The Detroit Tigers and Milwaukee Brewers completed the first trade of the 2023-2024 MLB offseason on Saturday. Milwaukee sent outfielder/first baseman Mark Canha to Detroit for minor-league reliever Blake Holub.
Canha is a nine-year MLB veteran with 14.7 career WAR (Baseball-Reference version) who turns 35 in February. The Brewers acquired him from the New York Mets on July 31 to boost their playoff push. He slashed .262/.355/.400 over 139 games and 507 plate appearances over the course of the season.
Most of Canha’s offensive numbers are solid, but unspectacular. He isn’t a power hitter, having knocked only 11 home runs last year, and at his age is a liability on defense. What keeps his value afloat is his excellent on-base percentage and plate discipline. He had a healthy 9.7% walk rate in 2023 and his 15.6% strikeout rate was far better than the MLB average. His most unusual talent is drawing hits-by-pitch. He has taken a free pass to first by getting plunked 100 times since 2019, which is the most in MLB. He was hit by 17 pitches last year and led MLB in that category with 27 in 2021 and 28 in 2022.
At the initial impression, it’s odd that the Tigers were the first team to make a roster improvement this offseason. They went 78-84 this year, haven’t finished above .500 since 2016, and last reached the postseason in 2014. However, their record was good enough for second place in the AL Central—MLB’s weakest division by far. Some of their young players had encouraging performances and they could be a few moves away from contending next season. After all, both of this year’s World Series participants—the Arizona Diamondbacks and Texas Rangers—had even worse records in 2022 than the Tigers did in 2023.
Another reason why the iron is heating up for the Tigers is the culmination of Miguel Cabrera’s contract. The two-time MVP hasn’t been a productive player in several years. He earned $32 million in 2023, and the club will pay his $8 million buyout rather than exercise his $30 million option. He will become a special assistant to the Tigers president of baseball operations.
Cabrera’s retirement makes room for Canha in the lineup as well as on the books. With the designated hitter spot clear, the newest Tiger can rotate between there and left field with Kerry Carpenter. He is also a right-handed-hitting compliment to their outfield corps of Carpenter, Riley Greene, Parker Meadows, and Akil Baddoo—all of whom bat left-handed. He won’t play much first base with Spencer Torkelson in the lineup, but provides insurance at the position in the event of an injury.
The Tigers will pick up Canha’s $11.5 million option for 2024. By dealing him away, the Brewers will no longer have to pay his $2 million buyout since they planned to decline his option.
The 25-year-old Holub was Detroit’s 15th-round pick in 2021 and reached Double-A in 2023, striking out 76 batters in 65 1/3 innings with only 17 walks. He could factor into Milwaukee’s bullpen at some point over the coming season.
Cabrera is a legend in Detroit, but his eight-year, $248 million contract became an albatross towards the end. That’s an anchor the team will no longer drag, so they could become a sneaky candidate to make roster moves this winter with an eye on the 2024 playoffs. The Canha trade is the first domino to fall in a fascinating offseason for the Tigers.