Gauging what success, failure looks like for Detroit Tigers this offseason

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold
 
| Detroit Free Press

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The winter meetings are officially underway.

General manager Al Avila promised new manager AJ Hinch the roster will look different entering spring training than it did at the conclusion of the 2020 season. Now is the time to lunge at the free-agent market, which is full of potential starters at various levels of value and demand.

This week, Avila will expand on conversations with general managers, agents and his staff members to build the franchise. The winter meetings were supposed to take place at Omni Hotel Dallas in Texas, but they went virtual because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

[ What to expect from the Detroit Tigers as MLB’s 2020 winter meetings begin ]

The Tigers, with a 198-345 record over the past four seasons, have needs at starting pitcher, first base, second base and catcher. It’s also imperative that they bring in an impact bat, likely as a corner outfielder.

With that in mind, here’s an estimation of what success and failure would look like for the rebuilding Tigers this holiday season.

[ ‘Being opportunistic is key’: Inside Tigers manager AJ Hinch’s philosophy on free agency ]

Success

The Tigers are in a weird spot in the rebuild, so it’s difficult to project which type of players they will sign. Yet it seems safe to bet on a majority of their additions coming from one-year deals, with a chance of one long-term signing.

The franchise is in an awkward stage because of money and the development of prospects. The Tigers indeed have the cash to spend, but spending frivolously in a year they aren’t projected to compete would be foolish.

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

They should wait until next offseason, after the majors and minors are again moving at full tilt. At that point, prospects Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Isaac Paredes and Daz Cameron will have more MLB experience, and the organization will have a better understanding of what they have with Matt Manning, Alex Faedo, Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson.

Where the second-tier prospectsJake Rogers, Franklin Perez, Parker Meadows, Kody Clemens and Bryant Packard — are going to fit in should become clear, as well. 

The verdict: Understanding the state of the organization is key. To have a successful offseason, the Tigers need to improve the roster to a point where they feel confident in a third- or fourth-place finish in the AL Central. To do so, the Tigers will need two strong starting pitchers and a power-hitting corner outfielder (possibly on a multi-year deal).

Failure

In the last six years, the Tigers have finished at the bottom of the AL Central four times. Last winter, the team made respectable upgrades by adding second baseman Jonathan Schoop, first baseman C.J. Cron and catcher Austin Romine.

[ Detroit Tigers should dig into non-tender free-agent market to add power and/or pitching ]

Still, those improvements weren’t enough to warrant year-long success, not even in a 60-game season. It didn’t help that Cron had season-ending knee surgery after only 13 games.

Re-signing Cron, who is looking for another one-year deal as a bounce-back candidate, would be in the Tigers’ best interest. Yet Schoop will be asking for more money — or a multi-year contract — after his success last season. Plus, he might want to play for a contender. 

The Tigers haven’t made a major free-agent signing since right-hander Jordan Zimmermann inked a five-year, $110 million contract after the 2015 season. The signing didn’t come close to panning out, as he finished his injury-plagued tenure in Detroit with a 5.63 ERA. Making a similar signing this early in the building stage, and amid industry-wide financial uncertainties, would be a cause for concern.

The verdict: As much as the Tigers want to win now, the core group of prospects aren’t ready. Torkelson and Greene are unlikely to make the team out of spring training, and the Tigers are unsure — because of the recent shortened season and canceled minor leagues — about the long-term value of numerous MLB players and prospects. Next offseason is when owner Christopher Ilitch should open his checkbook and spend as Avila pleases. If the front office rushes the process, they could end up with Zimmermann 2.0. The Tigers won’t be ready for the postseason until at least 2022, so a big-money mistake this winter isn’t worth the risk.

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

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