Tigers' plan is to stock up on pitching

Avila hopes to add multiple starters this offseason

November 17th, 2017

This is the time of year when former Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski had an oft-repeated phrase: You can never have enough pitching. These days, his former assistant and current Tigers GM Al Avila is repeating it.

"You can never have enough pitching," Avila told reporters at the GM Meetings in Orlando, Fla., this week. "If I have 20 pitchers and I can get 21, I'm going to get 21. That's kind of the way we'll be going about it."

As the Tigers move ahead with their rebuilding project while trying to continue reducing payroll after consecutive years over the luxury-tax threshold, their search for pitching is taking them a different route than past offseasons. But as they scour the market for undervalued arms, they're trying to build up quantity in hopes of finding some quality out of the mix next Spring Training.

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Detroit's fall in 2017 accompanied a rise in the team's ERA. The Tigers' 5.36 mark was worst in the Majors; they were the only AL team to top the 5.00 mark. Their .282 batting average allowed was nine points higher than any other big league team, and their .811 OPS allowed topped any other AL team by 12 points.

The combination of 's trade to Houston at the end of August and 's injury-shortened season left the Tigers' rotation in shambles come September, along with a bullpen that was in flux for much of the year. Detroit used 29 pitchers in 2017, including 11 starters.

The Tigers' rotation is already close to set behind young arms Fulmer, and Matthew Boyd along with veteran in the third season of his five-year contract. 's old rotation spot remains open, but considering all their injury struggles last year, the Tigers are looking to add depth as well.

"We definitely need some pitching help," Avila said this week. "Right now, barring any changes, you have Zimmermann coming back, he's obviously working on his neck issues, Fulmer coming back from neck surgery. We expect both guys to be healthy. Then you have Daniel Norris and you have Matt Boyd. You have four guys right there, and you would hope that they're healthy and produce for you.

"We have to add to that, as far as starting pitching. Ideally, we'd probably add a couple of starters."

The Tigers' bullpen, meanwhile, is a mosh pit of young arms beyond closer and setup man Alex Wilson.

The Tigers have been active on the Minor League free-agent market, signing right-hander Mark Montgomery this week. The 27-year-old went 5-1 with a 2.43 ERA in 46 relief appearances at Triple-A Memphis in the Cardinals farm system, striking out 73 batters over 66 2/3 innings against just 46 hits allowed.

Another Minor League free agent, Kevin Comer, tweeted Thursday that he has signed with the Tigers. The 25-year-old righty, a 2011 first-round Draft pick (Blue Jays, 57th overall), went 5-4 with a 3.51 ERA in 45 relief appearances in the Astros' system, all but two of them at Triple-A Fresno. He struck out 79 batters over 66 2/3 innings.

Expect more Minor League deals for the Tigers. While Major League free agents tend to look for contenders, Minor League free agents usually look for places with the best opportunity to get to the big leagues.

The Tigers are also expected to be active in next month's Rule 5 Draft, plucking unprotected prospects from other farm systems. The last time the Tigers were this clearly in a rebuilding situation back in 2003, they carried three pitchers from the Rule 5 Draft.

Look for the Tigers to become more involved with Major League free agents as the offseason rolls on and pitchers look for destinations. Veteran , who last pitched in 2016, is looking to make a comeback and told MLB Network on Thursday that he'll throw for teams in January. The Tigers have almost always attended such showcases as a matter of due diligence, but their needs give events like these particular meaning.

It's a wide net the Tigers are casting.

"If you talk to the other 29 clubs, they're all looking for starting pitching," Avila said. "If you talk to the other 29 clubs, they're all looking for bullpen help. Every single one of them. It's one of those things where pitching is hard to get."