The Detroit Tigers and free-agent left-hander Eduardo Rodríguez reportedly agreed to terms on Monday on a five-year contract worth $77 million. (The deal includes a no-trade clause and grants him the ability to opt out after the second season.) Rodríguez, long a member of the Boston Red Sox rotation, is the second notable addition the Tigers have made this winter: previously they had acquired veteran catcher Tucker Barnhart in a salary-dump trade with the Cincinnati Reds.
With due respect to Barnhart, a good defensive backstop who'll provide some offense against right-handed pitching, Rodríguez is the headliner here. In more than 850 career big-league innings, he's amassed a 110 ERA+ and a 3.03 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Entering the offseason, CBS Sports ranked him as the 19th-best free agent:
Rodríguez, who missed the 2020 campaign after he developed myocarditis following his bout with COVID-19, returned in fine form last season. (He probably would've won the Comeback Player of the Award were it not for Trey Mancini's own inspirational tale.) He accrued the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career, in part by throwing a new personal best rate of strikes. Rodríguez also ranked near the top of the league in suppressing quality of contact for the third time in five years. He's not the best bet on the market to give a team 180 innings a season, but he's a legit mid-rotation starter and his next season with a below-average ERA+ will be his first.
In addition to Rodríguez and Barnhart, the Tigers have internal reinforcements en route. Detroit has already graduated several top prospects in recent seasons, including pitchers Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal, and this upcoming campaign should see them do the same with their two best positional prospects, in first baseman and former No. 1 pick Spencer Torkelson and outfielder Riley Greene. Those two ought to boost a lineup that ranked 23rd in the majors in runs scored during the 2021 season.
It's clear the Tigers should have an improved roster next season, and it comes at a good time. Save for the Chicago White Sox, the rest of the American League Central is composed of three teams in transition: the Kansas City Royals are trying to follow the White Sox's (and, increasingly, the Tigers') paths back to relevancy, while the Cleveland Guardians trim payroll to satisfy their owner and the Minnesota Twins try to figure out what went wrong in 2021 and how to correct it. As the White Sox proved in 2020 and 2021, building a solid roster and letting the chips fall where they may over the course of a season can result in a playoff berth, and perhaps even a division crown.
As such, the Tigers shouldn't become complacent or hibernate until the spring. Instead, they should continue to attack this offseason, taking advantage of whatever uncertainty other teams have because of a potential lockout. What might that entail? Below, we've laid out three more objectives for them to complete this winter.
1. Add at least one more veteran hitter
Barnhart, Torkelson, and Greene will certainly help Detroit's lineup, but the Tigers could stand to upgrade elsewhere -- be it in the outfield or at shortstop. The Carlos Correa rumors are encouraging, though it's anyone's guess as to whether or not the Tigers will be able to outbid the New York Yankees (among others) for his services.
Even if the Tigers fall short in that pursuit, they should be able to land a veteran hitter or two who can lengthen their lineup. The two main names that come to mind for us are Starling Marte and Trevor Story, who we ranked as 10th and 11th best free agents.
Marte would give the Tigers a legitimate top-of-the-order hitter who can play either in center or left field, depending on where AJ Hinch feels most comfortable with Greene's glove. Story's declining arm strength may give teams pause, but he would represent a vast improvement over their incumbent options, including Niko Goodrum.
Ideally, the Tigers would find a way to add both -- or, at least, to address both spots through some combination of a free-agent signing and a trade. There's no justification for Detroit to enter the spring counting on Goodrum and/or Victor Reyes in long-term starting roles -- not if the intent is to make a serious run at the playoffs.
2. Address the back of the rotation
Likewise, the Tigers shouldn't stop adding to their rotation just because they have Mize, Rodríguez, and Skubal at the front of it.
As it stands, Roster Resource projects Matt Manning and Tyler Alexander to take the final two spots in Detroit's rotation; Manning struggled last season and Alexander has traditionally been a reliever (though he did post solid numbers in 15 starts during the 2021 campaign). Perhaps both prove they belong in the starting five before the year is out, but it would be a mistake to guarantee them both a spot at this stage.
Remember, Matthew Boyd and Spencer Turnbull both underwent arm surgery in recent months, and veteran Wily Peralta has since reached free agency. The Tigers' depth has been thinned enough that it only makes sense to add another new starter.
That doesn't mean the Tigers have to hunt at the top of the market. It does, nevertheless, mean they should inquire about the prices on Danny Duffy, Alex Wood, Yusei Kikuchi, and Anthony DeSclafani, among others. It wouldn't be too surprising to see the Tigers give pitching coach Chris Fetter a veteran project to tinker with, either -- perhaps someone like Dylan Bundy, who is coming off a disastrous season.
3. Don't settle in the bullpen
This is, for all intent and purposes, an extension of the rotation section. The Tigers' bullpen ranked in the bottom 10 in ERA last season, and that was with contributions from a few relievers (Gregory Soto and Kyle Funkhouser included) who had miserable strikeout-to-walk ratios. There's no reason to stand pat here.
We'd list all the relievers the Tigers could turn to, but the beauty of the bullpen is that it's often the easiest individual unit to fix within a team. The Tigers, then, should have no problem finding some upgrades if they so desire.