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Tigers looking for bargains at Winter Meetings

Avila aims to make Detroit younger, more efficient
December 7, 2018

DETROIT -- The last time baseball held its Winter Meetings in Las Vegas a decade ago the Tigers played with smaller moves, coming off a last-place finish in the American League Central with a bloated payroll. Their trades for starter Edwin Jackson and catcher Gerald Laird, and their signing of

DETROIT -- The last time baseball held its Winter Meetings in Las Vegas a decade ago the Tigers played with smaller moves, coming off a last-place finish in the American League Central with a bloated payroll. Their trades for starter Edwin Jackson and catcher Gerald Laird, and their signing of shortstop Adam Everett didn't make headlines at the event, but they set the stage for Detroit to vault back to respectability in 2009, coming within an extra-inning tiebreaker of an AL Central title. A year later, Jackson went into the Max Scherzer trade, and the rest is history.
This time around, the Tigers return to Vegas with much humbler goals and a vastly younger roster, but their mindset is the same: Find undervalued talent to fill needs, look for sneaky trade opportunities and try to get the Tigers more efficient.
Their offseason activity so far has been limited to Matt Moore's one-year contract, some Minor League signings and the non-tenders of catcher James McCann and reliever Alex Wilson. They have plenty left to do, and while general manager Al Avila is willing to wait out the market, he's also an older-school GM in the Dave Dombrowski mold, the type who can turn in-person conversations into actual moves.

This is a setting, and a market, where Avila might be able to break up the logjam that has hampered Detroit on the trading front and middle-tier free-agent market. In the process, he can move ahead with a rebuilding front aimed at getting the Tigers younger while restocking their farm system for the next several seasons.
Here's a quick look at where the Tigers stand heading into Las Vegas:
Club needs
The Tigers are still looking for a veteran shortstop to stabilize their infield. That market hasn't moved at all, in part because there are more candidates than interested teams. Detroit is also searching for pitching, including bullpen help now that it has bid farewell to Wilson. The team could also play in a relatively deep second-base market, buying more time for prospect Dawel Lugo to develop while allowing Niko Goodrum to work in a utility role. And yeah, the Tigers still want prospects to deepen their farm system.

Whom might they trade?
Nicholas Castellanos remains the most likely Tiger to go this offseason as he enters his contract year, but the market has been slow to develop on him, in part because teams question his defense in right field. A Bryce Harper signing or a big trade could get things moving. Michael Fulmer's knee surgery has all but taken him out of trade discussions. Shane Greene could interest clubs as a sneaky bullpen acquisition, while Matthew Boyd could attract trade interest as he did last summer.

Prospects to know
Remember the old days when Tigers prospects used to be a big discussion for Winter Meetings trades? Those days are gone, as Detroit is trying to develop prospects into Major Leaguers rather than use them for trade pieces. The Tigers do have a glut of infield prospects who aren't viewed as shortstops, from Lugo to Isaac Paredes to Kody Clemens, but they're more likely to move those guys around the infield than move them to another organization. Same with the Tigers' starting-pitching prospect riches, especially with Franklin Perez and Kyle Funkhouser coming off injuries.
Rule 5 Draft
The Tigers have two open spots on their 40-man roster, and they're expected to fill at least one of them with a Rule 5 pick. The Draft has some depth in pitching, including power arms Detroit could stash in the bullpen. Astros prospect Riley Ferrell could be interesting if he falls to the Tigers' pick at No. 5.
Payroll summary
The Tigers' payroll dropped dramatically over the past year and a half, most recently with Victor Martinez's retirement. Their player commitments amount to just more than $100 million, with $55 million going to Jose Cabrera and Jordan Zimmermann. Add in an $8 million payment to cover part of Justin Verlander's contract, and a $6 million payment as part of Prince Fielder's 2013 trade to Texas, and the payroll goes up a bit. Don't expect the Tigers to add much to that in signings.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.