-12, 4.59 ERA, 149 IP, 1.329 WIHP, 1.3 WAR (baseball-reference).
Jon Gray is an interesting pitcher. He actually had a better ERA at home (4.02 vs 5.22), which is unusual for a Colorado pitcher. The overall ERA was probably connected to fatigue as there is a large gap between his first and second-half ERA (3.77 vs 5.77). Gray is a former No. 3 overall pick from the 2013 draft. There is still some untapped potential with Gray and the Tigers would be betting on pitching coach Chris Fetter being able to help Gray realize more of the potential that made him a high pick. Gray is right about league average in his strikeout, walk, home run, and hard-hit ratios, with slightly above-average ground ball and fly ball ratios. Gray would give the Tigers a back-end starter with upside.
- Eduardo Rodriguez: 13-8, 4.74 ERA, 157.2 IP, 1.389 WHIP, 1.8 WAR (baseball-reference)
E-Rod had a solid year for Boston in 2021. In 2020 he contracted Covid and had a heart condition develop as a complication. He was fully healthy in 2021 and had career-best strikeout (27.4%) and walk rates (7.0%). At worst, he is a solid middle-to-back of the rotation starter with some upside remaining. Rodriguez also has post-season experience, which will help lead a young rotation. Rodriguez did receive a QO from Boston, so the Tigers will have to weigh the cost of the draft compensation. However, for a quality LHP who can provide stability with upside, that shouldn’t be a hindrance.
- Wily Peralta: 4-5, 3.07 ERA, 93.2 IP, 1.335 WHIP, 2.0 WAR (baseball-reference)
Tigers’ fans are familiar with Peralta, who was arguably one of the key reasons the Tigers finished 2021 with a winning second half. Peralta was signed as a minor-league free agent after being out of organized baseball in 2020. At 32, Peralta is not a young pitcher with upside, but he represents a veteran who can be relied on to provide quality innings and serve as a mentor for the younger pitchers on the staff. Peralta is a pitcher who relies on pitching to contact (14.4% SO rate) and heavy ground-ball rate (49.8%). While Peralta might not be the most exciting free agent signing, he is one of the more likely targets, both for his effectiveness and is perceived affordability.
The days of the Tigers adding only bounce-back, lotto ticket starters are over. The Tigers want to compete for the division crown and make a push for the playoffs. To accomplish those goals, the Tigers will need to fortify their rotation. Targeting one or more of the above pitchers will help in that pursuit of the playoffs and the elusive World Series title.