Most fans would label Year #1 of the A.J. Hinch era as a success. The Tigers lost a lot of games, but not as many as some (me included) thought they would.
The Tigers competed in a lot of games. They also allowed some young players to emerge at the MLB level, namely Casey Mize and Tarik Subal on the pitching staff, and Akil Baddoo on the lineup side.
But this is a team that needs to add at least a dozen wins to even consider contending for a playoff spot. They have glaring weaknesses (especially in the regular lineup) that need to be filled with higher caliber talent.
This offseason is being labeled as “The Year of the Shortstop.” No fewer than five top shortstops are entering the free agent market after the 2021 season.
That list includes Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Marcus Semien, Javier Baez, and perhaps the biggest prize: Carlos Correa.
Correa’s team is still playing in October, the Astros having advanced to the AL Championship Series for a fifth straight season. Correa is coming off his best all-around season. He is not only a top offensive player at his position, he is a plus-defender and a great team leader.
The 27-year old would look great in the middle of the field and lineup for the Detroit Tigers. Could the superstar be lured to Detroit by a familiar face?
Hinch and Correa and Cora
Up until 2020, the only big league manager Correa knew was A.J. Hinch. The two grew up together in a sense in Houston, from a fledgling team with young prospects to a World Series champion.
Hinch is a players’ manager. He’s earned raves in Detroit already for treating his players with respect, and demanding preparation and hard work. He has definitely changed the culture of the Tigers in a positive way.
Hinch reportedly has a fondness for Correa, which could serve the Tigers well if they choose to pursue him in the free agent market this winter. But the All-Star shortstop also has connections to other mentors from his Houston career.
Alex Cora was bench coach under Hinch, and he has a fantastic relationship with Correa. He’s already won a World Series as a manager in Boston, and he has the Red Sox in the ALCS again this season to face the Astros. Cora will have at least four games to rub elbows with his old pal Correa again. That may give the Red Sox a chance at getting Correa to sign with Boston, where his arrival would push Xander Bogaerts to third base. Bogaerts is two years older than Correa and not in the same class as a defensive player or with the stick.
Still, Correa may be swayed by the presence of Hinch and the chance to build a new championship contender in Detroit, where the lights of the media are little more like Houston than Boston. There’s also the Miggy Factor: Correa greatly respects Miguel Cabrera, who is serving as more of a team leader in these last years of his Hall of Fame career.
Can the Tigers Afford Correa? Should They Pay Him?
You should know a few things about me as a baseball fan: I don’t buy into the notion that MLB teams are poor and can’t afford to take on large contracts; I believe that contracts are backloaded, which means you will overpay your superstars in the last years of a deal, but you will get them at or below market rate in the prime years of the deal.
Which is to say, I am not one of the fans who just knee-jerks his reaction as “INSERT TEAM NAME can’t afford that guy.” Or “It’s insane to give any ballplayer INSERT MILLIONS HERE!”
MLB teams don’t give contracts to guys if they can’t afford them. The Detroit Tigers bring in about $150 million in revenue in a typical season. That’s with about 1.2 million fans attending games. Consider this: in 2020 when the pandemic hit MLB teams and they saw revenues plummet, many teams still awarded free agents with large contracts and handed out raises in arbitration cases.
The Tigers can afford Correa. The question is: will the Ilitch family choose to spend as freely as Old Man Mike did?
Also, can general manager Al Avila get creative with Correa and strike a deal that rewards the shortstop while also not putting Detroit on the hook for oodles of money?
In recent years a few free agents have made the choice to accept shorter deals worth more in Annual Average Value (AAV). Could Correa and his agent (Jon Rosen at WME), be persuaded to sign a deal that makes Correa the highest-paid player in the game, but doesn’t guarantee him as many years?
For example, instead of dishing out a contract for eight or nine or even ten years that would probably top $375 million, could Avila offer Correa the chance to be baseball’s first $40 million per year player?
How would a five-year, $225 million deal sound? Correa would be the first player to earn $40 million per season, the Tigers could give him a signing bonus of say, $25 million, and even offer a team option for a sixth year at $45 million. By that time, $45 million will be what a great player is getting.
The wrinkle with Correa is his age. He is the youngest shortstop in the Big Five that are on the market this off-season. Yes, he’s still younger than Corey Seager, who debuted three months after he did in 2015. Correa could accept a shorter, heavily weighted contract from Detroit, then still hop on the free agent market when he is 32 years old. He might then command a a deal worth half a billion, if he has great years in Detroit.
There will be many who think I am crazy to even suggest that the Tigers go after Correa. Some fans simply hate that athletes make lots of money. Some fans always side with ownership against labor. Some fans may want the Tigers to go the route of the Rays and A’s and try to build a team on a shoestring budget.
But I think some free agents, a select few, are the cream of the crop, once-in-a-generation type players that should get as much money as they can. I said the same thing in 2014 when the Tigers failed to make a serious offer to Max Scherzer. All Scherzer did was go on to win two Cy Youngs after leaving Detroit, and he may win another this year.
Correa is a superstar, a future Hall of Famer, as far as I can tell. I think the Ilitch’s should dig deep for all the pizza money and pay the man to come to Motown and make the Tigers relevant again.
All opinions are welcome, no idea is crazy. Tell me what you think in the comments section here or on Facebook.