Inbox: Who's on Tigers' offseason radar?

Beat reporter Jason Beck answers fan questions

November 5th, 2018

DETROIT -- The weather is cooling in a hurry in Michigan, but hopefully there's a Hot Stove to temper that a bit. At least some of these tweets to the Inbox seem a bit warm:

My colleague Jon Morosi, when he stopped beaming about Michigan's football win over Penn State on Saturday, chimed in on the shortstop market Monday morning from the GM Meetings, noting various levels of Tigers interest in free agents , and . I've heard some of the same names, with potentially as a fallback option.
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The pitching market is a little trickier, since there's more widespread interest in the market and plenty of teams will be looking for bargains. Mike Fiers wasn't a free agent at this point a year ago because the Astros hadn't non-tendered him yet.
MLB Trade Rumors pegged as a potential match as he tries to rebound from injury-shortened seasons, but he's likely out for 2019 as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. He'd be a two-year deal for a team with a goal of pitching in '20, but Detroit hopes to have pitching prospects knocking on the door by then. fits the Fiers profile, having gone from a 17-win season in '17 to an injury-plagued season this year.

Look for the rebuild to continue in 2019: General manager Al Avila and manager Ron Gardenhire made that clear in their season-ending comments. The pitching prospects that make up the Tigers' top five on MLB Pipeline's list won't begin arriving until late next season at the earliest, so most of the season in Detroit will be about identifying who sticks around for the next phase. What happens in '20 and beyond depends a lot on how the pitchers develop once they arrive, and what the Tigers can get offensively from the farm system.
Part of the Tigers' timetable, too, will probably be determined by how the other rebuilds in the American League Central progress, notably the White Sox. Chicago has a wealth of young talent but hasn't translated that into progress yet. The Twins' future could look bright again if blossoms into a star many have been waiting to see. The Indians have a window for dominating this division but might not face another long-term rebuild if they can maneuver this winter.
Which brings up this …

I think Cleveland can move some players and still expect to win the AL Central this year, unless the Twins and White Sox get aggressive and try to move up their timetable (such as the reports of potential White Sox interest in Manny Machado and/or ). Cleveland isn't looking to tear it all down and start over. If anything, the Tribe is looking to extend the window.

Haven't sensed much interest in from anywhere so far, in no small part due to the question of what position he ultimately plays. The Braves are trying to replace a Gold Glove Award-winning right fielder in . Atlanta already has a star first baseman with Freddie Freeman and no DH slot.

The Tigers have been willing to listen to trade interest on Castellanos since last offseason, but no deal has been close. Part of Detroit's problem in changing positions with him is what it might do to any trade value. If Castellanos can improve as an outfielder, he's more valuable than he is as a first baseman. But any improvement hasn't shown in the metrics.
If the Tigers were to sign Castellanos to a contract extension -- and there have been no signs of that so far -- then it becomes easier to move him to first. But I don't think Detroit wants to bounce him around between first base and right field. The club wants him focusing on one defensive position.
Another factor is that I don't foresee as a full-time DH next year. Even as he nears age 36 with back-to-back injury-shortened seasons, his instincts and glove make him a better first baseman than anybody the Tigers can come up with at this point. A reliable first baseman can make an entire infield better, especially a young infield like what Detroit is likely to field next year.

Never say never, but I can't see it happening this offseason. Clubs already had questions about his health before the non-waiver Trade Deadline in July, and with Fulmer now rehabbing from knee surgery, interest is unlikely to pick up until he can get back on a mound next season and show not just health but effectiveness.
One interesting point on the latter: Despite being limited to 24 starts and 132 1/3 innings this year, Fulmer ranked eighth in the American League with 1,116 pitches over 95 mph, according to the just-released Bill James Handbook. He threw 1,319 fastballs and sinkers, according to Statcast™, and both pitches averaged nearly 96 mph. The spin rate on both pitches was up from 2017, but still slightly down from '16. While the batting averages on both pitches were on par with previous seasons, the exit velocity was up, and the launch angle off the fastball was way up.

The possibility created some buzz around town when MLB Trade Rumors made a match as part of its free-agent predictions. DJ LeMahieu graduated from Brother Rice in nearby Birmingham and still has ties to the area. But unless the market really cools on him, it's a long shot. If the Tigers sign a second baseman, the plan has been for a short-term deal to hold down the spot until gets more seasoning. LeMahieu isn't exactly old at age 30, but with Detroit still likely a few years away from contending, he'd obviously be an older second baseman by that point.
That being said, if the Tigers are looking for a veteran addition to help out a young infield, including likely a young shortstop in 2020, LeMahieu would be a very good way to go.