Detroit —They sat in a row in the Tigers’ dugout Friday night, just after sitting for the team photo and just before hosting a joyous and energetic celebration of Miguel Cabrera’s historic 500th home run. Chairman and CEO Christopher Ilitch was flanked by general manager Al Avila on his left and manager AJ Hinch on his right.
Time was short and the topic list long, but the message conveyed by the Tigers’ power trio was consistent: It’s been a year of progress but the mission is far from complete.
“I’ve talked about the importance of seeing progress each and every year and this has been a year of steady progress,” Ilitch said. “It’s been a good step forward. We’re obviously not where we want to be yet. This is a step toward our ultimate goal.
“We want to be a playoff team. We want to be a contender. And we want to win a championship.”
After the 3-1 loss to the Royals on Friday, the Tigers were 74-79, but 65-55 since starting 9-24. They are 27-22 against teams who would currently be in the playoffs if the season ended Saturday.
“I love the way our guys compete night in and night out,” Ilitch said. “There’s no quit in this Tigers’ team and we’ve all seen it. We play until the last out and have actually changed the trajectory of a game with only one out or one strike remaining.
“AJ has worked really hard to instill a winning culture. I admire the brand of baseball he’s got our team playing. It’s fun to watch.”
When the topic turned to offseason plans, though, Ilitch passed the torch to Avila. But not before he clearly reiterated what he has said publicly on at least two occasions this year — if it makes sense, he is ready to spend money to upgrade the talent at the major league level.
“I spoke very clearly about our goals,” he said. “We want to be a playoff team. We want to be a contender. And we ultimately want to win a championship. And a big part of my job is to make sure our club has the resources to do that.
“I’ve said repeatedly over the year that this club will have the resources necessary to accomplish our goals.”
He’s already demonstrated that by pouring millions of dollars into revamping and revitalizing the organization’s infrastructure, specifically in areas of scouting, analytics and player development. The next step is building on to the core of young talent that has blossomed throughout this season.
Like adding an elite shortstop, possibly a starting catcher, a veteran starting pitcher and a slugging outfielder this off-season. Which is Avila’s domain.
“Obviously I’m not going to discuss our plans or what our resources are,” Avila said. “But at this stage, we know what our next steps are going to be and we will attack it at the right time. Just rest assured we’re going to try to improve this team for next year and make a big push.
“We feel we are very close to being in the playoffs. We’re not too far away.”
Avila did say, too, that he doesn’t have to put all his eggs into this offseason. He said it could very well be a gradual build-up depending on which players are available in free agency and what players can be acquired in trades.
Additionally, he said the pending negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement shouldn’t impact the club’s plans. The current CBA expires on Dec. 1.
“When the season is over, we’ll reassess where we are at and attack the offseason,” Avila said. “Once Dec. 1 comes around, however that turns out, we’ll make adjustments then. But we’re going into the offseason just as normal.”
There was one other interesting nugget dropped by Ilitch. He’s put together a committee to explore renovations to Comerica Park this offseason.
“Our ballpark is going on 21 years now in age,” Ilitch said. “It’s a good park and it’s held up reasonably well. However, a big part of that is to make sure we are continually updating year in and year out and not waiting a great length of time before we make big improvements.
“We will make some improvements this offseason.”
Ilitch said his committee is currently studying and refining a list of 10 potential renovation projects and the hope is to whittle that down to three, four or possibly five to tackle this offseason.
“I’m not ready to share what those are at this point,” he said. “We are still refining the list. But we are going to make sure Comerica Park stays current and fresh and remains a great venue for our team and our fans.”