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Predicting the Tigers' Opening Day roster

November 5, 2019

DETROIT -- The last time the Tigers lost this many games in a season, they embarked on an offseason overhaul that included signing Ivan Rodriguez, a move that signaled a change of course for the front office. This won’t be one of those offseasons. These Tigers, coming off a 114-loss

DETROIT -- The last time the Tigers lost this many games in a season, they embarked on an offseason overhaul that included signing Ivan Rodriguez, a move that signaled a change of course for the front office. This won’t be one of those offseasons.

These Tigers, coming off a 114-loss season, are committed to the long play to overhaul their organization and build around young talent. So neither Anthony Rendon nor Mookie Betts will be walking through that door to the home clubhouse at Comerica Park. And yet, while Detroit awaits its crop of pitching prospects to begin arriving, the Tigers hope to not lose another 114 games next year. That’s going to require some changes.

Offseason checklist: Tigers' needs and moves

Not surprisingly, few players are locks at positions as general manager Al Avila gets to work. The Tigers want competition in Spring Training, even if they have to create it through deals. They’ll look at another offseason of deal-making to get there. They’ll hope for deals more like two years ago, when Mike Fiers and Leonys Martin made contributions before being traded for prospects, instead of last offseason, when Detroit moved quickly on deals for players that provided little to no production thanks to injuries.

Here’s a look at where the Tigers stand at each position heading into the Hot Stove season:

Locks: None
Possibilities: Grayson Greiner, Jake Rogers, free agent/trade
The Tigers’ decision to drop John Hicks from the roster strongly suggests Detroit will bring in a veteran backstop. Whether that addition will complement Greiner and Rogers or compete against them for a roster spot is unclear. What is obvious is that the Tigers need more all-around production from behind the plate, something Greiner hinted at providing with a strong September. Rogers remains the catcher of the future, but his .125 average and nine passed balls in two months suggest his time might not be now. Detroit could seek free agent Alex Avila as a stopgap.

First base
Locks: Miguel Cabrera
Possibilities: Jeimer Candelario, free agent/trade
Whether or not Cabrera’s balky right knee allows him to play first base, he isn’t going anywhere. He’ll be primarily a DH regardless, but he wants an occasional game at first. Either way, it’s the most logical position for the Tigers to add a veteran run producer. The free-agent market at first includes rebound candidates Justin Smoak, Lucas Duda, Yonder Alonso and Ryon Healy. Candelario shifted from third to first down the stretch this past season, but he’ll have to hit better to have any chance of sticking there.

Second base
Locks: None
Possibilities: Harold Castro, free agent/trade
The Tigers lack an obvious fit at second base not only for 2020, but long term. This could be an everyday role for super-utility player Niko Goodrum, or it could be a landing spot for Castro. It could also be a fallback position for shortstop prospect Willi Castro, whose defensive fit remains to be determined. General manager Al Avila will likely dabble in the middle-infield market for more candidates.

Locks: None
Possibilities: Willi Castro, free agent/trade
The ideal scenario is for Castro to hold down this spot for the next several years. However, his .624 OPS in 110 late-season plate appearances didn’t impress, and team officials aren’t sure yet whether he can stick at short defensively. Goodrum, who held his own in an extended midseason stint at short, is a fallback option. Expect a veteran to be brought in as competition as well.

Looking ahead to shaping Tigers' 2020 roster

Third base
Locks: None
Possibilities: Dawel Lugo, Jeimer Candelario
The Tigers pivoted late this past season from Candelario to Lugo, whose defensive improvement at the hot corner was one of the team’s few silver linings. He’ll be given every opportunity to carry that forward, at least for next year while the club's No. 5 prospect Isaac Paredes looms at Triple-A Toledo.

Locks: Niko Goodrum
Possibilities: Ronny Rodriguez, Harold Castro, free agent/trade
While the role isn’t clear, Goodrum’s spot on the 2020 roster is, despite his offensive stagnancy from '18 to '19. Though Detroit values him most when he’s playing everywhere, the team’s holes around the infield strongly suggest he’ll open the season playing one spot somewhere. Rodriguez was an early season sensation before opposing pitchers fed him a steady diet of breaking balls.

Locks: JaCoby Jones, Christin Stewart
Possibilities: Victor Reyes, Travis Demeritte, Jacob Robson, Daniel Woodrow, Daz Cameron, free agent/trade
A year ago, 2020 looked like the year Cameron would be knocking on Detroit’s door to take over in center. But his struggles in Toledo combined with Jones’ midseason swing adjustment have earned Jones more time to show if he can turn a developmental corner. Stewart’s '19 season was a disappointment, especially on defense, but he showed enough flashes as a left-handed power hitter to earn another look. With no clear replacement for Nicholas Castellanos in right following Demeritte’s .630 OPS in a late-season audition, the Tigers will either have an open competition in Spring Training or sign a veteran stopgap.

Starting pitchers
Locks: Matthew Boyd, Jordan Zimmermann, Spencer Turnbull, Daniel Norris
Possibilities: Tyler Alexander, free agent/trade
The Tigers actually have enough starting pitching depth that they could fill a rotation without offseason additions if they so choose. They’ll probably bring in a veteran arm or two anyway to serve as mentors or at least depth, hoping for better results than Tyson Ross and Matt Moore provided this year in injury-plagued seasons. If Norris can carry forward his momentum from this year and grab a spot, the rotation will be much, much better for it. He’s on the staff for next year, whether as a starter or reliever.

Locks: Joe Jiménez, Buck Farmer, Drew VerHagen
Possibilities: Gregory Soto, Jose Cisnero, Bryan Garcia, Matt Hall, John Schreiber, David McKay, free agent/trade
Shane Greene’s trade last July and Blaine Hardy’s departure last month leave a very unproven group after closer Jiménez and setup man Farmer, but it also presents an opportunity. Soto, Garcia and Schreiber represent the Tigers’ best attempt to produce a bullpen in-house in several years, not counting Jiménez’s rise. Soto’s presence as a lefty reliever could be critical as baseball transitions to a three-batter minimum. Expect a veteran or two on non-roster invites to provide insurance.

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