Active Tigers could be busy at Winter Meetings
DETROIT -- The Tigers head to Nashville, Tenn., for baseball's Winter Meetings having accomplished the bulk of their offseason to-do list already. Yeah, they've been there before.
They went to Nashville eight years ago around this time without many things they had to do, and they ended up leaving with Miguel Cabrera on their roster, having acquired him from the Marlins in a blockbuster trade. They went to San Diego last year with just tweaks left to do, spent most of the week quiet, then ended up trading Rick Porcello for Yoenis Cespedes. Then at checkout, they acquired Alfredo Simon to fill Porcello's rotation spot.
There's a different man in charge these days, but first-year general manager Al Avila was part of the Tigers braintrust that pulled off those deals, serving as Dave Dombrowski's top assistant. He heads to the Gaylord Opryland Hotel for his first Winter Meetings as a GM having already filled his top priorities, adding a veteran closer in Francisco Rodriguez before signing front-line starter Jordan Zimmermann just after Thanksgiving.
Add in last month's trade for outfielder Cameron Maybin, and Avila has done more to fill his team's needs before the Winter Meetings than any other general manager, leaving a few boxes left to check on his offseason shopping list.
"Right now, everything is fitting right in line with our plan," Avila said. "We still plan to go out and get another starting pitcher. Obviously the bullpen's still [to be addressed]. We have our closer, but we're still out there looking for at least one, maybe two more relievers at this point.
"We are still in pursuit of pitching, and whatever else we can tweak, we will. But pitching's still the priority."
It's the tweaking part where the Tigers could get creative. Though Avila said they'd be "comfortable" opening the season with their current outfield mix -- Maybin, J.D. Martinez, Anthony Gose and Tyler Collins -- he also didn't rule out another move. That almost surely wouldn't involve the Tigers trading top prospects for another bat; the Tigers are trying to hold onto as much young talent as they can at this point. With several free-agent options out there, though, they could hit the open market.
In the backdrop of all this is the quote from team owner Mike Ilitch on Monday that he doesn't care if he spends money for a player that can become a big help to the team.
"I don't care about spending money," Ilitch said. "They get the players and I spend, and I don't worry about it, because they have good judgment."
That doesn't mean Avila will spend without limits in Nashville. While he's in search of another starter, likely via free agency, he won't be picking from the same group from which he plucked Zimmermann.
"Obviously it's not going to be the same [shopping] aisle," Avila said. "Early on in the [offseason] I did mention that we were trying to get a top starter like Jordan, and then a less expensive pitcher. But that doesn't mean we're looking for a guy that's not good. It means a guy that we're going to like a lot in that particular role."
That market is more likely to linger through the meetings than the relief market, which could move quickly once one of the top free agents sign. Detroit won't be involved on setup man Darren O'Day or former Tigers closer Joakim Soria, but they've explored most of the next tier of relievers.
MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2015 Winter Meetings from the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, with the Network launching 35 hours of live Winter Meetings coverage on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET. Fans can also catch live streaming of all news conferences and manager availability on MLB.com, as well as the announcement of the Hall of Fame Pre-Integration Era Committee inductees on Monday at 11 a.m. ET and the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 10 at 10 a.m. ET.
Zimmermann's deal pushes the Tigers' payroll around the $145 million mark for eight players. They'll have room to fill their needs and stay under the luxury tax threshold, but not unlimited funds. And while Ilitch said he'll pay luxury tax if that's what it takes to get the final pieces to build a winner, Avila isn't likely to get to that point.
To do something else major, they'd have to get creative. The Tigers front office, Avila included, has a history of doing that here.