DETROIT -- The Tigers bolstered their revival from 119 losses to American League champions a decade ago by picking up star players who lingered on the free-agent market. As this year's market stagnates, they're still looking for another deal or two beyond Wednesday's Minor League deals with infielder Alexi Amarista,
DETROIT -- The Tigers bolstered their revival from 119 losses to American League champions a decade ago by picking up star players who lingered on the free-agent market. As this year's market stagnates, they're still looking for another deal or two beyond Wednesday's Minor League deals with infielder Alexi Amarista, right-hander Matt West and left-handers James Russell and Caleb Thielbar.
"We still have a possibility of picking up a couple of guys, maybe another starting pitcher, maybe another reliever, maybe another position player," general manager Al Avila said Wednesday during his annual appearance at the Detroit sports media winter meeting.
At the same time, Avila made it clear the Tigers are not looking to change course. As they embark on a long-term rebuilding plan, they're going to build through young talent and their farm system.
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"We're not in it halfway," Avila said. "I'm not trying to come across as saying we're going to try to pick up a pitcher here, a pitcher there and it's going to make us so much better that we have a chance to win a championship. That's just not the right thing to do. At this point, we might try to pick up a player here or there to, quite frankly, get us through the season, and hopefully have a guy have a bounceback and be able to make a trade later on and acquire a younger player, a piece here, a piece there, to make ourselves better little by little.
"You can't lose sight of what you're trying to do in the long run. You can't do something today for 2018 that's going to hurt you for '19, '20 and '21."
Avila addressed a number of topics at Wednesday's appearance, from what he called the slowest market he can remember to the extension of protective netting at Comerica Park to Chris Ilitch's involvement in various aspects of the organization. Avila's overall message, however, centered on the long-term direction of the club and the task of reshaping the Tigers around player development, scouting and analytics.
It's not a task they're taking lightly.
"If you talk to our scouts, our player development people, our front office, this is the biggest challenge in our careers," Avila said. "A lot of us have faced it before. We faced it in Florida. We faced it when we first got here. And we came out very successful. This is just another phase in our careers.
"We're embracing this, because this is what baseball people dream about, to get a club like this and turn it around and make it a champion."
Chris Ilitch, who took over day-to-day ownership duties as Ilitch Holdings president and CEO following the death of his father, has taken a similar position, Avila said. Asked about Chris Ilitch's involvement and how it compares to Mike Ilitch's well-documented passion, Avila said the younger Ilitch has shown his passion in different facets of the operation and allowed them to reinvest money previously spent on payroll into their organization.
"Obviously [Mike] Ilitch put down a lot of money at the Major League level to do everything he could, put the pedal to the metal. That's how he expressed his passion," Avila said. "Obviously he was at a different age. Chris shows his passion in a different manner. One, he has allowed us to expand our analytical department where we've already spent over $2 million to develop our system so that we can be a better organization in the long run, today and in the future. He has allowed me to spend more money in player development, adding coaches, better nutrition, better facilities. He has allowed me to spend more money in scouting, and new technology. He has allowed me to spend more money internationally."
It's a sign of the Tigers' focus that once the team wraps up its Winter Caravan and TigerFest this weekend, Avila and his top assistants will travel to their Spring Training complex in Lakeland, Fla., to meet with their amateur scouts and begin discussing their options for the top pick in this June's MLB Draft. Ilitch, Avila said, will sit in on the meetings, as he sat in previously to learn more about player development and international scouting.
In the meantime, however, the Tigers have a 2018 season to prepare for and a roster that ranges from veterans Jose Cabrera and Victor Martinez to young performers Michael Fulmer, Nicholas Castellanos and James McCann. There's no equivalent to an Ivan Rodriguez signing coming to bolster that, but the Tigers are looking for depth additions and rebound candidates.
Avila said the Tigers could yet sign a player to a Major League contract or add a waiver claim to the active roster, including at starting pitcher. If they did, it would likely push one of their younger starters, Matthew Boyd or Daniel Norris, to Triple-A Toledo, barring injury. But nothing they do will alter their long-term ambitions.
"It may not happen today. Hey, it could happen at the end of Spring Training," Avila said. "There's still a lot of guys left that haven't signed. I suspect when all those guys start getting signed, some guys may be put on waivers or released. Between now and the end of Spring Training, there's still a lot of possibilities for a lot of things to happen."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.