Detroit Tigers’ Al Avila, AJ Hinch tag-teaming free agency, hint at shortstop backup plan

Detroit Free Press

They have turned into a tag team.

Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila and manager AJ Hinch.

They are traveling around the country together and sharing dinners while meeting with free agents.

“Some really good meals, Al and I are sharing,” Hinch said. “You know, the most successful one to date is the one that is sitting at this table right here.”

He glanced at pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez, the newest Tiger, at his introductory news conference in Comerica Park.

“I think I have the best manager in baseball,” Avila said. “That’s a great recruiting tool. He’s been traveling with me all over the country.”

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It makes sense. When meeting free agents, Avila and Hinch can articulate their plan on shaping the Tigers and tell a player how he will be used. But there is an added benefit. It gives Hinch a chance to see what makes a player tick. If you ask me, that’s the secret to Hinch’s managing style.

When they met with Rodriguez in Miami, Hinch became even more enamored with this 28-year-old starting pitcher.

“You start to learn a little bit more about the person and a little bit about what makes him tick,” Hinch said. “The first question he asked me was, ‘Give me some reasons why you take guys out.’”

To Hinch, that offered a fantastic glimpse into Rodriguez and his competitive approach. Because Rodriguez hates to be taken out. He is cut from an old school cloth, wanting to throw 100 plus pitches a game and go six-plus innings.

Quick aside: I think that will be an incredible example for the Tigers young pitchers.

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And it was fantastic, positive sign for Hinch — the kind that can’t be measured in the analytics.

After they met, Hinch and Avila refused to let Rodriguez get away to another team. They signed him to a five-year, $77-million deal.

“We weren’t getting out of that restaurant without him,” Hinch said.

Hinch likes Rodriguez’s analytics, his spin rate and extension. And Hinch is convinced that with some minor tweaks in pitch usage that Rodriguez will become even more effective.

But there’s something even more basic.

“The bottom line is, he’s a winner,” Hinch said. “You look at what he’s done, his track record and how he goes about it, his pure stuff, his competitiveness, his durability and his ability to miss bats, he gets soft contact on the ground, there’s nothing not to like about him. He comes in and immediately improves our rotation.”

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The Tigers have had an encouraging start to the offseason because they have addressed needs, and owner Chris Ilitch has showed that he’s willing to spend money.

Will he continue to spend?

“The resources are going to be there,” he said Monday.

The Tigers added catcher Tucker Barnhart, who won pair of Gold Glove awards with the Cincinnati Reds. And they have improved their pitching staff with Rodriguez.

But they aren’t done.

They are still looking for a shortstop.

In my mind, the first option for the Tigers would be to sign Carlos Correa. He makes the most sense and Hinch met with him recently in an infamous brunch.

“I didn’t order lunch, so it was only breakfast; and I didn’t realize it was as big a deal as it was,” Hinch said. “I was delivering a baby gift.”

Um, OK. Let’s go with that then.

I firmly believe Correa is the Tigers’ first option, but I don’t think the Tigers will spend $300 million to get him.

“At the end of the season, we said, we were gonna take a measured approach to the offseason,” Avila said.

And $300 million does not sound measured.

“We’re going to sign players to make this team better,” Avila said. “But we have to be careful as we move forward. Not one player is going to make us a winner, we have to make sure that we can build a good 26-man roster … and we’re going to be very careful in how we do it.”

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The Tigers don’t have to rush and overpay to sign a shortstop, even with a looming labor stoppage.

They can wait.

If Correa signs someplace else, the Tigers have several other options. They could sign one of the less expensive shortstops or even trade for one.

Or consider this: if Correa doesn’t work out, or if the other top shortstops get crazy money, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Tigers don’t spend as much on shortstop and spread out some more money to other positions, getting another quality pitcher and perhaps another outfielder.

Both Hinch and Avila hinted to that in different ways on Monday.

“There’s more ways of putting together a winning team on the field,” Avila said. “So if it doesn’t work out the shortstop area, then we might have to look at other areas to make the team better in order to for us to put a winning team on the field.”

Hinch basically said the same thing. Yes, this tag team is even sounding similar.

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“We’re not a complete team yet and we are chiseling away at it in different ways,” Hinch said. “There’s not just one answer. There’s a lot of different ways for us to go about this for the next four weeks or whatever. But we’re getting better.”

Is this sending a message to shortstops out there: the Tigers won’t overpay?

Perhaps.

If so, that makes sense at this stage.

But it might be a glimpse into Plan B.

“We want winners here and we want to win,” Hinch said.

That’s all that matters.

There are plenty of ways to win. And Avila and Hinch seemed aligned in an important way. There is more than one way to do it.

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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