Why I believe Chris Ilitch: Detroit Tigers will spend and go for 2022 postseason

Detroit Free Press

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Standing on a baseball field, wearing a suit and tie, Detroit Tigers owner Chris Ilitch squinted in the bright sunshine.

“You can see the fruits of this plan coming together, the emergence of our young players,” Ilitch said. “It’s just exciting to see.”

Certainly, the Tigers are fun and exciting to watch. They won again Tuesday night — and Miguel Cabrera hit his 498th career home run in a 4-2 victory over Boston — and have a 43-33 record since early May.

But there is a huge difference between entertaining and contending.

Christopher Ilitch: Spending more in free agency ‘could happen this winter’ ]

And this team still has holes.

“As you transition,” I began, “you’ve been through a draft and another trade deadline, when do you think it’s time to start chasing high-priced free agents?”

“We see the emergence of a young core,” Ilitch said. “And I think (Tigers general manager Al Avila) feels that we need to continue to improve our ball club in a high impact way. And I fully support that and will support that.”

He emphasized the word “fully,” and that is tantalizing for Tigers fans. Spending serious money on free agents is the next phase of this rebuild.

“Could that happen this winter?” I asked.

“Undoubtedly that could happen this winter,” Ilitch said. “Al has been the architect of our vision. Our fans have been incredibly patient through this process. I think Al’s vision is very much aligned with my vision and our fans’ vision, which is we want not only a highly competitive team, but we want to be a playoff contender and ultimately compete for championships.”


That is a strong indication he is ready and willing to spend money to boost this rebuild, and you don’t joke around about stuff like this.

It’s a promise he must keep.

“We want to do it on a long-term, sustainable basis,” Ilitch said. “To do that, I am very much supportive of the approach that (Avila) and his team have taken of building a young core of talent and now having the desire to bring in high-impact players to fill that out. I’m very supportive of that.”

Some fans, after a painful rebuild, are skeptical.

But I believe him. And so does manager AJ Hinch.

Do you think Hinch would have come to Detroit if he didn’t have assurances that Ilitch was willing to spend?

“He’s never wavered on what he wants and what he expects and the direction that he wants to take the organization,” Hinch said. “So I guess in some ways, it’s maybe a surprise just because of going public and (sharing) his comments to all of you, but behind the scenes, he’s always told me what his desires are and what his hopes are; that we can build a winner here and a sustainable one.”

Hinch didn’t come to Detroit to take October off. It’s safe to assume he was promised the Tigers would spend this winter. And the goal should be simple: building a team that can make a push for the playoffs next year.

Shoot, if they would have added a few more free agents last winter, this team could be in the middle of a playoff race right now.

Take away April (8-19) and this season would be amazing.

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Tigers knowing ‘what we need’

You can criticize Avila for the length of this rebuild.

And you can criticize different trades when he was dumping salaries.

But you also have to acknowledge something else: Everything is now coming together perfectly for this organization.

The Tigers have a glaring need for a shortstop at a time when there will be several premier shortstops available in free agency.

Options include Trevor Story, Corey Seager, Carlos Correa or Javier Baez.

“We all know you have to be strong up the middle to succeed in this sport and to have success,” Ilitch said. “That is not lost on anybody at our organization, including Al Avila and his staff and AJ and his staff. The team knows what we need to have to be successful, and I know Al and his team are focused on making sure we have that to achieve the success that we’re looking to achieve.”SEIDEL: Tigers woke up their hibernating fanbase. Here’s why it’s for real this year

Proving they’re ready

I have no doubt the Tigers will be shopping for a premier shortstop this winter.

But it shouldn’t stop there.

They could use a couple of starting pitchers. Real pitchers. Not bottom of the heap guys on one-year deals.

“I think you have to earn the right to ask for help,” Hinch said. “Or to build off of what you’re already doing.”

That’s the beauty of how the Tigers are winning right now — it shows Ilitch how much they have grown.

The outfield is set for next year with Robbie Grossman (one more year), Akil Baddoo, Derek Hill and probably Daz Cameron.

The Tigers are solid at catcher with Eric Haase and Jake Rogers, two inexpensive players who allow the Tigers to spend in other areas.

Tarik Skubal, Casey Mize and Matt Manning have proven they are legit starting pitchers. There will be more ups and downs but they belong.

And Joey Wentz could be in the rotation next year.

In some ways, the Tigers have gotten lucky with the emergence of Baddoo and Haase. Granted, Avila created that luck, trading for Haase and picking Baddoo in the Rule 5 draft. But nobody expected this kind of production. Haase was the American League Rookie of the month, and Baddoo could be the Rookie of the Year.

“I think we may have a few Rookies of the Month coming up soon,” Hinch said.

And those young players seem to have rejuvenated Miguel Cabrera, who is chasing his 500th home run.

Finishing the job

Avila has built an exciting, fun team. Of the starters, only Grossman and Jonathan Schoop were free agents; and they weren’t exactly expensive free agents.

Soon, the prospects will start to arrive.

I expect Riley Greene to show up sometime in the middle of next season.

The other prospects could arrive at the end of 2022 or in 2023. Spencer Torkelson will take over at first base, and Dillon Dingler is a fantastic talent.

If Double-A shortstop Ryan Kreidler turns into a stud, well, just move him to second base.

And don’t forget, Jackson Jobe could be the ace one day.

You can see the whole plan coming together, a plan that has the potential for long-term success.

The next step?

That’s obvious. Ilitch has to crack open his wallet and fully support it. To borrow his own words.


Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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