The Tigers didn’t write Candelario out before the 8 p.m. deadline on Friday, meaning he immediately became a free agent for the first time in his career. It was projected that he would receive $7 million in his final year of salary arbitration.
The Tigers also didn’t write out infielder Harold Castro and utility player Willi Castro. you reached a one-year, $1.875 million contract with left-handers Tyler Alexander and a one-year, $4.3 million contract with outfielder Austin Meadows for the 2023 season to avoid arbitration with both players.
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Candelario, who turns 29 on Thanksgiving, played for the Tigers from 2017-22. He finished last season as a Tiger with the third-longest tenure in the major leagues, behind designated attacker Miguel Cabrera and right-hander Joe Jiménez.
The Tigers recently reached out to Candelario officials to say the organization would not offer their client a contract for the 2023 season, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. The Tigers then offered to sign the longtime third baseman to a one-year contract at a lower price than his projected salary.
The two sides negotiated but never came close to reaching an agreement.
“He fits into the position of the gaming group that we want to address,” Scott Harris, president of baseball operations, said Nov. 8 at the general manager meetings in Las Vegas. “He’s still a very talented player but as we’re trying to create a collection of positional players that really fit together, one advantage he has is that he’s a switch hitter, which helps him have more opportunities to find its way into the align.”
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In 2022, Candelario hit .217 with 13 homers, 50 RBIs, 28 walks, and 109 strikeouts in 124 games, along with a .272 on-base percentage and a .633 on-base percentage plus slugging.
The switch-hitter recorded a strikeout rate of 23.3%, consistent with his career average, and a career-worst walk rate of 6.0%, much worse than his career average of 9.6%. He also had a career-worst pursuit rate of 33.5%, and his 80 wRC+ — a measure of his overall offensive performance — ranked him 27th out of 28 third basemen with at least 400 plate appearances.
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In 2020 and 2021, Candelario emerged as a completely different player. He averaged a 10.2% walk rate in 201 combined games, and his 125 wRC+ between the two seasons ranked sixth-best among third basemen. Candelario won the Tiger of the Year award both seasons. In 2021, he tied Bryce Harper, JD Martinez and Whit Merrifield with 42-doubles for the MLB lead.
He produced 1.9 fWAR in 2020, 3.9 fWAR in 2021, and minus 0.1 fWAR in 2022. The biggest difference on offense: Candelario destroyed four-seam fastballs in the 2020-21 season but struggled in 2022 against them.
From 2020–2022, Candelario’s 109 wRC+ ranked 19th out of 38 third basemen with at least 700 plate appearances. Brandon Drury, the best third baseman in the free agent market, finished 15th with a 112 wRC+. Aside from Drury, the market for third basemen is extremely thin.
At the moment, the Tigers don’t have a clear replacement for Candelario.
An underperforming hot-corner defender, Candelario made 563 appearances for the Tigers from 2018-2022, more than any other player on the team in five years. In July 2017, the Tigers acquired Candelario (and Isaac Paredes) from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Alex Avila and Justin Wilson.
Along with Candelario, Alexander, Meadows and the Castros, the Tigers had to make decisions about Jiménez (expected $2.6 million), left-hander Gregory Soto ($3.1 million), right-hander José Cisnero ($2.2 million dollars) and right-handers meet Rony García ($1 million).
These four players, along with Alexander and Meadows, will return in 2023.
Harold Castro, who turns 29 at the end of November, doesn’t fit Harris’ blueprint for the Tigers’ future given his high pursuit and low walking rates, but his punch-to-ball skills made him an interesting case. Ultimately, however, the Tigers decided not to bring him back. The left-hander hit .271 with a career-high seven home runs, 17 walks and 76 strikeouts in 120 games.
Like Harold Castro, Willi Castro does not fit into Harris’ future plan. The 25-year-old chases too many pitches and rarely takes walks. He hit .241 with eight home runs, 15 walks and 82 strikeouts in 112 games. His strikeout rate improved from 24.2% in 2021 to 20.9% in 2022 due to an increase in contact rate. Manager AJ Hinch liked Castro despite minimal development on offense and played him in six positions last season.
Prior to the non-tendering, Harold Castro and Willi Castro were estimated at $2.6 million and $1.7 million in salary arbitrations, respectively.
Players on the 40-man roster with less than six years of MLB service must be advertised for contracts each winter. If a player is not granted a contract, he is considered unadvertised and becomes a free agent.
For a player to be eligible for arbitration, they must have accumulated three or more years of MLB service (or earn Super Two status by debuting early in their rookie season). Eligible players with advertised contracts have until mid-January to negotiate salaries with their team. If both sides cannot agree, arbitration will be scheduled for February.
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This article originally appeared in Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers cut Jeimer Candelario, Harold Castro, Willie Castro