Tigers to address rotation, 'pen in offseason
DETROIT -- The day Tigers general manager Al Avila announced he was keeping Brad Ausmus as manager going into 2016, he made two main points in his case. The big one was he felt like Ausmus was the guy to lead their young players going into another season to try to win. The other point was that Ausmus didn't have a shot to win with the team he had in 2015.
A healthy club, Avila said, will give the Tigers a shot at better results in 2016. But as Avila acknowledged, it's a bigger climb than that. The tougher steps begin this offseason.
"Very important," Avila said, "because we obviously need to add some players. Once the season's over, going into October, we'll have our Major League staff come in, we'll have our special advisors in there, too, and we'll go over every single organization. We'll figure out where some possible trades could be made, we'll rank all the free-agent guys we may be interested in out there, and we'll try to acquire some of the players that we need additionally to make this team a winning team next year."
The Tigers need at least one starting pitcher, possibly two. They have to decide whether they need a proven hitter in left field or if they can go with a youngster. And most of all, they need to rebuild a bullpen that has been an issue for three years, but became crippling at times this season.
They've had longer shopping lists in recent offseasons, but rarely more important ones.
"Thank goodness, though, we feel like we have a good core of players here that are a mix of some veterans with some nice young players that are up and coming," Avila continued. "That core is very important, because you can't create a whole brand new team. We have the basics, the core players here to start that process of just adding a few more to have a winning team."
Arbitration-eligible: RP Al Alburquerque, RP Neftali Feliz, SS Jose Iglesias, OF J.D. Martinez, IF Andrew Romine.
Free agents: C Alex Avila, OF Rajai Davis, RP Tom Gorzelanny, RP Joe Nathan, SP Alfredo Simon, SP Randy Wolf.
Rotation: Justin Verlander's second-half rebound was huge not only for Ausmus, but for Avila, who can now shop for starting pitchers to complement Verlander at the top. A healthy Anibal Sanchez would do wonders for the looks of this group, too, as he tries to find his 2012-13 form. Daniel Norris' late-September dominance upon his return from the disabled list gives Detroit something to look forward to next season and gives the Tigers some potential at a nasty mix in the back, moreso if Matt Boyd continues to develop. Detroit expects to add a frontline starting pitcher via free agency or trade, and possibly a mid-rotation starter as well, though the plethora of other issues to address could rule that out.
Bullpen: Look down the list of current Tigers relievers, and it's difficult to name more than two who are sure to be back. Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy are keepers, while others are either questions or worthy of chances to compete for spots. That leaves a whole lot of rebuilding to do, starting at closer, where Bruce Rondon's issues on and off the mound put his future in serious question. An interesting decision lies ahead on Feliz, whose stats looked worse than his stuff, including a fastball that was back up to 98 mph by season's end. He made his case to stick, but with arbitration eligibility coming off a $4.125 million salary in 2015, he won't be cheap.
Catcher: The transition to James McCann as the stalwart behind the plate began sooner than expected, as it was accelerated by Alex Avila's DL stint to strengthen his left knee. Not only is McCann shaping up to be the Tigers' backstop for the next several years, he's emerging as the leader of Detroit's young core. Bryan Holaday, who backed up Avila in 2014 before spending most of this season at Triple-A Toledo, is likely to back up McCann, though Detroit could bring in a left-handed-hitting veteran as insurance.
First base: Age is starting to creep up on Miguel Cabrera, who will turn 33 next April. But if his injury-shortened 2015 season showed anything, it's that his bat should age well. He has lost home-run power over the last couple years, but continues to be productive, evidenced by four batting titles in five seasons. That trend could continue as Cabrera adjusts his workouts to take some pressure off his back and legs. Victor Martinez's days in the field are nearing an end, but 6-foot-7 outfielder Steven Moya could begin working out at first to add some versatility.
Second base: What looked like a downturn at age 33 for Ian Kinsler turned out to be one of Kinsler's best all-around seasons in years thanks to a blistering second half. He had some lapses at second base, but his overall play made him a key to the Tigers' infield defense. He's under contract for two more years for $30 million total, with a club option for 2018.
Shortstop: Iglesias didn't have the best of stretch runs, from a dugout confrontation with McCann to a right middle finger contusion that cost him nearly all of September. His two-way play for the first four months, however, established him as an All-Star on the rise and one of the most gifted infield defenders in the game. While he was out, Dixon Machado showed strong signs he could handle everyday duty at short with defensive flair, giving Detroit some depth.
Third base: After two full seasons as the Tigers' everyday third baseman, Nick Castellanos remains a work in progress, from a low on-base percentage and a high strikeout rate to some clumsy range defensively. But at age 23, he quietly blossomed into one of Detroit's best run producers in the second half, and he showed an increasing acumen for turning double plays from the hot corner. At a position where quality is becoming increasingly more difficult to find around the league, Castellanos justifies the patience.
Outfield: No longer a sudden success story, J.D. Martinez has earned a place among the best power hitters in the league, and could improve upon that as the 28-year-old enters his prime years. With two years left until free agency, the Tigers could soon explore a long-term deal. Anthony Gose had an up-and-down season at the plate, notably struggling against left-handed pitching, but he became a tougher out as the season wore on. He's now an everyday presence in center.
The question for the Tigers is in left, where Yoenis Cespedes' deadline trade created a void. The Tigers are expected to pursue Cespedes again as a free agent, but with so many needs to fill, they could be pushed to look internally for a solution with all-around contributor Tyler Collins and a right-handed hitter from the open market. Moya looms as a potential impact hitter if he can adjust to breaking balls and deliver more consistent contact to take advantage of his massive power.