Tigers like pitching additions, but 'still want to improve'

Detroit willing to explore deals, 'not really motivated to trade the farm'

March 17th, 2022

LAKELAND, Fla. -- While the Tigers introduced new reliever Andrew Chafin on Thursday, executive vice president and general manager Al Avila continued his search for more pitching help, particularly a starter. It has not been easy.

“I think we’ve taken care of most of our needs,” Avila said. “Obviously, the injury to [Spencer] Turnbull and the injury to [Matthew] Boyd created a void in that rotation. And so, you have to weigh who’s available now via free agency and trade possibilities. Some of these trade possibilities have gone away. Some are a little bit more difficult because of maybe the type of or the quantity of prospects you have to give up. So you have to weigh that and the guys that are available in free agency and compare them to the guys that you already have in camp.

“I feel that our people did a great job in the Minor League free agent signings as far as protections, but you still want to improve.”

Avila talked with reporters decked out in green in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. It was not meant to denote the dollars they’re trying to offer to get a free agent starter into camp. Still, it seemed a fitting analogy.

According to Avila, the Tigers tried to reunite free agent Zack Greinke with his old manager from Houston, A.J. Hinch. But in the end, while Detroit could match or surpass the reported one-year, $13 million deal the Royals offered, they couldn’t compete with the lure of Greinke returning to his original team.

“I can tell you very candidly that we were in the Greinke situation,” Avila said. “I mean, money has not been really an object in this case. It's been more, I think in his case, going back to Kansas City. That's where he started. Spring Training is 30 minutes from his house. I don't think the money was an issue at all between both clubs or Greinke. I think it's more that level of comfort that we couldn't provide.”

Ironically, the Tigers had an advantage on other clubs for Chafin for similar reasons, given Detroit’s relatively close proximity to his Navarre, Ohio home.

The Tigers also had talks with free agent Boyd, whom they non-tendered in November in lieu of arbitration. While there was mutual interest in a reunion, the combination of contract terms, Boyd’s projected timetable for a June return from flexor tendon surgery and the Tigers’ need for more immediate starting pitching help ultimately worked against a deal.

Boyd reportedly agreed to terms with the Giants on a one-year contract worth $5.2 million plus the potential for another $2.3 million in incentives, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman.

Boyd texted his former Tigers teammates on their group chat, thanking them and wishing them well. He later sent out a thank you tweet to Detroit fans.

“We were in discussions with him, even before the lockout,” Avila said. “It’s just that we didn’t agree on terms at this point, and then obviously he already signed now.”

The free agent starter market has thinned out considerably in recent days. That, in turn, has impacted the asking prices for teams with starting pitchers to offer via trade.

The Tigers have more quality prospects to offer than they did a year or two ago, but Avila sounded caution that they might not be ready yet to give up top prospects who can contribute soon for a veteran starter.

“At this point, we're engaged in those type of conversations,” Avila said. “I've said this before: We're not really motivated to trade the farm, per se, at this point. I think we're still a team that's growing. It's taken a lot of work and time to build up the farm system. So we're going to be very careful.

“Now, if there's a trade to be made that makes a lot of sense for us, we're not afraid to trade a prospect or two. But we're going to be careful.”

For now, that leaves swingman Tyler Alexander as the favorite for the fifth spot in the Tigers’ rotation behind free agent signing Eduardo Rodriguez and former top prospects Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning.

Whether or not the Tigers add somebody, Avila said, will not be a matter of payroll restriction from ownership.

“There hasn’t been any restriction by any means,” Avila said. “As a general manager, I’m trying to be responsible in what we pay, the years and all that stuff. That’s my job to do, to manage it. Even when we negotiated with Greinke, we were right in it. I have not had any issues with payroll or anything of that nature.”

The balancing act, Avila said, is a matter of working to contend now without hampering their chances to contend in upcoming seasons as their young players grow and learn.

“Our decisions are based on what we think is best for the Tigers, for now and in the future,” Avila said. “Every year that we’re trying to make is to win this year. Obviously there’s a lot of question marks, but if a lot of those question marks go well, we feel we have a good chance to get to the playoffs.

“But at the same time, we’re looking at the big picture. It has taken a long time to get here, and we want to make sure of this year, the next year and the next year after that.”