Advertisement

Waiting for Shohei Ohtani, Detroit Tigers think early moves put them in 'stronger position'

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Shohei Ohtani is the best baseball player in the world, the talk of the winter meetings and set to receive a contract that could surpass $600 million.

The Detroit Tigers aren't in the mix to sign the two-way superstar, but the Los Angeles Dodgers and Toronto Blue Jays — as well as other teams willing and ready to write a massive check — are vying for his services. The top-secret free agency, a cross-country operation under the strict guidelines of CAA agent Nez Balelo, will end in one team signing the greatest player in the sport, while the other 29 teams find different ways to improve their rosters.

One problem: The Ohtani market is holding up the other markets.

"It's obviously been slow," Tigers general manager Jeff Greenberg said Tuesday evening. "There just hasn't been much that's happened over the last 40 hours. ... I would imagine once a couple of these things happen, it'll start to go."

JAPAN TO DETROIT: How Tigers are working to narrow the gap and compete for top Japanese players

Los Angeles Angels' Shohei Ohtani watches from the dugout during the third inning against the Detroit Tigers at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California, on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023.
Los Angeles Angels' Shohei Ohtani watches from the dugout during the third inning against the Detroit Tigers at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California, on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023.

President of baseball operations Scott Harris, who hired Greenberg as the general manager more than two months ago, has been surprised by the lack of activity to begin the offseason, especially at the winter meetings.

"There's been a lot of chatter behind the scenes about how quiet it is," Harris said Tuesday afternoon. "I'm not involved in every conversation, so maybe there are conversations that are being had among clubs that I don't have access to, but it has felt a little bit quieter, at least from my perspective."

But the Tigers already attacked their biggest needs at the beginning of the offseason. Checking boxes off the to-do list early in the offseason opens the door for creative opportunities later in the offseason.

There's no reason for the Tigers to worry about the implications of waiting out the Ohtani sweepstakes because Harris and Greenberg already made two important moves, which could end up as their biggest moves of the offseason, in trading for veteran outfielder Mark Canha on Nov. 4 and signing veteran right-hander Kenta Maeda on Nov. 28.

Both acquisitions were completed before the winter meetings began Sunday at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. On Monday evening, Harris said the Tigers weren't close making to any other moves.

"I feel like it puts us in a little bit of a stronger position," Harris said, "but I also want to be mindful of the fact that we're still under .500. We haven't been above .500, so we can't sit back and get complacent here. We still have a lot of work to do in the organization, but we feel like the offseason is off to a great start."

The Tigers will continue shopping in the pitching market, seeking starters and relievers.

The lack of left-handed depth in the rotation and the bullpen is obvious, but Harris views the bullpen as a more important area to balance righties and lefties, which means the Tigers will prioritize left-handed relievers. A starting pitcher addition could be a righty or a lefty.

"I think it allows us to be opportunistic," Greenberg said, referencing the additions of Canha and Maeda. "Getting those two things done, those are two pretty high priorities going into the offseason. It allows us, as we process whatever is going on this week, it allows us to be opportunistic."

ROSTER PREDICTION 1.0: Newcomers fill big roles for Tigers, but holes still exist

Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter Matt Chapman (26) hits a single against the Detroit Tigers in the sixth inning at Rogers Centre in Toronto on Wednesday, April 12, 2023.
Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter Matt Chapman (26) hits a single against the Detroit Tigers in the sixth inning at Rogers Centre in Toronto on Wednesday, April 12, 2023.

Acquiring a position player is not a priority for the Tigers.

In the infield, specifically at third base, the Tigers refuse to block second baseman Colt Keith and third baseman Jace Jung from playing time in the future by signing a third baseman, namely four-time Gold Glove winner Matt Chapman, to a long-term contract.

Not signing Chapman, and waiting for Jung's arrival, means the combination of Matt Vierling and Andy Ibáñez likely handles third base to start the 2024 season, but Jung is rising through the upper levels of the farm system and could take over as the everyday third baseman at some point in the second half of the season.

"I think that's a good question," Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said Monday evening, when asked about third base. "I think it's also going to have to play itself out. I think we have a number of players that can step up and grab opportunity. ... I think there are going to be guys like Matty coming back. I thought he played a great third base for not having played there a ton."

The Tigers aren't interested in Chapman, or former Tigers third baseman Jeimer Candelario, but nothing is happening anyway. The free-agent market is moving slowly, and the trade market — aside from a couple of trades Tuesday night — is moving slowly.

Ohtani, in particular, is the reason for the lack of activity across the league.

It's unclear when he plans to sign and end the quiet period, but once that happens, teams falling short in the Ohtani sweepstakes should be quick to pivot to right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto and outfielder Cody Bellinger, among other top free agents, as well as Chicago White Sox right-hander Dylan Cease on the trade market.

[ MUST LISTEN: Make "Days of Roar" your go-to Detroit Tigers podcast, available anywhere you listen to podcasts Apple, Spotify) ]

The Tigers are comfortable watching and waiting for the madness to unfold, which might happen as soon as Wednesday, also known as the final day of the winter meetings. Once the market heats up, though, Harris plans to be ready to acquire one or two more pitchers while keeping tabs on other opportunities.

"We've been pretty active," Harris said. "We made a trade. We signed a starter to a deal that we feel really good about. We're focused on finding opportunities that make us better, and when we get to the right strike price, let's make sure that we're ready to do it. But this week usually has a little bit more chaos than we have seen."

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him @EvanPetzold.

Listen to our weekly Tigers show "Days of Roar" every Monday afternoon on demand at freep.com, Apple PodcastsSpotify or wherever you listen to podcasts. And catch all of our podcasts and daily voice briefing at freep.com/podcasts.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: As baseball waits for Shohei Ohtani, Detroit Tigers in 'stronger position'