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What to watch for: Tigers offseason FAQ

@beckjason
October 10, 2020

The Tigers are about to embark on their most interesting offseason in years, for many reasons. Their top prospects have finally started to arrive, and others are close enough to figure into the team’s planning for 2021. Their payroll has only one guaranteed contract for next season, albeit a big

The Tigers are about to embark on their most interesting offseason in years, for many reasons.

Their top prospects have finally started to arrive, and others are close enough to figure into the team’s planning for 2021.

Their payroll has only one guaranteed contract for next season, albeit a big one with Miguel Cabrera’s $30 million salary. Their spending for next year could be curtailed by the continuing impacts of the COVID pandemic, but they have far fewer obligations than many other clubs.

They’re searching for a manager to lead the team into the next stage of Detroit’s rebuilding effort and start the climb out of three last-place finishes in the last four years.

There’s a ton of uncertainty, because nobody knows what the sport or the country will look like next year. But Detroit’s flexibility creates a world of possibilities.

“With what we just came out of, playing 58 games with no fans and going into this offseason and next season with really not a good idea of what’s going to be in front of us as far as fans in the stadium, what the season looks like, it’s really uncertain,” general manager Al Avila said earlier this month. “We’re just going to have to take it week by week, month by month, and see how things develop as we move forward. As far as free agency, I really can’t sit here and tell you what we’re going to do.”

Here’s a quick look at the core questions going into the Tigers’ offseason:

How far along are the Tigers in their managerial search?
It’s still early in the process. Though MLB Network’s Jon Paul Morosi reported that the Tigers have shown interest in Dodgers first-base coach George Lombard, they’ve had to hold off on interviewing him and other candidates who are still coaching in the postseason. Two other prominent candidates, former Astros manager AJ Hinch and former Red Sox manager Alex Cora, can’t talk with clubs until the end of the World Series under terms of their MLB suspensions for sign-stealing controversies. Don’t be surprised if the Tigers go into free agency with their managerial search still ongoing.

Five key questions facing Tigers this offseason

Which players are free agents?
First baseman C.J. Cron, right-handers Ivan Nova and Jordan Zimmermann, catcher Austin Romine and second baseman Jonathan Schoop.

Are any of them likely to receive qualifying offers, and what is the deadline for that?
Teams must present qualifying offers to free agents within five days after the end of the World Series. The Tigers will not be doing that with any of their free agents.

Which players have options, what’s the dollar figure and impact on payroll, and when does it need to be decided upon?
The Tigers have no player options to exercise or decline this year.

Who might be a non-tender candidate, and when does the club have to make that decision?
The Tigers have nine arbitration-eligible players this offseason, and all of them played significant roles in 2020, leaving the club with some tough decisions ahead of the Dec. 2 non-tender date. Will Detroit go through the arbitration process with Joe Jiménez if he doesn’t project to fill the closer role in 2021? If the Tigers see Daniel Norris as a reliever again going into his final season before free agency, are they willing to go through an arbitration process that was based in part on him being a starter? Does Niko Goodrum get a contract if he doesn’t project to have a starting role?

Who needs to be added to the 40-man roster this winter to avoid the Rule 5 Draft, and do they have a crunch for roster spots?
The midseason promotions of Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal got two 40-man roster moves out of the way, but the Tigers will have to add fellow Top 10 pitching prospects Matt Manning (ranked as the Tigers' No. 3 prospect by MLB Pipeline) and Alex Faedo (No. 10) along with relief prospect Alex Lange. Catcher Brady Policelli, who spent the summer working in Toledo on becoming a super-utility prospect, will also be Rule 5 eligible. Detroit’s departing free agents should create plenty of roster space, but if the Tigers sign more than a few free agents this offseason, things could get tight.

What kind of help do they need and will they be active in free agency? Who might they target?
The Tigers were so happy with what Schoop brought to Detroit, both in production and veteran presence, that they could try to re-sign the soon-to-be 29-year-old. The same goes for Cron, who provided a badly needed power threat in the middle of the order before sustaining a season-ending knee injury in August. But Detroit could have its share of free-agent options at first base, and could keep Jeimer Candelario there if a better option emerges at third base

A corner outfielder is another priority to boost the lineup, with several veteran left-handed hitters on the market.

At catcher, Detroit could try to re-sign Romine, but his late-season struggles might make the team hesitant to guarantee a starting job without Spring Training competition from Jake Rogers (the club's No. 12 prospect). Could a James McCann reunion be an option?

Though the Tigers could fill a five-man rotation internally and still have some depth, don’t be surprised if they bring in more arms to provide more options as they try to figure out how to ramp up their starters from a 60-game season to 162 games again (hopefully).

Will the Tigers be testing the trade market again? Who are their potential trade pieces?
Unless Avila trades prospect for prospect, there aren’t many trade options for Detroit this offseason, unless they’re willing to sell low with arbitration-eligible starters Matthew Boyd and Michael Fulmer. Spencer Turnbull, who isn’t up for arbitration until next offseason, could be an intriguing option for teams looking for a long-term starter, but his up-and-down season makes him a secondary option for most clubs. Norris could attract interest as a reliever, but with one season before free agency, he won’t bring much return as a rental.

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