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2023 Detroit Tigers offseason blueprint, part 1: 40-man roster construction

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Alright, Detroit Tigers fans, here we are on the brink of another offseason after coming off an incredibly disappointing summer trek at Comerica Park. After a late-season charge, the Tigers avoided the dread 100-loss season and turned their attention to the offseason. So we turn our attention to the 2023 Detroit Tigers offseason blueprint, which will be broken into multiple parts. Before any other plans get set, the Tigers have to get their 40-man roster set.

It's no secret that newly hired President of Baseball Operations, Scott Harris, has a massive amount of decision-making over the next few weeks as he constructs the Tigers' 40-man roster heading into the 2023 offseason, his first season at the helm and one that hopes to be much better than 2022.

2023 Detroit Tigers offseason

The 2023 Detroit Tigers offseason 40-man roster and the rules that govern it.

The Major League Baseball rules that govern roster construction can become convoluted, to say the least. The simplest way to understand it is to realize that there are no such things as “the Injured List” during the offseason. Five days after the conclusion of the World Series, each player must be reinstated to their respective club's 40-man rosters. As it currently sits, the Detroit Tigers have 49 players on their roster. In the last few weeks, the Tigers claimed Jermaine Palacios from the Minnesota Twins and Michael Papierski from the Cincinnati Reds. This brought their roster total to 51, and in response, they designated Drew Hutchinson and catcher Ali Sanchez for assignment, bringing their roster total to 49.

There are a couple of things that we have to establish upfront before we can start to create a blueprint. First, five days after the World Series, those players on one-year contracts, or with one year left on their contract, will fall off the roster. That means that Daniel Norris and Tucker Barnhart will not be on the roster in short order. That brings the Tigers' roster total to 47.

The Rule 5 Draft and the 2023 Detroit Tigers offseason roster construction

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As we've become accustomed to in Detroit, the offseason is a time for hope. Sometimes that hope can be found in the Rule 5 Draft that occurs every offseason during the Winter Meetings. Over the past few years, the Tigers acquired names like Victor Reyes and Akil Baddoo during the Rule 5 Draft. The rules governing this draft are as follows:

Held each December, the Rule 5 Draft allows clubs without a full 40-man roster to select certain non-40-man roster players from other clubs. Clubs draft in reverse order of the standings from the previous season. Players signed at age 18 or younger need to be added to their club's 40-Man roster within five seasons or they become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. Players who signed at age 19 or older need to be protected within four seasons.

Rule 5 Draft, MLB.com

The catch to the Rule 5 draft is that if a team chooses to acquire a player through these means, they must house that player on their 26-man active roster for the season or return him to the team they acquired him from. Sometimes this works out as it did with Baddoo in 2021, where he clubbed 13 home runs and was a shot of energy and excitement. Other times, it doesn't work out. If the Tigers want to participate in the Rule 5 Draft, they will need to get their roster down below 40 players to accommodate such an acquisition.

On the flip side of this, the Tigers also have several prospects that are Rule 5 eligible and will need to be added to the 40-man roster, or they will risk being drafted by other teams. According to Chris McCosky of the Detroit News, those players include:

  • RHP Reese Olson, #9 prospect
  • OF Parker Meadows, #16 prospect
  • RHP Austin Bergner, #15 prospect
  • IF Wenceel Perez, #14 prospect
  • IF Andre Lipcius, #22 prospect
  • OF Eric De la Rosa
  • RHP Zack Hess
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Which of these prospects gets added to the 40-man roster and is protected against the Rule 5 Draft? Giving it the old college try and getting into the mind of Scott Harris, the two that should most likely be kept are Parker Meadows and Reese Olson. Meadows this season in Double-A Erie slashed .275/.354/.466 with 16 HR and 64 RBI, boasting a 10.6% walk rate and an 18.4% K rate; he's 23 years old and plays good defense. Meadows really began to turn some heads this season, as Lynn Henning discussed on DSN's “The Corner:”

They're [the Tigers] are still deficient, in my estimation, of a slugging outfielder. Now, Meadows has a chance, based on what he's done at AA this year to be a centerfielder and that moves Riley Greene to left and that would be an ideal situation…

Lynn Henning in interview with A.J. Reilly for DSN's ‘The Corner'

Olson, a 23-year-old righty, was acquired in the Daniel Norris trade with the Milwaukee Brewers. In 26 appearances in 2022, Olson had a 12.64 K/9, 2.86 BB/9, 4.14 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and only a 3.31 FIP. He has a nice fastball/slider/change pitch mix, with a developing curveball, and can project as either a starter or reliever for the Big Club.

The question then becomes, are you really willing to risk someone like Wenceel Perez to the Rule 5 Draft? Perez coming into 2023, will be a 23-year-old who hasn't passed AA yet. Though his bat seemed to come alive this season. He is, according to McCoskey, “one year away from being a minor-league free agent. Does that make him more likely to be protected or less?” It's a good question and one that, in this blueprint, we're answering by saying: it's less likely he's protected. By protecting Meadows and Olson, the Tigers roster will stand at 49 players and then requires that they cut 9-10 players heading into the offseason.

How will the Detroit Tigers construct their roster heading into the 2023 off-season?

As we have made the case above, there are several decisions that Scott Harris and his staff will have to make in the coming weeks. Especially as the World Series concludes, until about mid-November, the picture will start to become clearer. Some familiar names will not don the Old English D next season, and while that might hurt sentimentally, ultimately, it will be for the best.

How can the Detroit Tigers trim their roster effectively to 40 players?

With the need to cut their roster down at minimum, the Tigers have to cut their roster by nine players. As mentioned, even after their two waiver claims and Rule 5 protections, the Tigers sit at 49 players on their 40-man roster. When Norris and Barnhart fall off, that number will be down to 47. If they plan to keep two prospects and not subject them to the Rule 5 Draft, they'll have to add them to the 40-man, bringing the total to 49. We are also working off the assumption that Andrew Chafin will exercise his $ 7 million player option for 2023.

When all is said and done, you're looking at ten players needing to be cut from the roster (49-10=39, with one spot for the Rule 5 Draft selection). There has to be a philosophy that we work off of during this exercise, and that has to be what Scott Harris told the media his three goals were:

  1. Acquire, develop, and retain young players
  2. Create a culture of development
  3. Dominate the strike zone on both sides of the ball

So who goes and who stays? Here is the best guess of the ten players that will not have a contract offered to them in the coming weeks:
Note: Ages listed below will be the age they begin the 2023 season.

1 Jeimer Candelario, 28 years old, 3B

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This one does hurt a little bit, especially because I was one of the champions of the success of the trade that brought Candelario to Detroit. His age, streakiness at bat, and inability to be solid at the hot corner create a problem for Candelario. In 2022, Jeimer had one of his worst seasons at the plate. Even though he hit for a lower average in 2019, he still walked 5% more in that season. This was also the first season in three years that he had a negative win probability added and was a bit of a weak link at third base. He is expected to make $7 million in arbitration, and with the emergence of Ryan Kriedler–whose bat is still a question mark–Candelario could, and probably should, be on the outs in Detroit. Some options in free agency could be acquired if Kriedler's bat causes a pause for management.


2 Victor Reyes, 28 years old, OF

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Reyes is the Detroit Tigers' oldest player in their outfield (Austin Meadows is also 28). He is also one of potentially seven players to fill four spots in a very crowded outfield. Reyes has been with the team since he was selected as a Rule 5 pick during the 2018 offseason. His dismal 3.8% walk rate over his five seasons in Detroit is the main reason he gets the non-tendered this offseason. He also has been below league average in wRC+ (100 avg.) for the last three consecutive years. While he is a big frame (6'5, 194 lbs), that has not really translated to any power–16 total home runs in 394 career games. With a price tag projected at $2.2 million, the price isn't exorbitant, but is it worth it for a 28-year-old light-hitting, mediocre defensive outfielder?


3 Josh Lester, 28 years old, 1B

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Plain and simple, Josh Lester has been a victim of circumstance at this point in his career. The 28-year-old first baseman has had a perpetual block in front of him within the Tigers organization. Though he carries a heavy bat, in his time with the Big Club later in the 2022 season, Lester failed to collect even one hit in his short stint with the team. With Spencer Torkelson being the prized piece of the future, there isn't room for an aged, career minor leaguer moving forward on the 40-man roster. Hopefully, Lester can get picked up somewhere he'll be given a chance or re-signed as organizational depth for the Tigers.


4 Zack Short, 27 years old, IF

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Short was the piece acquired with the Tigers traded OF Cameron Maybin for the third time. The slick-fielding, versatile infielder does add some value with the glove but cannot stick around the Majors with his bat. Over 197 at-bats in the Major Leagues, Short has a 12.2% walk rate but an astronomical 32.5% k-rate. While he could be considered a defensive replacement, he'll have to be that for another team as the Tigers look to trim their 40-man roster.


5 Bryan Garcia, 27 years old, RHP

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Bryan Garcia is a tricky decision, especially since he converted from the bullpen to a starter and did quite well. Add to that there are several arms injured for the Tigers, and you have a conundrum on your hands. However, with the emergence of pitchers like Beau Brieske, Garrett Hill, and Elvin Rodriguez, you have some leash to let an arm like Garcia's walk. His age and overall three-year performances weigh heavily in this decision; as a starter, he had an inflated 11.9% walk rate.


6 Jose Cisnero, 33 years old, RHP

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Before we get slapped with an ageism claim, let's break it down. Scott Harris wants to acquire and develop young players, and Jose Cisnero does not fit this mold. Projected to make $2.2 million; while the cost isn't high, the value of a 40-man roster spot this offseason is higher. Cisnero carries a 4.60 FIP for his Major League career, which indicates he's pitched much worse than his 3.60 career ERA would indicate. His spot on the roster could be used to protect one of the Rule 5 prospects and most likely will.


7 Luis Castillo, 28 years old, RHP

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Again we have to pull the age card here. Logging only three Major League games in 2022, Castillo will likely find himself on the outs as the Tigers look to trim their roster. It's unfortunate for a career Minor Leaguer, but there's not much more to be said other than, “it's just business.”


8 Daz Cameron, 26 years old, OF

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This one pains me to write because I think Daz hasn't been given enough run to really see what he has. Cameron was one of the pieces that came back from the Houston Astros when Justin Verlander was traded to them for their 2017 postseason run. Cameron has gotten less than 100 at-bats over three seasons with the Tigers, but a 7% walk right and a 31% k-rate do not fit the goals of Scott harris and could lead to Daz's departure. Again, how crowded the Tigers' outfield is with Kerry Carpenter, Akil Baddoo, Riley Greene, Austin Meadows, Willi Castro, and Victor Reyes must be noted. To be clear, I'd give Cameron his fair shake, but he'd have to force the hand of the front office, and up until this point, he has not done so.


9 Willi Castro, 25 years old, OF

2023 Detroit Tigers offseason,Detroit Tigers,Tigers,offseason
Photo screenshot from Baseball Savant.

Okay, this one may take some convincing, but not if you read those percentile rankings from Baseball Savant. While Willi came into his own as far as outfield assists go in 2022, he still is a below-average defender. He is only 25 years old, which fits the “young” descriptor, which could mean he won't be let go. Still, if the Tigers are trying to decide between him, Harold Castro, Daz Cameron, and Victor Reyes, Hittin' Harold brings similar versatility with a stronger plate presence. With a projected price tag of $1.7 million, cheaper options exist.


10 Gregory Soto, 28 years old, LHP

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Before all the trolls come out of the woodwork, let's break this down analytically. The only reason you have to cut a 10th player is for the ability to draft in the Rule 5 Draft. If someone doesn't interest you, then you wouldn't have to cut the 10th. For the sake of argument, if we're looking to dominate the strike zone, Soto's 12.9% walk rate is not ideal. Not to mention, he lost all feel for his slider–which could be dominant–and essentially became a one-trick pony, according to Baseball Savant. He threw only 21.6% sliders in 2022 and often struggled with walks and busy base paths. One thing is for sure, there are plenty of other options within the bullpen that could be the closer, and given the lack of interest at the trade deadline, and a projected price of $3.1 million, he could be an option for the Tigers to trim this offseason.
Update: What should have been made clear, but was not, is that the ideal move is to trade Soto for a prospect or two that doesn't require 40-man housing. However, the return–as seen at the deadline this past August–should not be expected to be very high.


Conclusion

And there you have it. As the 2023 Detroit Tigers' offseason gets underway, they'll be looking to trim their 40-man roster. These ten players will be first looked at and potentially gone to make room for those that are returning from the Injured List and the prospects they need to protect from the Rule 5 Draft. While some names may be obvious and others aren't, this at least allows the Tigers to begin a new and needed direction under Scott Harris. If some free agents are going to be signed, which will be discussed next week, then more moves will need to be made. Until then, this at least gives the Tigers the right start to their offseason.


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