It took until January 7th, but the Tigers have finally acquired position players this offseason. Two-time All-Star Gregory Soto is on the move to Philadelphia in exchange for three players. It seemed inevitable that Soto would be traded at some point before the 2023 deadline. He has multiple years of team control on his contract (he doesn't become a free agent until 2026), he's one of the hardest-throwing relief pitchers in baseball, with a heater that consistently hits triple digits, and he's 48 for 52 in save opportunities over the last two seasons.
So it's a home run for the Phillies, right? Not exactly. I've watched Soto's entire major league career, and I trust him about as far as I can throw him. His save percentage is solid, but saves are becoming a less meaningful stat every year. His advanced numbers aren't pretty. He has a career WHIP of 1.490 and a SO/BB ratio of 1.75. Despite throwing hard, Soto doesn't miss nearly as many bats as one would expect. He averaged about a strikeout per nine innings last year, which is his lowest since becoming a full-time reliever in 2020. He's good, but Detroit believed he would be great, and he just never popped. Kody Clemens is also a part of this deal. Clemens is another in a long line of underwhelming Detroit Tigers prospects who failed to shine once they got to the major leagues. He only played 56 games in the regular season, but his OPS was an abysmal .505 last year. He'll likely bounce back and forth from Triple-A to the Major Leagues.
As for the return, it's solid for the Tigers. I'm not overwhelmed by it, but I didn't expect to be. The Phillies needed bullpen help, and the Tigers desperately needed to replenish their system. Catching prospect Donny Sands has only seen three at-bats at the major league level, but his minor league numbers indicate that he's the kind of hitter Tigers President Scott Harris is fond of. He struck out 46 times and walked 39 times in the minors. Matt Vierling was underwhelming in 117 as an outfielder for the Phillies a year ago. But his baseball savant page tells a different story. He was in the 85th percentile in hard-hit rate, which indicates he may have been unlucky. Nick Maton is the player that is most likely to contribute right away for Detroit. He's a utility player with a solid bat. A.J. Hinch is a fan of versatility, and he's under team control until 2028. He's probably the Tigers' best option to start at third base right now.
Scott Harris is in a very tough position. He inherits a team that isn't bad enough to rebuild but isn't good enough to go all in. Their only tradeable pieces come in the form of relievers that were a part of a bullpen that was top 10 in baseball last year. Two of those pieces (Joe Jimenez and Gregory Soto) are gone via trades, with Andrew Chafin likely out the door as well unless the Tigers choose to resign him. But even with a few holes in the bullpen, I have faith that pitching coach Chris Fetter can stabilize the pitching. I don't see the staff being as banged up as they were last year. If this team wants anyone to care about them, they need to improve what was a historically bad offense from last season. And while I'm still underwhelmed as a whole by this offseason, this is a good step in the right direction. I mean, they can't be worse than they were last year, can they?