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5 key questions facing Tigers this offseason

@beckjason
October 28, 2020

The Tigers are embarking on what might be their most important, most intriguing offseason since they started on their rebuild three years ago. It’s not just about finding a new manager to guide this team, it’s about preparing and bolstering a prospect-laden roster to take the next step. Detroit has

The Tigers are embarking on what might be their most important, most intriguing offseason since they started on their rebuild three years ago. It’s not just about finding a new manager to guide this team, it’s about preparing and bolstering a prospect-laden roster to take the next step.

Detroit has more roster and payroll flexibility than it has enjoyed in two decades. With Jordan Zimmermann’s contract off the books, Miguel Cabrera is the only player on the roster on a long-term contract. Likewise, the only players currently salted on the roster besides Cabrera over age 30 are relievers Jose Cisnero and Nick Ramirez, though Matthew Boyd turns 30 just before next Spring Training.

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At the same time, this is shaping up to be an unpredictable market following a season nobody would have predicted. The Tigers gained the experience of meaningful September baseball before fading down the stretch. Now comes their turn to begin the climb back up the standings.

Here are five big questions facing the Tigers this offseason:

1. Who will be the next manager?
This is probably the most important move of Al Avila’s tenure as GM -- not just who he hires, but what style of manager he hires.

While Ron Gardenhire helped guide the Tigers well into the rebuild, the next manager will have the challenge of leading the team into contention. Does Avila try to alternate voices and replace a veteran manager with a first-timer who has an up-and-coming résumé, maybe an analytical background? He has already interviewed several coaches in this category, including former Tigers Don Kelly, Marcus Thames and George Lombard, along with Royals bench coach Pedro Grifol.

But with AJ Hinch and Alex Cora having served their suspensions and now free to talk with teams about managerial openings, does Avila go back to the field of former managers to look for a proven winner to take the next step? Does he give Lloyd McClendon, who nearly succeeded Jim Leyland in 2014, a chance at the job?

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2. Who will be the next pitching coach?
This is just as important as the managerial hire. Rick Anderson, Gardenhire’s longtime friend and pitching guru, hasn’t committed one way or the other to wanting to return, saying he would talk to Avila first, but the ultimate decision will rest with Avila and the next manager.

Anderson was a guide in Detroit for big league pitchers struggling to succeed and prospects who just got called up. The Tigers have taken big steps in analytics and pitch design over the last couple of years, including the hiring of former USC coach Dan Hubbs as director of pitching development. Do they follow that trend to the big league level and join the list of clubs that have hired pitching coaches from the college ranks or Driveline? Do they look for another veteran big league coach? Do they try to convince Anderson to stay?

3. Where does Jeimer Candelario fit?
Candelario began Spring Training out of Minor League options and fighting to stay on the roster, but he ended the season as Detroit’s cleanup hitter and part of the long-term core. Amidst that rise, he moved from third to first base after C.J. Cron sustained a season-ending knee injury. With Cron a free agent this winter, third-base prospect Isaac Paredes potentially headed to Triple-A Toledo next year for more work and top prospect Spencer Torkelson probably not up until late next season at the earliest, the Tigers have to figure out a spot for Candelario and then, likely, find a hitter for the other corner.

“We know he can play third,” Avila said. “We put him at first base out of necessity. At the beginning he was learning the position, but you know what, at the end of the day he did an adequate job. The reality is he can play both now, in our opinion, probably better at third. I talked with him towards the end of the season and he basically said, ‘I’ll play wherever the team needs me to play.’ We’ll just have to see where it all ends up.”

4. Can (and should) the Tigers re-sign Jonathan Schoop?
Schoop became the focal point of the Tigers' lineup before a wrist injury sent him into a slump in early September and then ended his season in mid-September. He was the Tigers’ best second baseman since Ian Kinsler led Detroit into a Wild Card chase in 2016, and their best offensive signing since at least Justin Upton, if not J.D. Martinez.

But Schoop is a free agent again after his one-year deal, and with no clear successor at second base, the Tigers have a case to try to bring him back. Does Schoop want to come back to lead a young team, or try to find a spot on a contender in an uncertain market?

5. How young could this pitching staff go?
The Tigers have signed free-agent starters to one-year deals in each of the last three offseasons to provide veteran presence and depth, with mixed results. But with the return of Michael Fulmer, the arrival of Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize, and the presence of pitching prospects Matt Manning and Alex Faedo, Detroit could arguably fill a rotation from its current roster and still have a little insurance for injuries.

Considering how little contribution the Tigers received from Ivan Nova and Zack Godley this year, and Matt Moore and Tyson Ross last season, there’s a case to be made for it, even with the risk. But the Tigers will likely want more depth than that, at least to watch young pitchers’ innings as baseball ramps up from its 60-game schedule to potentially a full season. Nobody knows for sure how the free-agent and non-tender markets will play out, and whether the Tigers might find better, healthier pitchers available on their terms this winter compared to the last two offseasons.

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