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The 5 big questions of a tumultuous offseason

@beckjason
September 29, 2019

DETROIT -- Ron Gardenhire sounded ready for a break as he talked on Sunday. The Tigers manager’s pressing offseason questions had more to do with beverage choices than his roster. “I'm going to drive to Minnesota, relax with my daughters, drink,” he said. “And then drive on down to Oklahoma

DETROIT -- Ron Gardenhire sounded ready for a break as he talked on Sunday. The Tigers manager’s pressing offseason questions had more to do with beverage choices than his roster.

“I'm going to drive to Minnesota, relax with my daughters, drink,” he said. “And then drive on down to Oklahoma and see my grandbabies and my daughter and drink a little more. And then fly to Fort Myers. And that's when I'll try to relax a little bit. It gets a little calmer when you're around your kids and they don't think about you as a baseball guy.”

His drink of choice in Florida?

“Water,” he said. “It’s hot down there.”

Once he has finally let the stress and the frustration of a 47-114 season go, he’ll have a chance to ponder the 2020 Tigers with general manager Al Avila. And they’ll have no shortage of pressing questions facing them. Here are five:

1. How different will Gardenhire’s coaching staff look, and what will it say about the team’s direction?
Yes, the Tigers knew this season would be bad, given where they stood in their rebuilding process. Still, struggles like what the Tigers endured, including the second-worst season in franchise history and the most strikeouts by an offense in Major League history, tend to come with consequences. Though Gardenhire will be back next season, he is bracing for changes to his coaching staff, which should begin to take shape next week.

While it’s easy to suggest coaches should pay the price for performance, replacing them is a tough prospect. Next season is the final year on Gardenhire’s contract, and veteran coaches with impressive resumes tend to avoid situations without long-term security. Unproven coaches, meanwhile, face an adjustment in the big leagues, which is similarly difficult for a manager who doesn’t have a contract beyond next season. Don’t be surprised if some coaches are reassigned to different roles rather than let go.

2. Can the Tigers find a veteran hitter to help this offense?
The Tigers’ struggles began with their offense, and inexperience had a lot to do with it. On many nights down the stretch, Detroit fielded lineups with just two players boasting a full year in the Major Leagues, and one of them was former Rule 5 Draft pick Victor Reyes. That’s likely to change, with the Tigers expected to add a veteran run producer to the middle of the order, most likely at first base or in the outfield. Like last year, however, they’re not expected to be big spenders.

“We’re going to try to do the best with what we have to work with,” Gardenhire said. “They’re going to try to make the ballclub better. … We’ve got targets already. It’s just going to be a process.”

3. Is Matthew Boyd part of the long-term plan?
The Tigers listened to trade interest for Boyd leading up to the July 31 Deadline, but they didn’t find the type of prospect-laden offer they wanted to woo them towards dealing the 28-year-old with three years of team control. That’s unlikely to change this offseason following his struggles late in the year, notably with home runs. Still, the Tigers will keep their ears open. More likely than not, they’ll go year-to-year with Boyd rather than pursue a long-term contract for now.

4. Do the Tigers need a veteran shortstop, or has Willi Castro earned the job?
Castro’s September call-up was an audition to see if he could be a Major League shortstop next year -- or at all, since there’s some lingering debate over whether he’s a better defensive fit at second base. Expect the Tigers to pursue a veteran middle infielder to at least compete for a job and push Castro, who showed signs of growing pains in the field at Triple-A Toledo before arriving in Detroit. Gardenhire and infield coach Ramon Santiago believe he has a chance to stick at short, but want him to work on his defense in the offseason to be ready to compete in camp.

5. Which prospects get protected from the Rule 5 Draft?
Avila has spoken for the last couple years about someday reaching the point where they actually have to worry about losing good prospects in the Rule 5 Draft, rather than trying to pick somebody up. That time could be here. The Tigers have more than a half-dozen prospects from MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Tigers prospects list who will be exposed to the Rule 5 if Detroit doesn’t add them to the 40-man roster, including former first-round Draft picks Derek Hill and Beau Burrows. Barring some major moves, they won’t be able to protect them all, so they’ll have to prioritize some and take the risk of losing others.

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