Jeimer Candelario was one of the first pieces the Tigers added when they decided to begin a rebuilding process in 2017. A year earlier, the Tigers had 86 wins and finished second in the AL Central, but by the end of July in 2017, they were 10 games under .500 and 10 games out of first place.
Detroit sent veteran catcher Alex Avila and relief pitcher Justin Wilson to the Cubs for Candelario and young infielder Isaac Parades, who eventually would make the Tigers before he was dealt to Tampa Bay in 2022.
Candelario did little in two brief stints with the Cubs in 2016-17, but he did hit his first career major-league home run on June 29, 2017, against the Washington Nationals.
Detroit envisioned him as their switch-hitting third baseman of the future, and for a while that seemed logical. He hit 19 home runs in his first full season in Detroit, including two walk-off home runs in a matter of three months in 2018.
Candalerio proved to be decent defensively at the hot corner, but he had contact issues at the plate with strikeout ratios nearing 30 percent. That kept his average in the low .200s for the most part, but he had his best two seasons in Detroit in 2020-21. The 2020 season was shortened considerably because of COVID-19, but Candelario hit .297 with a OPS of .872 – both easily the best of his time with the Tigers.
In 2021, the season returned to a full schedule, and Candelario had his second consecutive fine season. However, he had to overcome a slow start to do it. Candelario hit .262 with five home runs and 24 RBIs in the first half and had an OPS of .723. In the second half, Candelario hit .282 with 11 home runs and 43 RBIs and an .882 OPS. He finished the season with 16 home runs, 67 RBIs, a .271 batting average and an OPS of .795. However, the most attention went to his 61 extra-base hits, including a league-leading 42 doubles. He was named the Tiger of the Year by the Detroit Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America in 2020 and 2021.
Candelario seemed back on track, but for the second year in a row he stumbled out of the gate. At mid-season, he was hitting .191 with six home runs, 23 RBIs and an OPS of .570. This time, he did not rescue his season with a blistering second half. After the break, he hit .250 with seven home runs and 27 RBIs and had an OPS of .715, and he finished the season with 13 home runs, 50 RBIs, a .217 batting average and an OPS of .633.
The poor season resulted in Tigers manager A.J. Hinch beganning to drop Candelario in the batting order. In his first three seasons in Detroit, Candelario batted lower than sixth in the order just six times. In 2022, he hit seventh 32 times and eighth 11 times.
With salary arbitration looming, it was starting to look obvious that Candelario would be non-tendered, and that is how it turned out. He signed a one-year contract with the Washington Nationals worth $5 million with another $1 million available in incentives.
“I just want to thank the Tigers organization, teammates and fans,” Candelario wrote to the fans. “I will always fondly remember my 6 years there and how great I was treated. I took pride in putting on that uniform and always tried my best. My family and I want to thank everyone! I am excited to start the next chapter of my career (with the Nationals).”
Two walk-off HRs in three months for Candalerio in 2018
Jeimer Candalerio had just two walk-off hits in his six seasons with the Tigers, but both of them were multi-run home runs withing three months of each other in 2018.
It was June 9, a Saturday night at Comerica Park, and the game went into extra innins tied 2-2. In the bottom of the 10th, Candalerio had a chance to win it. With the bases loaded and one out, Candelario hit a liner to Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor, who nabbed it for the second out. Victor Reyes, the next batter, grounded out to end the threat.
When Candelario came to the plate in the bottom of the 12th, he was 0-for-5 with two strikeouts and a huge missed opportunity. With a runner on first and two out, Candelario hit a 2-0 fastball from right-handed reliever Cody Allen into the right-field stands for a 4-2 victory.
“When the ball hit my barrell, all I could think was, ‘Wow’ “, Candelario said in the Toledo Blade. “I was hoping I’d get another chance.”
He would get yet another chance nearly three months later.
On September 7, the St. Louis Cardinals were in Detroit. The three-game series began on a Friday night, and the score was 3-3 going into the bottom of the ninth. Reyes got on with a one-out single, and Candelario followed with a game-winning two-run shot that carried 361 feet off Cardinals right-hander Jordan HIcks into the bullpen in left-field.
Candelario hit it with his wife and father in attendance.
“Man, it’s a blast,” Candelario said on the FOX Sports Detroit postgame show. “This moment is unbelievable. This is for these guys, for the fans and my family here in town.”
There was another family in town. That night was the first of a two-day celebration of a reunion of the 1968 world champion Tigers team – a team that was known for its late comebacks to win games.
It could not have been scripted any better.