The Detroit Tigers created a little bit of excitement last week with the signing of free agent infielders C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop. It wasn’t the lead story on ESPN Sports Center or MLB Network, but for the Tigers, it was significant.
The names don’t matter at this point as much as the fact that Detroit spent $12.2 million on two players in free agency. The franchise has been in a downsizing mode with its salary, and it has been reluctant to even spend that much on free agents. However, things are changing with some big numbers off the board (Victor Martinez’s $18 million per year was a big one) and another one looming (Jordan Zimmermann’s $25 million after 2020).
Here is how the Tigers’ payroll has decreased since their last appearance in the postseason in 2014. All totals are as of Opening Day that season:
2014: $162,226,527 (fifth in MLB)
2015: $173, 813,750 (fourth in MLB)
2016: $173,282.250 (fourth in MLB)
2017: $168,500,600 (fourth in MLB)
2018: $129,920,000 (19th in MLB)
2019: $97,988,900 (20th in MLB)
As they enter 2020, the first thing to know is that they will pay Prince Fielder $6 million this year. The good news is this is the final year he will be paid by the Tigers.
From there, other guaranteed contracts coming into the season include Miguel Cabrera ($30 million) and Jordan Zimmermann ($25 million). Neither player is producing anywhere near enough to earn that salary, but that is the contract agreed to by the Tigers. This is Zimmermann’s final season on that contract, while Cabrera will be paid $30 million per year through 2021 and jump to $32 million for 2022 and 2023. There are two more years on the deal that kick in if Cabrera finishes in the top 10 in voting for the AL MVP Award in 2023 or 2024, although the Tigers can buy out the contract for $8 million after the 2023 season.
After that, things are in good shape financially. The only contracts $6 million or more belong to Matthew Boyd ($6.4 million) and new acquisitions Cron and Schoop, both at $6.1 million.
So, let’s take a look at just what the Tigers are getting for their $12.2 million investment in a new first baseman and a new second baseman.
C.J. Cron: The 6-foot-4, 235-pounder will turn 30 in January, and he was a first-round pick of the Angels in the 2011 amateur draft. He has some pop in his bat – double-digit totals in home runs in each of his first six seasons and a slugging percentage of .462 – and he has 55 in the past two seasons. It would be nice if he hit left-handed as the Tigers are short from that side of the plate, but he is right-handed.
That power is a welcome site for a team that failed to have its top two home-run hitters combine for 30 home runs for the first time since 1933, not including the strike-shortened season of 1981. But that power, as it often does, comes with a price: Cron strikes-to-walk ratio was nearly 6-1 last year.
That is troubling. The Tigers were an undisciplined team last year, wildly swinging at pitches out of the zone and taking others down the middle. Cron sounds like he fits right in, and not in a good way, although at least when he makes contact, he might hit the ball out of the park.
Defensively, he appears adequate, and with his size he does present a pretty big target for the infielders for their throws to first. He underwent thumb surgery shortly after the season but should be 100 percent by the start of the season.
Analysis: It’s nice to add some power, and the Tigers get kudos for opening their wallet and blowing the dust off the money. But adding a player with a career .311 on-base percentage that was slightly below the league average of .323. It also resulted in Brandon Dixon being designated for assignment by the Tigers, which isn’t a huge issue, but he did lead the team in home runs with 15 last year. However, Dixon’s power was MIA in the second half. He hit 12 home runs in 186 at-bats in the first half and just three in 205 at-bats in the second half. That makes it easy to see why the Tigers felt he was expendable.
Jonathan Schoop: There might be a little more intrigue with Schoop, who at 28 is two years younger than Cron and might have the higher upside. He was an all-star in 2017 with the Orioles as he hit .293 with 32 home runs and 105 RBIs.
Like Cron, Schoop also bats right-handed, and like Cron, it isn’t easy to walk Schoop. In fact, he walked just 20 times in 464 plate appearances last year, and his on-base percentage of .295 was even lower than Cron’s sub-par mark of .311.
While the Tigers have addressed their lack of power to a certain degree, they have not addressed the team’s ability to get on base. Neither player has any speed to speak of, either, although it would be hard to expect that from a first baseman like Cron.
Defensively, Schoop should be an asset, although it’s not likely he will contend for a Gold Glove. He has led the American League twice in range factor for a second baseman and led twice in assists and once in putouts for a second baseman.
Analysis: In a lot of ways, Schoop is a similar player to Cron – right-handed, some power but little on-base ability, in late 20s/early30s – only at a different position. Schoop might be more likely to break out with a big season, but he also is more likely to have a sub-par season, barring injuries to either player.
In the end, they aren’t bad moves, if for no other reason it shows that the organization is ready to move forward with the rebuild and spend a little bit of money. And, if either player is producing like they are capable of, either or both might bring a low-to-mid range prospect at the trade deadline.