April 15, 2024

Right-hander Kenta Maeda and the Tigers agreed Sunday on a two-year, $24 million contract, lengthening Detroit’s rotation as it hopes to improve on a 78-84 finish in the winnable American League Central, sources familiar with the deal told ESPN.

Maeda, who will be 36 two weeks into the season, joins a Tigers team that went 39-34 in the second half and had a positive run differential, matching their win total in 89 first-half games. Detroit had targeted starting depth in the mid-tier pitching market, and Maeda, coming off Tommy John surgery, posted a 4.23 ERA in 104.1 innings with 117 strikeouts and 28 walks for the Minnesota Twins.

He jumps to the Tigers for his eighth big league season and joins a rotation with left-hander Tarik Skubal — who, after his July 4 return from flexor-tendon surgery, posted the most FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement of any pitcher in baseball — right-hander Reese Olson and right-hander Matt Manning, who’s coming off a broken foot.

Detroit’s lineup took a step forward in 2023, with first baseman Spencer Torkelson hitting 31 home runs, outfielder Kerry Carpenter looking like a middle-of-the-order bat and centerfielder Riley Greene — who in September had Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing elbow after injuring himself diving for a catch — flashing All-Star potential. Top hitting prospect Colt Keith should arrive at some point in 2024, adding another potential impact bat to the lineup.

Detroit is hoping Maeda can replicate his performance after he came off the injured list in late June with a triceps strain. In his final 16 starts, Maeda put up a 3.39 ERA and struck out 98 against 23 walks in 85 innings. If he did have a weakness, it was the home run ball, with 17 allowed on the season.

Cavernous Comerica Park could help with that, and in Maeda’s most effective seasons — first with the Los Angeles Dodgers after joining them from the Hiroshima Carp, then when he finished second in the 2020 AL Cy Young voting after getting traded to Minnesota — came when he limited homers.

Staying in the AL Central shouldn’t hurt. The division-winning Twins expect to cut payroll. Cleveland Guardians does return one of baseball’s most dangerous rotations, but its offense remains lackluster. The Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals both lost 100-plus games this year and aren’t yet a threat to take the division.

Executives across the game expected the Tigers to spend this winter, and they started with Maeda, who joins Kyle Gibson (one year, $12 million) , Lance Lynn (one year, $11 million) and Reynaldo Lopez (three years, $30 million) in the $10 million-12 million-a-year cohort.

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