Detroit Tigers could improve fast with money from Ilitch and smart moves from Avila

Detroit Free Press

There is only one major question facing the Detroit Tigers: Will they be able to sign a free-agent shortstop?

Paging Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, Corey Seager, Javier Baez and Marcus Semien — come on down! Yes, all of you. Take a look at Detroit. The city is coming back and so is this team.

So how much money will it take?

“The resources will be there,” Tigers general manager Al Avila said Tuesday, speaking broadly about free agency.  “But I will caution you, this is not going to be spending like a drunken sailor.”

Nobody is asking for that. It would be foolish for the Tigers to spend money just to spend money, because we have seen how that can mess up an organization for years.

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Nobody wants the Tigers to make a mistake and hand out a massive contract like the one for Jordan Zimmermann ($110 million over five years). And nobody wants the Tigers to go nutty, like they did under Mike Ilitch, when he gave Miguel Cabrera an eight-year, $248 million extension — that didn’t even begin until his age-32 season.

Because those moves hampered this organization financially for years.

But the Tigers can’t be cheap, either. It’s imperative for the Tigers to spend for a real shortstop. One who can contribute at a high level, add some offensive firepower and make a difference.

To do that, it is imperative for Tigers owner Christopher Ilitch to open up his pocketbook and add talent, as he has promised, to improve this team.

“This is gonna be a very measured process,” Avila said. “And we’re going to make sure that whatever decisions we make free agency-wise, that it doesn’t sink this organization for years to come but will build this organization for years to come.”

Obviously, that’s the goal.

“I know what everybody wants to hear and how they want to talk about the top end of the market,” Hinch said. “And if that happens, I’ll be the first one up here holding this jersey and loving life, and I’ll kiss (Avila) on the cheek in front of all of you.”

But then he cautioned: “I think we have to understand what it takes to win,” Hinch said. “It doesn’t take a big splash to win.”

Because shortstop is not their only hole. They need to sign a couple of starting pitchers and a catcher.

“Getting another proven starter is as important as a shortstop, at this point,” Avila said.

There are several ways to fix this team and not all the money has to go to a shortstop. If they get two talented pitchers and a less-expensive but highly productive shortstop, that would make sense, too.

“There are a lot of guys that can help us,” Hinch said. “We need help. We need to get better.”

So let me be clear: It’s imperative for them to spend and bring in more talent — but not all the money has to go to the shortstop. Nobody is asking for a “drunken sailor” approach.

But a significant spending spree is in order.

Because they have more than one need.

And this is their opportunity to improve fast.

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Time to harvest the farm

If the Tigers add talent and make smart decisions in free agency — yes, I realize you’re skeptical, but hang with me here — and if the youngsters continue to develop, this team has a chance to fight for the playoffs.

But not all the newcomers will come from free agency.

The guess here, almost six months from Opening Day, is that Riley Greene will be the Tigers’ starting center fielder.

What about Spencer Torkelson? He might need a little more time in the minor leagues — like a few weeks — and then he will be ready for the 2022 season.

And there you have it.

Get a legit shortstop, a couple of starting pitchers and a catcher, and bring up Tork and Greene. If all those moves come together, the Tigers will have a seriously upgraded roster and a shot at the 2022 playoffs.

That that’s even a remote possibility tells you how far this organization has come in one year.

Remember, this is a team that was 47-114 in 2019 and 23-35 — a 64-98 pace over 162 games — in 2020.

So give Avila credit for the improvement.

That is, give him credit for hiring AJ Hinch. I don’t know how many wins a manager is worth. But think of it this way: oddsmakers put the over-under for Tigers wins at  68½. (Shoot, we optimistic Free Press writers picked them for 70 wins.) They finished with 77 wins.

Why did this team exceed expectations? It starts with Hinch.

But give Avila and his staff credit for taking Akil Baddoo in the Rule 5 draft, for signing Robbie Grossman (23 homers, 20 steals) in free agency, for bringing back Jonathan Schoop (22 home runs, .278 average) and for assembling a team that went 68-61 from May 8 forward.

There is so much excitement, anticipation and reason for hope, in large part, because of the development of pitchers Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning.

After bottoming out in 2021 at 9-24 on May 7, the Tigers won at a .527 clip. That’s an 85-win pace over 162 games. So if they make the right moves this offseason, getting to 90 wins does not seem wild. Getting to 90 wins won’t guarantee the playoffs — but it sure would make September interesting.

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Hnch could make the difference in free agency

So what is going to happen?

I believe Ilitch will crack open his wallet and the Tigers will land some free agents. How big of a splash remains to be seen, but they will add talent.

I also believe Hinch will play an important role in the Tigers’ signing. You just have to see Hinch interact with his former players in front of the dugout before games to understand how he is perceived. He is highly respected and guys want to play for him.

And I believe, with more offense, with these young pitchers having another year of experience, and with another season of growth under Hinch and his coaches, this team will have a shot at the playoffs in 2022.

I’m not sure if they will make it.

Relying on youth is dicey, to say the least. But right now, it seems possible.

That’s a stunning evolution in just 11 months under Hinch.

But to make that step, Avila has to nail this offseason. If we end up seeing Hinch kissing Avila on the cheek in a news conference at Comerica Park, well, that would be a heck of a start.

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Contact Jeff Seidel: Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to

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