DETROIT -- The long, grueling Tigers rebuild is finally yielding results. Now comes the next step, after a 77-85 season that marked Detroit’s best record in five years.
“Obviously, the next goal is to get above .500,” manager A.J. Hinch said in a media session Tuesday at Comerica Park. “And then you go as far above .500 as needed to get to the playoffs.”
As tough as it has been to get the Tigers to this point, getting from here to playoff contention can be the toughest step. And it’ll require some of the toughest decisions.
That’s why, while the Tigers are ready to play again in the free-agent market this offseason, they’re cautioning how they’ll go about it.
“I will caution: This is not going to be spending like a drunken sailor,” general manager Al Avila said. “This is going to be a very measured process. We’re going to make sure that whatever decisions we make free agency-wise, that it doesn’t sink this organization for years to come, but it builds this organization for years to come.”
The Tigers have been in the sinking spot, having spent part of their rebuild waiting for contracts to Jordan Zimmermann and Victor Martinez to get off their books while trading away other veterans on big salaries. They’ve also experienced the lift that Iván Rodríguez and Magglio Ordóñez gave the team when they signed in the early 2000s.
“We’re not looking at it as, 'We have to make a big splash,'” Avila said. “It’s about making the right decisions to make this team a winning team.”
But that doesn’t mean the Tigers will shy away from a big contract this time around.
“You can’t have that fear factor at all when you make these decisions,” Avila said. “The thing is, we have to be very measured. We have to calculate the pros and cons of everything. And at the end of the day, it comes [down] to the player. You have to believe in the player.
“As far as the amount, the length of contract, all that stuff, there’s a lot of different reasons for doing certain things. So we’ll make that determination as we go. But there is definitely no fear factor here.”
Avila and Hinch discussed plenty of topics on Tuesday, much revolving around the offseason, in a nearly hour-long session. Here are the main points:
It’s not all about shortstop
The Tigers have a need at short, and they have payroll and roster space to add one in the same offseason that’s set to boast one of the deepest free-agent shortstop markets in recent memory. But Avila cautioned against throwing everything into that end.
“One player is not going to determine everything,” Avila said. “I think we have several needs, and we’ll tackle the offseason looking at everything that would be at our disposal as far as what players we can acquire.”
Veteran starter is a must
Asked if adding a veteran starter alongside budding young hurlers Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning is important, Avila said, “I would say an established starter is a necessity.”
That need intensified due to injuries elsewhere in the rotation.
“The injury to [Spencer] Turnbull is devastating, really, if you look at it,” Avila said, referring to the Tommy John surgery that will likely shelve Turnbull for most or all of next season. “And the injury to [Matthew] Boyd is a decision looming now going into the offseason. So we have to address that. So I look at it as as important as the shortstop at this point.”
Greene’s presence means the Tigers feel comfortable with their outfield group going into 2022.
“If there’s an opportunity to capitalize on something, maybe we look at it, but right now it’s not an area of concern,” Avila said. “You have Riley Greene coming. You guys have written plenty about him possibly making the club out of Spring Training, and I’m not going to comment on that, but at some point you can count on Riley Greene being in our outfield in the not-too-far-distant future.
By signing Jonathan Schoop to a two-year extension at the beginning of August, the Tigers have first base covered with Schoop and Miguel Cabrera until Torkelson arrives.
“It’ll be a plus for us when Torkelson’s ready,” Avila said.
Coaching staff largely back
After losing two coaches during the season to college jobs, the Tigers will have little if any turnover this season. Every coach has been informed they’ll be brought back, Hinch said, with the exception of first-base coach Kimera Bartee. The Tigers intend to interview candidates for the first-base coaching position, with Bartee among them.
New pitching director hired
The Tigers announced their first player development hire of the offseason on Tuesday, adding Gabe Ribas as their new director of pitching. He’ll report to recently-hired vice president of player development Ryan Garko. Ribas spent four years as a pitching coordinator in the Dodgers' system.
“Very, very similar hire to [Tigers pitching coach] Chris Fetter,” Avila said. “You’ll see a lot of initiatives from Chris Fetter going down to a guy like Gabe Ribas, and then all through the Minor League system, all the way down to the Dominican Summer League.”
Ribas fits into the new Minor League structure Detroit is trying to build, in which a director helps teach coaches how to utilize the analytics and technology the Tigers have built up the last few years, and helps build a consistent message through the system.
“We have to have people teaching how to teach,” Avila said. "Because now with the new information, the new technology, the average coach that maybe is not too accustomed to that has to be taught a new way."