The Tigers’ flurry of late-offseason deals continued Thursday with a name they’ve been linked to since the Hot Stove season began a few months ago. They agreed to terms with former Rangers and White Sox outfielder
Cody Stavenhagen of The Athletic first reported the two sides were nearing an agreement. The Tigers have not confirmed the deal.
The Tigers have had interest in Mazara in past years, including last offseason, when the Rangers traded him to the White Sox for a mid-level prospect. Chicago non-tendered him in December after he hit .228 (31-for-136) with one home run, 15 RBIs and a .589 OPS, resulting in a 64 OPS+. Mazara’s production dropped across the board after four consecutive seasons of 19-20 home runs and an OPS in the mid-.700s in Texas.
New Tigers hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh worked with Mazara last year in Chicago, where Coolbaugh was the White Sox assistant hitting coach. Mazara doesn’t turn 26 until April, having made his Major League debut in Texas as a 20-year-old in 2016 after signing five years earlier out of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
When Mazara is on, the left-handed hitter is at his best against right-handed pitching, including reasonably low strikeout totals. But his splits reversed last year, and he hit just .205 (23-for-112) with 34 strikeouts off righties. He went 8-for-24 in very limited playing time against lefties. His overall strikeout rate rose to 29.5 percent, even though his chase rate fell, according to Statcast. One issue was that he swung at just 62.2 percent of pitches in the strike zone, two points below his career average and four points below the Major League average.
Still, there were signs of encouragement. His hard-hit rate of 48.9 percent ranked in the top 10 percent of Major League hitters, according to Statcast, while his average exit velocity of 91 mph was a career best and ranked in the top 18 percent of hitters.
With a guaranteed contract, he’ll get a chance to build on that despite a crowded Tigers outfield. Detroit signed fellow free agent Robbie Grossman to a two-year contract earlier this offseason, and will start him regularly in left field. Mazara primarily has played right field in his career, and could be part of a lefty-righty platoon in right field in Detroit, possibly with switch-hitter Victor Reyes or prospect Daz Cameron.
Christin Stewart is also on the Tigers’ roster, and the team still wants to find a spot for Rule 5 Draft pick Akil Baddoo. With Mazara batting left-handed, Stewart’s chances of winning back his role likely have dwindled significantly.
Mazara joins Grossman, second baseman Jonathan Schoop and catcher Wilson Ramos in a veteran infusion to the Tigers’ lineup. Detroit also signed first baseman Renato Núñez and infielder Greg Garcia to Minor League contracts with non-roster invites to Major League camp. All but Grossman have signed in the last few weeks, with Grossman signing the only multiyear deal in the group.