For the Detroit Tigers, the search for a number one catcher continues. Last season Detroit traded for Tucker Barnhart, but after putting up a slash line of .221/.287/.267, the Tigers are continuing to seek more production out of the position. Barnhart finished the season with -0.2 fWAR and no power.
On the other hand, Detroit got a strong season from Eric Haase. He put up a slash line of .254/.305/.443 with 14 home runs and 44 RBI, for a healthy wRC+ of 112. In fact, Haase was the only regular with at least 200 plate appearances who produced a wRC+ over 100.
As far as internal options go, Jake Rogers was just reinstated from the 60-day injured list after being out with Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Down on the farm, the Tigers have a few interesting catching prospects. At Double-A Erie, Dillon Dingler and Josh Crouch are among the system’s best. Crouch moved up quickly in 2022 after starting the season in Low-A Lakeland. He was voted to the Midwest League All-Star team for his performance with the Whitecaps. He will most likely return to Erie, where he was a late-season call-up for the SeaWolves.
For Dingler, he could start the season in Toledo in 2023, but he still looks to be a year away from the majors. He is still seeking offensive consistency, as he struck out at a 31% clip. But he has an above-average arm and is one of the better athletes in the Tigers system.
The Free Agent Market
There are a lot of MLB pundits who believe the Tigers will sign Willson Contreras. The Cubs have extended him a qualifying offer, so Detroit would have to give up a draft pick to acquire the right-handed hitter. He did show off his power the other night in Venezuelan winter ball, hitting 10 bombs during the home run derby. However, he will meet with the Astros during the Winter Meetings next week, per the story in the Athletic on Tuesday.
Another name on the market is Christian Vázquez. Vázquez would be a significant defensive upgrade for the Tigers. He accumulated 11 Defensive Runs Saved between Boston and Houston, which was fourth most in the league. Offensively, he bounced back from a 2021 season in which he put up a 76 wRC+ (99 wRC+ in 2022) and hit for a higher average (.274 vs .258 in 2021).
One other key stat about Vazquez that perked up from 2021 was his barrel rate, which rose from 2.6% to 5.1% in 2022. Lastly, and this may not even play a factor, but he was close to Tigers starter Eduardo Rodriguez in their time in Boston.
There is one player in next week’s Rule 5 draft that the Tigers could look at, and that Drew Millas, a switch hitting catcher who was the 30th ranked prospect in the Nationals system according to MLB Pipeline. Defensively, he grades out well with an above average arm, and he’s good at framing pitches. He grades out to be a glove-first backup, as Millas can draw walks, but struggled at the plate after his call-up to Double-A Harrisburg.
The Detroit Tigers Trade Route
There are rumors about the A’s trading Sean Murphy. Murphy hit 18 home runs last season and put up an impressive 5.1 fWAR in 148 games. He isn’t a free agent until 2026, which helps explain why teams with lower payrolls like the Rays and the Guardians are interested. If the Tigers were to make a move for Murphy, they would have to trade significant prospects to acquire his services. This is the first season he is arbitration eligible.
The Blue Jays have three major league catchers on their 40-man roster, and all of them bat right-handed. Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk and Gabriel Moreno. Kirk is coming off an All-Star season, and Moreno looks to be a future star, so more than likely they will not be moved, which leaves Jansen.
Jansen has two years of club control remaining and in just 72 games this season, he put up a stellar wRC+ of 140. When healthy, he is effective at the plate, but that has been an issue. Jansen has seen more than 300 plate appearances just once in his five big-league seasons. The cost for a frequently injured player may be smaller, but what would Toronto ask for? Pitching. The Tigers have relievers they could offer, or even a minor league starter.
Whatever path the Tigers decide to choose, like the outfield situation, they may have to think outside of the box.
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(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)