DETROIT -- It's not going to be a pretty 2018 season for the Tigers. General manager Al Avila has already made that clear.
The Tigers are in the early stages of a rebuild with a handful of big contracts still on their payroll, and they'll be paying money to the Astros and Rangers to cover salaries for Justin Verlander and Prince Fielder, respectively. There's still not a lot of room to maneuver, and the Tigers are done playing big in the free-agent market for a while.
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"We're trying to stock our farm system with the best prospects we can acquire, and that's how we'll move forward," Avila said. "Once we've finished this, at some point there will be a turnaround."
1. Manager: The Tigers need an on-field leader to guide them through what are likely to be trying times next season and maybe the one after that. Avila wants experience in his first managerial hire since taking charge of the front office two years ago, and he'd also like somebody with energy.
Possible fits: Ron Gardenhire, Alex Cora, Mike Redmond, Omar Vizquel, Dave Clark, Fredi Gonzalez, Manny Acta, Joe McEwing.
2. Starting pitcher: The core of the next strong Tigers rotation is in the farm system, but until they get here over the next few years, the Tigers could use a veteran to help fill innings alongside young Michael Fulmer, Matt Boyd, Jordan Zimmermann and Daniel Norris. The Tigers could look for a free agent on the rebound in hopes of trading him for prospects next July.
Possible FA fits:Tyler Chatwood, Jhoulys Chacin, Anibal Sanchez, Chris Tillman, Anthony Bass.
3. Bullpen: The Tigers have a set closer with Shane Greene and a veteran setup man in Alex Wilson, assuming neither are traded. Beyond that, however, is a whole lot of youth. A veteran middle reliever would be helpful, as would a lefty to put alongside young Daniel Stumpf and not-as-young Blaine Hardy.
Possible FA fits:Zach Duke, Drew Storen, Antonio Bastardo, Eric O'Flaherty
1. Outfield: The Tigers have enough pieces to put together an outfield if they hold onto arbitration-eligible Alex Presley, keep Tyler Collins and let JaCoby Jones learn on the job in Detroit. If they want to add a veteran presence, however, this is one area they could do it. An on- and off-field presence like Curtis Granderson would be a big help.
2. Middle infield: The Tigers have a dynamic double-play combination with Jose Iglesias and Ian Kinsler, but both are expected to be shopped on the trade market, with Iglesias potentially being non-tendered to make way for Dixon Machado. The Tigers signed Omar Infante last winter as insurance in case they traded Kinsler, and they could do something similar this time.
1. Payroll heading down: The days of the Tigers fielding a big-market payroll and paying the luxury tax are over. That shouldn't be a danger with Justin Upton's salary off the books and most of Verlander's contract shipped to Houston. Still, any free-agent dealings the Tigers do will be at the lower end of the market.
2. Prospects: Avila and other team officials have said they're going to exercise patience with their top prospects. But they also want to challenge those prospects, and if any of them show they're ready for a shot at the big leagues during the season, it's hard to believe the Tigers will keep them in Toledo just for patience. Beau Burrows and Franklin Perez could be competing for jobs during the summer, if not sooner, while Christin Stewart and Mike Gerber will go to big league camp and push to leapfrog Toledo.
3. Designated hitter: Every indication from the Tigers is that Victor Martinez is expected to be ready for Spring Training after undergoing a cardiac ablation procedure to address an irregular heartbeat. But it's not entirely clear whether Martinez wants to play again, or if the Tigers want him back. He's under contract for next season at $18 million.