DETROIT — The Tigers were still basking in the vibes from Miguel Cabrera’s emotional farewell and the fan reaction from Sunday’s season finale at Comerica Park when manager A.J. Hinch and president of baseball operations Scott Harris met with the media Monday morning to discuss the task of moving forward without the former Triple Crown winner.
There’s a big void to fill; Cabrera was the face of the Tigers for 16 seasons. But as the club looks ahead to 2024, it believes there’s a new core, both in Detroit and on the way up the farm system. Harris’ offseason aim is to build around that core.
“When I was sitting here a year ago, we were talking about this organization in a very different light,” Harris said. “Instead of talking and openly asking, ‘Where are the bats? Are these young hitters ever going to hit in the big leagues?’ Now we’re seeing a group of young middle-of-the-order bats emerging right before our eyes.
“Our core isn’t finished. Anyone who watched any [Triple-A] Mud Hens or [Double-A] SeaWolves games, especially in the second half, you can see pieces that have a chance to be part of our core moving forward. We have to let those pieces grow within the organization and have a pathway to real opportunity at this level.”
Here are four takeaways from Monday’s media session and what they mean for the Tigers’ offseason:
1. Tigers will wait on E-Rod’s decision
Eduardo Rodriguez can opt out of the remaining three years and $49 million of his contract once the World Series ends. He expressed several times since the Trade Deadline how much he loves Detroit and the Tigers, which led to speculation about potentially reworking the deal to add years and/or dollars. But Harris said the Tigers will wait until Rodriguez’s decision before doing anything.
“We don’t anticipate any conversations prior,” Harris said. “There haven’t been any, and I don’t plan on having any before now and [then].”
And if Rodriguez opts out? Harris was non-committal on whether they’d pursue him on the free-agent market.
2. Tigers won’t spend just to spend
While Cabrera’s retirement creates a void in the clubhouse, it also creates an opening in the payroll. He made $32 million in each of the last two seasons, the largest salary on the club. Javier Báez, who also can opt out of his remaining contract but isn’t expected to, has the highest salary of any Tiger in 2024 at $25 million. The only other guaranteed salary on the club belongs to Rodriguez, who might opt out of it.
That creates opportunity for the Tigers on the free-agent and trade markets. But while Harris said they’ll be active, he cautioned against spending just to fill the void.
“We have plenty of resources. We have plenty of flexibility,” Harris said. “For me, the question is: What’s the path to contention?
“Recent history in this game will tell you that some organizations have either overestimated their proximity to contention or they have tried to take a shortcut to contention by spending heavily in free agency, and it hasn’t worked. It hasn’t pushed them forward. In fact, in some cases, it set them back. And so, when I think about what we’re trying to do here, we can spend to complement a core. We can’t spend to build a core; that’s not a viable strategy in this market.
“We are going to walk the line of being active in free agency and trades to find outside additions that can help us without blocking our young players. What that means in terms of what our total payroll number is, I don’t know yet.”
That’s a similar track the Orioles, Reds and D-backs took last winter. Baltimore and Arizona reached the playoffs, while the Reds contended until the final weekend. Thus, while the Tigers will look to bolster their offense, they want to keep a path for prospects Colt Keith and Justyn-Henry Malloy to play in Detroit, as well as Jace Jung and Jackson Jobe down the road.
3. Extension season?
If the Tigers are going to build around youngsters like Spencer Torkelson, Riley Greene and Kerry Carpenter, will any of them be signed to long-term deals like other clubs have done with young stars?
“We are always open-minded to extending young players who have demonstrated that they can be a part of this,” Harris said. “Fortunately for us, unfortunately for you guys, those [talks] are just going to happen behind closed doors, because it’s really not fair to comment on the specific negotiations that are or are not happening. I just hope that we can get to a place where we can find the players that we really want to extend and get it done and then announce it to you guys and then talk about how excited we are.”
4. More infrastructure upgrades coming
The Tigers renovated their clubhouse and ballpark last winter. More clubhouse upgrades are coming, Harris said, and they’ll debut a new team plane designed around comfort and recovery. On player development, Harris said the Tigers have bought land in the Dominican Republic for a new academy after leasing a facility for years. A new dormitory is also in the works at the team complex in Lakeland, Fla., along with new batting cages, mounds and a covered field.
“And then we are making very significant investments in technological improvements up and down the organization,” Harris said. “It’s really expensive, but it’s something we have to do if we’re going to be sincere about building this organization the right way.”