This story was excerpted from Jason Beck’s Tigers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And the Subscription To get it regularly in your inbox.
DETROIT – Jonathan Scopp was named AL Gold Glove finalist at second base. Not only did he lead every major league second baseman in Outs Above Average, Statcast’s primary defensive metric, he led all major league outfielders in that category. He had twice as many Outs above average as the second best baseman. He made second base one of only three centers the Tigers have had a positive number in defensive run saves, another defensive metric from Sports Info Solutions.
So why would the Tigers consider moving Scoop from second base? Because if the Tigers are going to get better, they have to think about their entire home ground, which needs a lot of help aside from second base.
While Detroit’s decision last week on non-giving third baseman Jeimer Candelario wasn’t surprising given Candelario’s struggles last season, it also didn’t come with an obvious solution to a replacement. Ryan Kreidler made 11 of his 22 starts at third base as part of his late-season test and posted a 2 Outs Above average in that limited time, but he also hit . 178 (13-for-73) with six walks and 22 strikeouts in 84 plate appearances . Kody Clemens also made 11 starts in the third and scored 1 outside average, but he only hit . 145 (17-for-117) with eight walks and 33 strikeouts. The potential next closer in the farm system has yet to play above High-A, though #6 pro Colt Keith shone in the Arizona Fall League despite six errors in 10 games in third place.
No wonder the Tigers were in talks until Friday’s non-bid deadline to try and re-sign Candelario at a salary below his refereeing expectations. However, at this point, it made sense for Candelario to see what might be available on the open market first.
That leads Detroit into the free agent and trade markets, where options at third base are running low quickly. Justin Turner and Evan Longoria are multi-time All-Stars — and in Longoria’s case, a three-time Gold Glove winner — but both are 37-years-old, have spent their last years on the West Coast and are likely contenders looking for a World Championship ring. Brandon Drury is in the prime of his career after hitting a 28-run season, but he’s also played at friendly parks in Cincinnati and San Diego at nearly double his previous career best in teammates, leaving teams to decide if they think he can repeat it at a fly-ball rate. Doubles his line driving percentage. He’s also battled high strikeouts and low walk rates in his career, though his swing and misses rate were among the top-thirds in the division this year.
The next class of free agents could provide baseball operations chief Scott Harris an opportunity to take a calculated risk. No-bid by the Marlins last week, Brian Anderson was a budding hitter with a 20-run season in 2019 before back and shoulder injuries limited him the past two years. His career walk rate of 9.3 percent is nearly a point above the MLB average, while his struggles with hitting this year belie his career stalking rate is below average.
All of the above are right-handed hitters. Harris said the Tigers want to add a left-handed hitter to their home turf. If they’re going to do it third, their best option might be former Brewer Jace Peterson. His third down defense was worth 7 points above average for Milwaukee, and he has a walk average of 12.5 percent over the past three years. The 32-year-old was primarily a slightly below-average hitter in that period, with 97 OPS+ and 96 WRC+ despite above-average averages and a heavily damaged barrel. Former Dodgers third base prospect and Triple-A slugger Edwin Rios, though he fought batters all the way to Triple-A.
Expand the domain search from third base to second base, and the options expand quite a bit. One of baseball’s best pure hitters, Adam Frazier has been tougher at hitting (7.6 percent strikeout rate) in the past two years between Pittsburgh and San Diego and Seattle, though the soon-to-be 31-year-old exhibits lower exit velocity and strike rate. Strong is a limited force. His second-place defense was worth 6 points above average. Cesar Hernandez is a veteran switch hitter in a similar position, although he has been well below average in weighted rotations created and OPS in the past two years. Jean Segura has a career strikeout rate of 14.1 percent, eight short of his MLB average, though his walk rate could improve. Brandon Lowe could be a trade option if the Rays deal with him before his heavy contract years; He will earn $14 million over the next two seasons, with team options for $10,500,000 in 2025 and $11,500,000 in 2026.
According to sources, the Tigers looked at left-handed batting quarterbacks, even before Harold Castro, who did not bid. With both Harold and Willy Castro gone, it wouldn’t be surprising if Detroit signed multiple players. The more open the Tigers are with Schoop in position, the more options Detroit has.
Defensively, MLB’s new restrictions on baseline positioning also play a role. Detroit’s position on the field was worth 24 defensive saves in shifts, and -4 without. Only the Dodgers had a wider gap. Schoop’s defense was worth 4 DRS in turnarounds, and -2 without, according to Sports Info Solutions. With Shield bouts completely gone, manager AJ Hinch will have to look at his entire defense no matter who Detroit brings in.