The Tigers’ void at third base shows how far they still have to climb

This time two years ago, a future in which the Tigers would have trouble at third base could have been envisioned.

Jaimer Candelario has been fighting to win the job and will go on to have a great season. Isaac Paredes was in the minors with a hitter hailed by AJ Hinch in his first spring as manager of the Tigers. Spencer Torkelson was technically still playing third base, even if everyone knew he would eventually move to first. Colt Keith started his career in the minor league but has already shown real promise.

Let this situation be a reminder of why it is often foolish to think too much about baseball. Because we’re here now, just weeks away from spring training – Candelario plays for the Washington Nationals, Paredes plays for the Tampa Bay Rays, Turkelson is a first baseman who didn’t live up to his high expectations and Keith is on a great trajectory but is still at least a year away. of the major tournaments.

The question remains as to who will play third base for the Tigers long term. But the options are no longer encouraging.

As the past few years have progressed, the Tigers have been aiming to break away from the pool of fourth- and fifth-outfielders who have swept through the major league roster during much of this team’s rebuilding. But now we’re in 2023, and the Tigers seem to have a good number of fifth forwards. They’re back in the hope that one of these players can prove themselves as something more.

In third place, the Tigers did not bid Jimer Candelario this off-season. He battled mightily last year and was set to make nearly $7 million in arbitration. In November, he signed with the Nationals on a one-year, $5 million deal. Candelario’s decision made sense for the Tigers at the time, but pending the surprise possession, Candelario now appears to be better than any of the Tigers’ inside candidates for the third base job.

The list of players now in this conversation is long. The Tigers recently added player Cesar Hernandez to the mix. He would join the organization on a minor league deal with a major league spring training invitation. Hernandez is a former Gold Glove winner at second base and hit 21 home runs in 2021. However, last season was a struggle. Hernandez experienced a massive drop in power, hitting only one homer in 617 plate appearances. His defensive prowess has also declined over the years. He was worth -8 defensive runs saved at second base last season. Consider it a reclamation project. However, Hernandez has proven himself more than all the players he will compete with for a spot on the roster.

Cesar Hernandez. (Kyle Ross/USA Today Sports)

There’s Nick Mattoon, probably the front-runner to win the gala. Acquired in the Gregory Soto trade to the Phillies, Maton could play several MLBs and had 138 OPS+ in 85 MLB plate games last season. Trade acquisition teammate Matt Ferling – potentially an outfielder – will also see some time on the court in spring training.

There’s also Ryan Cridler, a hitter who hit just . 178 in 84 MLB at-bats last season. Cridler has struggled with injuries throughout the past year and could certainly be in better shape in 2023.

The idea of ​​putting one of those players at second base and having Jonathan Scoop — last season’s Gold Glove finalist second base — in the hot corner also remains an emergency option, though that would only leave a similar question mark on the second.

As for deeper options: The Tigers called on Tyler Nevin to be relieved earlier this winter. Nevin is the son of Angels manager Phil Nevin and hit . 197 in 157 games with the Orioles last year.

Another waiver claim, Andy Ibanez, is no longer on the 40-man roster, but will likely make a long look at spring training. Ibanez was the Rangers’ Opening Day third baseman last season and has a . 258 average and . 303 on base in 400 MLB plate appearances. Ibáñez has good communication skills and hit . 344 against left-handers in 2021.

Prospect Justyn-Henry Malloy, acquired from the Braves for Joe Jiménez, is a long shot to be on the starting roster but could push for a mid-season promotion if all goes well.

Each of these players and even others – Jermaine Palacios, Zack Short, Andre Lepicius and more – can make cases for a chance. You can dig into the data and find evidence for or against their case as regular MLB players.

From the Tigers’ perspective, leaving that job to take it might be more productive than dedicating a few million dollars to a sub-par free agent (third base options on the open market this season have been unimpressive, to begin with). Scott Harris, the Tigers’ first-year president of baseball operations, may find a diamond in the rough in one of the many options listed above. Either way, the Tigers will likely use a swarm of platoons, hunting for any small matching advantage on a daily basis. It can be fun to watch Hinch run this list.

But the third base situation is ultimately emblematic of where the Tigers are: deep down a rebuilt rabbit hole, and now with a new, smarter front office, still searching for tangible solutions.

(top image from Ryan Cridler(: Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

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