‘Go get him’: Al Avila praises Tigers CEO Chris Ilitch for landing Austin Meadows

Detroit News

Tampa, Fla. — You wondered, as Al Avila and AJ Hinch spoke Tuesday morning at George M. Steinbrenner Field, if the men who run the Tigers were more happy than relieved.

Or vice versa?

It seemed to be a coin-flip as the smiles and bouncing steps hinted at how pleased were two main Tigers strategists after Monday night’s trade that brought outfielder Austin Meadows to Detroit, all by way of a trade that shipped Isaac Paredes and a draft pick (between the second and third rounds) to the Rays.

“I know we added a big bat at a very exciting time,” said Hinch, the Tigers manager who had been wondering just how he might minister to an outfield missing two injured center fielders: Riley Greene and Derek Hill.

“Being able to pull it off is very unique at this time of spring.”

The general manager who pulled it off, Avila, spoke of a deal the Tigers were able to make for two reasons: acute need — and trade chips that a deepening organization now have compared with some earlier and desolate times during a monstrous rebuild.

“It’s a lot different than what we were doing a few years ago,” Avila said, all as the Tigers got ready to play the Yankees in their next-to-last Grapefruit League game before the team heads north for Friday’s season-opener against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park.

Meadows, 26, and a former All-Star who hit 33 homers in 2019 and 27 more in 2021, came with a price tag: a $4 million salary for 2022 that now is heaped atop another $230-million-plus the Tigers have spent since last autumn.

“I’ve got to thank Chris Ilitch,” Avila said of the man who functions as Tigers owner. “He allowed it to happen. He said, ‘If you and AJ think you need him, go get him.’”

By bringing Meadows aboard Monday night, the Tigers might have moved closer to being something closer to a legitimate playoff threat and less a team that, still in its reconstruction, could be considered closer to a .500 bet in 2022.

Meadows’ left-handed power now fits into a lineup that figures to be fiercer once Greene, the prized rookie, returns in six to eight weeks.

The Tigers are a team that in past years was waiting to be mowed down by right-handed-heavy rotations. Now, with Greene and his left-handed bat, with Akil Baddoo and Robbie Grossman left-handed, as well as catcher Tucker Barnhart and the newly added Meadows — not to mention switch-hitting Jeimer Candelario — the Tigers match up marvelously against Central Division opponents that are particularly heavy with right-handed starters.

No more than four lefties are today spread across the rotations featured by the White Sox, Twins, Royals, and Indians.

“He hits right-hand pitching, and we haven’t hit right-hand pitching,” Hinch said, reflecting on Meadows’ 1,047 plate appearances against righties, which has seen him bat .271, with 54 homers, and an .847 OPS.

But there is a more direct, everyday edge in gaining Meadows. Hinch no longer must decide how to flesh out an outfield that, until Monday, consisted of Grossman, Baddoo, and Victor Reyes. Hinch’s support options: catcher Eric Haase, as well as a couple of by-trade infielders in Harold and Willi Harold Castro. Hinch can now head for Detroit knowing his outfield is flush with valid starters, as well as options.

He also knows Meadows, who next month turns 27, could be in Detroit for a while.

“A big part is that one of the things with Austin is we’ve got multiple years with him,” Hinch said, a reference to Meadows being clear of free agency until the autumn of 2024. “We can look forward to this year, to next season, and the next.”

What the Tigers also wanted understood Tuesday is they did not steal Meadows. The cost was, potentially, steep: Paredes is only 23 with a bat that could yet blossom and, as Hinch said, “fits Tampa’s profile.”

The Rays also plucked an early round draft chip from the Tigers that, given the Rays’ wiles, could pay off nicely down the road — and leave the Tigers wondering what might have been.

Avila conceded that extra draft pick — awarded to teams with lower revenues and smaller market-sizes — could have been used “either way” as the Tigers pondered how to use MLB’s bonus selection.

It ended up being dealt. It’s noteworthy that within MLB’s draft rules, only Competitive Balance picks can be traded.

“You don’t like to lose the pick,” said Avila, “but you get a legitimate player who can contribute to your offense for the next few years.”

Avila also said the market simply offered the Tigers a chance Monday. After days of heavy hunting, the Tigers had a shot at getting something more than a body to help Hinch’s outfield inventory. They could get a genuine power bat at a price a team, now featuring personnel other teams find attractive as well as a payroll that has been soaring, could finally offer.

“In baseball, so many things can go wrong,” Avila said, making clear the Tigers aren’t yet printing playoff tickets. “Everything’s not perfect. But to get legitimate major-league players, we’re all here for it.”

Hinch was comfortable Tuesday with how he would arrange his outfield once Greene and Hill return. Injuries, who’s hot, who’s not — that happy choice will be no burden, the skipper said, with, yes, a certain sense of relief.

Lynn Henning is a former Detroit News sportswriter and a freelance writer.

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