Detroit Tigers say ‘really uncertain’ 2021 financial outlook could curb spending

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold
| Detroit Free Press

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There’s a step-by-step process for the Detroit Tigers to climb out of the rebuild and become a consistent postseason threat, and general manager Al Avila knows it.

The plan continues with hiring a manager, probably in late October or early November.

Then, whether it’s this offseason or next, the Tigers will need to bring in a a few significant free agents to push the franchise forward. Their rebuild so far has limited signings to one-year deals, filling positional gaps and hoping for moves at the trade deadline to bring in more prospects.

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After a 23-35 run this season, with big-league developments from a few cornerstone prospects, this offseason would seem like a reasonable time to ink an extended free-agent contract or two. But Avila isn’t too sure that will happen because of industry-wide financial concerns.

“It’s really a little early for us with what we just come out of, playing 58 games with no fans,” Avila said Friday. “And going into this offseason and next season with not a good idea of what’s going to be in front of us. What the season looks like, it’s really uncertain. We’re going to have to just take it week-by-week, month-by-month and see how things develop.”

Still, the Tigers have needs. And Avila should have money to spend.

Designated hitter Miguel Cabrera’s $30 million is the only guaranteed financial commitment for 2021, now that right-handed pitcher Jordan Zimmermann’s five-year, $110 million contract has ended. Last offseason, the Tigers added catcher Austin Romine, first baseman C.J. Cron, second baseman Jonathan Schoop and outfielder Cameron Maybin on one-year contracts, but Avila didn’t say if he is going to bring them back.

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Romine struggled down the stretch, ending with a .238 batting average and minus-0.4 WAR (according to Meanwhile, Schoop returned to his 2017 All-Star form — and was deemed unmovable at the trade deadline — with eight homers and 23 RBIs in 44 games. Cron slugged four home runs in 13 games before undergoing season-ending knee surgery. Maybin provided clubhouse leadership and a .726 OPS before being traded to the Chicago Cubs for minor-league infielder Zack Short at the deadline.

At catcher, the top free-agent options include J.T. Realmuto (Philadelphia Phillies) and ex-Tigers James McCann (Chicago White Sox) and Alex Avila (Minnesota Twins). The prize at second base appears to be former Birmingham Brother Rice standout DJ LeMahieu (New York Yankees), the winner of this year’s batting title.

But Avila isn’t ready to say if he will make a splash.

[ Detroit Tigers’ 2021 Opening Day prediction: Lots of holes to plug still ]

“As far as free agency, I can’t sit here right now and tell you what we’re going to do, or even how much we’re going to spend — if we’re going to spend,” Avila said. “At this point, we’re still evaluating where we came from. We’re evaluating where we came from, where we’re going, where the league is going, where we can go. Right now, there’s a lot of uncertainty across the board.”

If the Tigers don’t re-sign Romine — or pick up Realmuto, McCann or Avila — they’ll be left with Grayson Greiner, Eric Haase and Jake Rogers, the team’s No. 12 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, to compete for the starting job in spring training.

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There’s not much production expected from those three, considering Greiner’s .118 batting average got him demoted to the alternate training site in Toledo in September in exchange for Haase, a 27-year-old Dearborn Divine Child product who only has 26 MLB games on his resume. And Rogers, who hit .125 in 35 games in 2019, didn’t get a call-up in 2020.

That leaves the Tigers, unwilling to commit to spending in an uncertain market, in a tough spot this offseason.

“We’re taking a look at that every day,” Avila said. “The free-agent market looks the same almost every year, so if you really want an upgrade there (at catcher) you have to develop your own.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold

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