Tigers, Scott Harris hit winter meetings well-armed to make some deals

Detroit News

Detroit — If you tuned your attention away from the Tigers back in October — and who’d blame you after yet another disappointing season — well, there’s been some changes.

There is new leadership in the scouting department. The medical department — athletic training, strength and conditioning, rehabilitation — has been revamped both in Lakeland and Detroit. The big-league coaching staff, still incomplete, is being remade and enlarged, with new hitting and pitching departments already in place.

And, as promised, president Scott Harris has purged the roster. Fifteen players who were on the 40-man roster at the end of the season are gone — notably Jeimer Candelario, Victor Reyes, Harold Castro, Willi Castro, Drew Hutchison and Kyle Funkhouser.

Now comes the fun part. Harris and the Tigers’ brain trust head to San Diego for Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings this week armed with significant payroll flexibility and some tradeable assets to potentially fill a roster full of holes.

Using data compiled by Cot’s Contracts, the Tigers current payroll commitment, including estimates on four arbitration-eligible players (Gregory Soto, Joe Jimenez, Jose Cisnero and Rony Garcia) and pre-arbitration players on the 40-man roster, is roughly $122 million.

That is about $25 million under the league average team payroll last season and $13 million under the Tigers’ payroll last season.

On top of that, the Tigers and the 29 other clubs are expected to get a $30 million windfall from MLB’s sale of its BAMtech stock to the Disney Company for close to $1 billion.

There is additional flexibility, too, considering Miguel Cabrera’s $32 million comes off the books after this season and both Javier Báez ($25 million) and Eduardo Rodriguez ($18 million) can opt out of their deals next winter.

As Harris and chairman and CEO Christopher Ilitch have said repeatedly, the resources are there.

“We will entertain every opportunity,” Harris said at the General Managers Meetings in October. “At the end of the day we have to make sure the decisions we make, make sense in the scope of our short-term and long-term goals. I wouldn’t rule out anything for us.

“We will shop all the aisles. Whether we actually purchase in all aisles is another question.”

The Tigers, at this stage, probably have too many needs to make big-market purchases like former general manager Al Avila did last year signing Báez and Rodriguez. But unlike Avila, Harris seemed be more open to using the club’s prospect wealth in trades.

“I don’t think we can rule out any way to get better,” he said. “If trading prospects for established big-leaguers makes sense and helps us be a more functional team, we’re going to do that. If trading big-leaguers for high-performing, upper-level prospects can make us better soon, we will do that.”

Pairing prospects with one or two of their coveted relief pitchers (Soto, Jimenez, Alex Lange) could give Harris some useful trade leverage.

“We have to reshape our position-playing group,” Harris said. “We will take a hard look at every position and try to find a way to build a more stable and productive offense.”

At the GM meetings, Harris listed a left-handed hitting corner infielder and right-handed hitting corner outfielder as primary offseason targets. He also listed acquiring more pitching — which he did Thursday, signing Matthew Boyd for one year and $10 million — and exploring the catcher market as priorities.

Not all of those needs likely will be met by the end of spring training, let alone by the end of next week. But as a primer to the winter meetings, here’s a quick position-by-position look at the Tigers’ roster.

Starting pitchers

▶ Locked in: Eduardo Rodriguez, Matthew Boyd, Matt Manning.

▶ Expected in: Spencer Turnbull.

▶ Competing: Joey Wentz, Beau Brieske, Garrett Hill, Tyler Alexander, Alex Faedo, Reese Olson.

▶ Prospects: Wilmer Flores, Austin Bergner, Ty Madden.

▶ Injured: Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal.

▶ Outlook: The Tigers don’t know what to expect from Turnbull, who is coming back from Tommy John surgery and hasn’t pitched competitively for nearly two years. Even Manning, who again battled injuries and was limited to 12 starts, isn’t close to a sure bet. So the signing of Boyd is key. Alexander, Brieske and Hill could all end up in the bullpen. Still, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Harris add even another veteran starter.

Relief pitchers

▶ Locked in: Gregory Soto, Joe Jimenez, Alex Lange, Jason Foley, Jose Cisnero, Will Vest.

▶ Competing: Alexander, Angel De Jesus, Miguel Diaz, Miguel Del Pozo, Sean Guenther.

▶ Prospects: Brendan White, Elvis Alvarado.

▶ Outlook: This group could be in flux depending on trades and how the rotation shakes out. Having Andrew Chafin opt out of his final year with the club stings, as does Soto’s slide last season. There is no clear-cut closer right now and the price tag on elite leverage relivers is steep — re: Rafael Montero’s three-year, $34.5 million deal with Houston and Robert Suarez’s five-year, $46 million deal with San Diego.

Catchers

 Locked in: Eric Haase.

▶ Competing: Jake Rogers, Michael Papierski.

▶ Prospects: Dillon Dingler, Josh Crouch.

▶ Outlook: The Tigers are exploring all avenues here, from the top of the market (Willson Contreras) to creative trade options with catcher-rich teams (Toronto, Danny Jansen, Gabriel Moreno). The hope is Rogers can make a full return to form after his Tommy John surgery, but the fact he wasn’t able to play, even hit, competitively last season is a concern. Dingler and Crouch are still a full year away at least.

Infielders

 Locked in: Báez (shortstop), Jonathan Schoop (second base), Miguel Cabrera (designated hitter).

▶ Competing: Spencer Torkelson (first base), Ryan Kreidler (shortstop, third base, second base), Andy Ibanez (third base, utility), Kody Clemens (utility), Zack Short (utility), Brandon Davis (utility), Jermaine Palacios (utility).

▶ Prospects: Andre Lipcius (third base), Colt Keith (third base), Izaac Pacheco (third base), Wenceel Perez (shortstop, second base).

▶ Outlook: If the season started today, the corner infielders likely would be Kreidler and Torkelson and neither are guaranteed a spot on the Opening Day roster. The expectation is the Tigers will acquire a starting third baseman but the free-agent options, especially left-handed hitters, are slim (Jace Peterson, Adam Frazier). They also will likely acquire a veteran first baseman to compete with Torkelson and possibly an experienced utility player. Harris has his work cut out for him trying to revamp this group.

Outfielders

 Locked in: Riley Greene (center field), Akil Baddoo (left field), Austin Meadows (right field).

▶ Competing: Kerry Carpenter (corner), Bligh Madris (corner), Steele Walker (corner).

▶ Prospect: Parker Meadows.

Outlook: Every player listed above bats left-handed and other than Carpenter and, if healthy, Austin Meadows, there’s not much power. A player like free agent Mitch Haniger would be a perfect solution, but he’s attracting a lot of attention from contending teams, to the point where he might be too pricey for the Tigers going into his age-32 season. Wil Myers and Jurickson Profar are also on the market and would be plausible fits. A shorter-term option might be Adam Duvall, who will be 34 next season but just two years removed from a 38-home run, 113-RBI season with the Braves.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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