By: Will Burchfield
Contrary to popular belief, Tigers general manager Al Avila made it clear on Tuesday that he is not under orders to slice the team’s bloated payroll.
“Quite frankly, ownership has not told me to dump salary,” Avila told MLB Network’s Chris Russo.
It was a departure from his frugal-minded comments in November, not to mention the organization’s sell-oriented stance throughout the offseason. And it opens the door, ever so slightly, for the Tigers to make a late splash in the free agent market.
In that light, here are five free agents to keep an eye on in the coming weeks.
1. Doug Fister (SP)
The Tigers’ rotation could be a strong point this season, but are there any guarantees beyond Justin Verlander and Michael Fulmer? (And even Fulmer will face the challenge of sophomore regression, batters making adjustments, etc.) Jordan Zimmermann is coming off an injury-riddled season and Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd still have plenty to prove at the Major League level. Fister, who excelled with the Tigers from 2011-2013, could be a cheap insurance policy.
He struggled with the Astros last season (4.65 ERA, 1.425 WHIP) and wasn’t much better the season before that with the Nationals (4.19, 1.398). But he’s just two years removed from posting a 2.41 ERA and 1.079 WHIP over 25 starts. His recent downturn will knock down his market value – think in the realm of $5 million per season – but his not-so-distant success suggests he can still be effective. It might behoove the Tigers to take a gamble.
2. Neftali Feliz (RP)
Another former Tiger, Feliz might not excite local fans as much as Fister. His brief stint in Detroit in 2015 resulted in a 7.68 ERA and a 1.482 WHIP before he was let go in the offseason. The Tigers took a flier on him and he promptly crashed to the earth.
But it might be worth giving Feliz a second look. He rebounded with the Pirates last season, posting a 3.52 ERA and a 1.137 WHIP. His 29 holds were tied for second in baseball. The Tigers need help in the bullpen, where just about everyone other than Fransisco Rodriguez (and maybe Justin Wilson) is a major question mark. Feliz, who rediscovered his strikeout flair in 2016 (10.2 K/9), could give the team a dynamic arm in the backend of the bullpen and maybe, just maybe, a reliable set-up man — something the Tigers lacked last season from start to finish.
Feliz made $3.9 million with the Pirates last year, and will likely be due for a slight raise in 2017.
3. Boone Logan (RP)
Though hardly a household name, Logan has been a reliable left-handed reliever for the better part of seven years. He scuffled from 2014 to 2015 (not coincidentally, his first two seasons pitching in Coors Field), but got back on track last season with a 3.69 ERA, 1.014 WHIP and 11.1 K/9.
Logan could help the Tigers, largely because their best lefty reliever (Wilson) struggles against left-handed hitters. Logan, meanwhile, was dominant against lefties last season, holding them to a .142 average and a .477 OPS — numbers that hold up over his career. Like Fister and Feliz, Logan could likely be had for about $5 million per year.
4. Michael Bourn (CF)
The Tigers traded Cameron Maybin and his $9 million option in November and have yet to find a center fielder to replace him. With prospect JaCoby Jones not quite ready to take over on an everyday basis, it would make sense to sign a veteran like Bourn to bridge the gap.
Bourn, 34, played in 113 games for the Braves and Orioles last season, finishing with a .266 average and a .684 OPS. Those are hardly numbers to write home about, but Bourn can be disruptive on the base paths and still plays solid defense in center field. That latter point is especially important after Maybin was a defensive liability in 2016. Bourn could help solve that problem while saving the Tigers some money in the process.
5. Austin Jackson (CF)
We covered this one yesterday, but suffice to say that the Jackson is appealing for the same reasons as Bourn. There’s also the fact that Jackson, like Fister, played his best big-league baseball with the Tigers. Could the seven-year vet resurrect his career in the same place that it began? For the right price, the Tigers might be inclined to find out.