If the goal is to start their competitive window, the Detroit Tigers should take a page out of the White Sox offseason playbook
“I would say we’re looking for an opportunity to make our team better for this year and for next year and the year after that.” That was the quote from Detroit Tigers General Manager Al Avila on his approach to the trade deadline coming up on Monday, which speaks not only to their approach this season, but the following years as well.
The deadline is not to be viewed as a chance to add compliments then, but cornerstones for the future. The Detroit Tigers are still on the outside looking in for the playoffs and considering that whacky nature of both the regular and postseason formats, going for it this year, with a club still trying to find its footing both in the rotation as well as through the order, would be a questionable call at best.
It is more understandable, however, that the Tigers and Avila would look for assets for which they could match the timelines of Skubal, Mize, and Paredes to begin to build a core as they begin to compete again. With other prospects like Matt Manning and Spencer Torkelson on the horizon as well, it would mark the turn of a new era of Detroit Tigers baseball.
Let us reinforce reality: it will take longer than one offseason to begin to seriously compete for the playoffs and the AL Central division. However, it does have the potential to be a major stepping stone to that goal. In looking at the possible route they could go, the White Sox would be the perfect team to mimic.
Chicago is about a year to 18 months ahead of the Tigers in terms of their respective rebuild which has started to yield results at the big league level in 2020. Thankfully for them, they took some specific actions this past offseason that Detroit should try to duplicate for themselves:
Detroit Tigers should ink a young player long-term
There is a trend in MLB to sign players to long-term deals way ahead of their free-agent years. Sometimes this is to tack on some extra time beyond where the team already had them control-wise, other times it is simply to reward performance short-term as well as skirt the potentially nasty arbitration cases.
In the offseason, the White Sox took it a step further and signed Luis Robert to a six-year, $50 million contract without him playing a single MLB inning for them. The move seemed strange at first as many from the outside looking in felt that there was no chance for Robert to make the big league roster opening day, but here we are, and Robert is hitting home runs as he is falling and supplying 1.7 bWAR as their center fielder. Not bad.
Perhaps the Detroit Tigers could take the same approach with someone like Isaac Paredes, who has already hit the big leagues but has not been in the lineup consistently yet. The deal would give Paredes a short-term pay raise while avoiding the potential issues that arbitration can bring down the road; for the team, it would save money to allocate elsewhere assuming he stays on his current trajectory.
Detroit Tigers should add a bat
To the knowledge of all at this point, the Detroit Tigers farm system has been built on pitching. Between Matt Manning, Alex Faedo, Casey Mize, and Franklin Perez, the Detroit Tigers have invested deeply in their pitching in terms of draft capital but also trade capital. The Tigers have since attempted to change that narrative though, with high draft picks Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson injecting power in the system as well as selecting position players heavily the past two drafts.
Still, many of those bats are far away and we still are not positive of their ultimate major league success. Adding a free agent position player as the White Sox did with Yasmani Grandal (4 years, $73 million) would supply long-term stability into the middle of an order which has already lost CJ Cron to injury and will possibly lose Jonathan Schoop and Austin Romine to free agency.
Sticking to the catcher theme, JT Realmuto would be a dream signing, but other potential fits would include Marcus Semien or George Springer.
Detroit Tigers should take multiple risks
This sounds scary at face value, especially in a baseball world which is now incredibly calculated and conservative when acquiring talent. But part of why the White Sox are enjoying the successes they have had this season was their willingness to take risks in the offseason on players who were either on the second half of their careers or who have never completely put it all together at the big leagues.
Edwin Encarnacion was signed to a one-year deal as a 37-year-old who is bound to a DH role at this point in his career. He has played below replacement level for the White Sox thus far, but his five home runs would be tied for second-most on this year’s Tigers club.
Nomar Mazara was another risky acquisition but for inverse reasons; as the 25-year-old outfielder with mammoth power has never quite put it together. Mazara playing replacement-level sounds frightening but considering Detroit Tigers’ current rightfield combination of Cameron Maybin, Jorge Bonafacio, Victor Reyes, Harold Castro, and Travis Demeritte has supplied -.4 Wins Above Average so far, it would provide an upgrade.
Detroit Tigers Should Add a Veteran Pitcher
The White Sox have learned about how volatile and risky starting pitching can be for themselves as they have had two of their top pitching prospects Dane Dunning and Michael Kopech each undergo Tommy John surgery while with the organization. With the Detroit Tigers being forced to shut down prospects Alex Faedo and Matt Manning with what they are calling a ‘slight’ forearm strain (which I am not convinced there is such a thing), they may not have as much depth as they initially thought.
Ivan Nova and Jordan Zimmermann will both be free agents after the season, so getting a veteran they can pencil in every fifth day alongside Boyd, Mize, and Skubal would potentially allow Norris to stay in the long inning relief role for which he has proven to thrive in. The White Sox signed both Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez to help fill out their rotation; Keuchel for three years and Gonzalez for one.
Ideally for Detroit, they would find someone closer to Keuchel’s age and talent level to add stability to a rotation which has still shown shakiness. Marcus Stroman or Trevor Bauer would be a couple of names that would fit the mold.
There is still much effort to be done before the Detroit Tigers can call themselves playoff contenders in a regular-season format. However, this type of offseason could put them on the map, restore some faith in the front office and ownership, and get fans excited about Detroit Tigers baseball again.