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Avila says Tigers have interest in Iwakuma

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Tigers general manager Al Avila has generally been closed-mouthed about his free-agent targets in his search for pitching. However, he confirmed that Mariners right-hander-turned-free agent Hisashi Iwakuma is on their list.

"He'd be in the mix," Avila told a Japanese reporter during Tuesday afternoon's media session at baseball's General Managers Meetings.

There weren't any more names being publicly thrown around. With league meetings taking up most of the afternoon, Avila said, there wasn't much time for free-agent or trade discussions. Those are expected to pick up Wednesday for the last full day of work at the Boca Raton Resort and Club. With Iwakuma and other starting pitchers generating no shortage of interest on the market, as well as top relievers, the dealings could follow Avila home.

Iwakuma hit the free-agent market after four seasons in Seattle, where he was an American League All-Star and Cy Young Award candidate in 2013 before winning 15 games in 2014. 

Video: Al Avila on his goals attending his first GM Meetings

Known as a ground-ball pitcher with solid control, Iwakuma has averaged between seven and eight strikeouts per nine innings every season, including 7.7 K/9 in each of the last two years. His 1.08 WHIP ratio -- walks plus hits per inning pitched -- ranks second among AL pitchers since 2012, trailing only White Sox lefty Chris Sale. His 4.34 strikeout-to-walk ratio ranks fifth, and his 3.17 ERA ranks seventh.

Iwakuma is coming off an injury-shortened 2015 season that lasted just 20 starts, posting a 9-5 record and 3.54 ERA. Between that and his age -- he'll turn 35 years old next April -- he's not in the top tier of free-agent starters. But those factors also provide flexibility for teams looking for shorter-term contracts such as the Tigers, who have Justin Verlander under contract through 2019 and Anibal Sanchez for two more years. It also makes Iwakuma a fit to stay in Seattle.

As Avila has indicated a few times, the Tigers aren't expected to chase the top end of the market, but they're still looking to add a pitcher who would fit into the front half of their rotation along with another starter for the back end. Iwakuma fits the mold. Other potential free-agent fits include Jordan Zimmermann (Nationals), Scott Kazmir (Astros), Doug Fister (Nationals), Yovani Gallardo (Rangers) and Jeff Samardzija (White Sox).

"We've gotta see how it all develops," Avila said. "I'm not pretending that we're going to be in on [David Price]. I just don't know where things are going to go. We're going to be flexible and do what we feel will help our team try to win."

In other news from the GM Meetings …

  • Though starting and relief pitching are the Tigers' priorities, Avila said they remain on the search for a left fielder, either an everyday player or a right-handed hitter to platoon with Tyler Collins. "We're happy with the way Collins ended up the year," Avila said. "He actually played very well for us. If it was the right fit, it could work. Obviously an everyday guy would be preferable. I just don't know if we can be able to do it."
  • The Tigers haven't yet decided whether to tender a contract to Neftali Feliz, who's eligible for arbitration after splitting this season between Texas and Detroit. This year's deadline is Dec. 2, which gives the Tigers a few weeks to see how the relief market sorts out, but Avila said Feliz could still be a fit in a reworked bullpen.
  • The Tigers are working to fill out their player-development staff, but are still in the process of interviewing candidates for manager and pitching coach at Triple-A Toledo. Vice president of player development Dave Littlefield is handling the process as part of his review of the entire farm system.
Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.
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