Detroit Tigers GM Al Avila ‘resisting urge’ to spend big, taking his time in free agency

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold
 
| Detroit Free Press

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The Detroit Tigers were in attendance for the virtual winter meetings, but outside of making a Rule 5 draft pick, they didn’t come away with any major roster changes.

General manager Al Avila touched base with GMs and agents, as he does throughout the offseason, but was not aggressive about adding established star talent to the Tigers.

That’s how it’s going to be for the remainder of the winter.

“I look at it as being disciplined this year and resisting an urge to really try to step up,” Avila said Friday at The Players Alliance’s “Pull Up Neighbor” campaign, which served over 2,000 families in Flint and Detroit. “The last thing we want to do is go out and spend some money that we’re trying to get rid of next year or the year after that.

“From the very beginning, we’ve been saying we want this to be a long-term success. It’s not a short-term fix. … You’ve got to be disciplined to do that.”

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The marquee free agents — Trevor Bauer, George Springer and J.T. Realmuto, to name a few — won’t be coming to Detroit. The last time the Tigers spent big on the open market was in November 2015, giving right-hander Jordan Zimmermann a five-year, $110 million contract. Avila at the time called it a “dream come true” to sign his “top target.”

Zimmermann finished with numerous injuries and a 5.63 ERA on his resume with the Tigers.

“To go in here right now and make a big splash, and then all of a sudden it doesn’t work out, and then you’re trying to dump the salaries the following year,” Avila said. “That’s not what we’re looking at. We’re looking at long-term sustainability.”

After losing 64% of their 543 games across the last four years, the Tigers seem destined for another season of struggles. Prospects will debut and develop, but without major improvements, new manager AJ Hinch isn’t going to coast to the postseason.

Avila won’t get into a bidding war for second-tier free agents, either. Or the third-tier free agents. He wants to add one or two starting pitchers and, if he chooses to spend the money, an impact bat with power. Other needs include a catcher and a middle infielder.

There are two free agents Avila knows well: second baseman Jonathan Schoop and first baseman C.J. Cron. Both played for the Tigers last season on one-year contracts.

Schoop, 29, could look to pick up a multi-year deal or join a contender; he hit .278 with eight homers and 23 RBIs last year. Cron, 30, should be considered a bounce-back candidate. He only played 13 games before undergoing knee surgery in August.

Nobody knows the exact value of these types of players, and Avila isn’t going to make the first move.

“We got a wide net and (are) looking at different possibilities,” Avila said. “I think we’re keeping all of our options open to see where it takes us. I’m not going to be pinned down to one guy in particular, so it’s a wide net. We’re going to try to bring in what we need the most, I guess, at this point.”

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The market remains uncertain, Avila said, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He is optimistic about having fans in the stands next season, but isn’t sure how many.

Everyone is dealing with the same concerns.

“It’s not so much handcuffed (by the economics), it’s more the uncertainty,” Avila said. “Just taking it a step at a time.”

Some general managers, such as the Kansas City Royals’ Dayton Moore, are taking an aggressive approach. Others, such as Avila, want to let the dust settle before making moves — even inexpensive ones — to fill holes in the lineup.

“We have to see how it all plays out,” Avila said. “We haven’t really committed to anything. The wide net is out there, we’ll see where it all ends up.”

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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