Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch entered Comerica Park for the final time this season.
His offseason was set to begin Tuesday afternoon with a trip home to Houston. Before he could leave Detroit, though, Hinch had one more thing to do. He teamed up with general manager Al Avila for an end-of-season news conference, in which they discussed a season of progress, expectations for the offseason and goals for the future.
“It’s an exciting time to be a Tiger,” Hinch said. “Our goal on the field was to make this a desirable place and to show the arrow pointing in the right direction. There’s a number of guys that can help us. We need help. We need to get better.
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“I know there’s going to be a lot of attention on different parts. Just the fact that it’s possible, we’re in a good place on this date in time. Where it leads to how you build a team that can contend, compete and get into the playoffs, the options are really endless.
“As the manager, you want a chance to tell your team, ‘We have a chance.’ Obviously, we got a lot of work to do between the next time I address the team, but I know the belief that exists in the clubhouse.”
Here are five takeaways from Tuesday’s talks:
The Tigers enter the offseason with big plans for postseason contention in 2022. To do so, owner Christopher Ilitch needs to give Avila enough money to make substantial upgrades at three positions: shortstop, starting pitcher and catcher.
Ilitch has already promised the funds would be available when the time is right, and the Tigers are showing every indication that the time is now. The plan for the spending, however, remains unknown.
Avila said signing a top-tier shortstop isn’t necessarily the most important move, even though Carlos Correa — who played for Hinch in Houston —’s ex-player), Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Javier Baez and Marcus Semien (who spent most of 2021 at second base) are slated to hit the open market this winter after the World Series wraps up in late October or early November.
“It’s more broad-based than that,” Avila said. “One player is not going to determine everything. 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. I think pitching is very important. … I look at it as important as a shortstop, at this point.”
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The Tigers need at least two starting pitchers, the acquisition of whom appears to take priority over a big-name shortstop. Because the Tigers’ rebuild is structured around starting pitching, they won’t make noise in the American League Central unless the starting rotation is dominant.
That’s why the Tigers’ offseason plans were heavily impacted by Spencer Turnbull’s injury. He underwent Tommy John surgery in late July and isn’t expected to return until the beginning of the 2023 season. Matthew Boyd had flexor tendon surgery in late September, which should keep him out for a portion of next season and puts his future with the franchise in question.
“An established starter would be a necessity, yes,” Avila said. “There’s two ways of building. One is, if you have really good, established starters that can go five-, six-plus innings, that really is a big plus for you. If you don’t have that, then you’re going to have to mix and match more of your bullpen.
“If you can add an established starter that can give you those type of innings, that’ll be a big plus for us. If we can’t, for whatever reason, then again, we’re going to have to mix and match more often. If we could come in and sign a good, established starter to be part of that rotation, it’s a big plus. We can’t guarantee that, because I don’t know how the market is going to play out.”
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The Tigers finished with a 4.25 ERA in 2021, ranked 15th-best in MLB.
To get even better, the organization needs pitchers, but it also requires a catcher. The team was back to betting on 26-year-old Jake Rogers as the catcher of the future, but he went through Tommy John surgery in early September. He might be back just in time for the end of 2022, or he might need to wait for 2023.
Eric Haase, the current starting catcher, produced a surplus home runs in bursts, but he slumped down the stretch of his rookie year. If the Tigers bring in a catcher, they will go after a player with an expertise in game planning and defense rather than an offense-first weapon.
“That’s another area of concern,” Avila said. “Jake Rogers was doing tremendous. We were so encouraged about the future with him in combination with Haase. Now he’s not going to be here to play next year for the most part. That also leaves us with an area of concern.”
What Tigers don’t need
When spring training starts in February, brace for a competitive outfield. Some combination of Akil Baddoo, Daz Cameron, Robbie Grossman, Derek Hill, Victor Reyes and top prospect Riley Greene will make Opening Day roster.
But there isn’t room for everyone.
The Tigers think they have enough outfield depth to get through the 2022 season. And if a player in Triple-A Toledo heats up, there won’t be an abundance of roadblocks in their path to the big leagues. For those reasons, signing an outfielder doesn’t make sense.
“We both believe that, as far as the outfield situation is concerned, it’s probably an area where, right now, we feel we’re OK there,” Avila said. “We feel we have some young prospects that are still trying to find their way. … That combination right now has worked OK for us.”
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Greene played 84 games for Double-A Erie and 40-games for Triple-A Toledo this season. The 21-year-old hit .308 with eight home runs, 30 RBIs, 22 walks and 51 strikeouts at the Triple-A level and will be considered for a spot on the Opening Day roster, possibly as the team’s center fielder.
A four-man crew of Grossman, Greene, Baddoo and Hill seems to make sense.
“If there’s an opportunity to capitalize on something, maybe we look at it,” Avila said. “Right now, it’s not an area of concern because you have Riley Greene coming. You guys have written plenty about him possibly making the club out of spring training. I’m not going to comment on it, but at some point, you can count on Riley Greene being in our outfield. I’m not going to say when or what we think, but at some point in the not too far distant future.”
Besides shortstop, the infield is set: Spencer Torkelson at first base, Jonathan Schoop at second base and Jeimer Candelario at third base.
Torkelson, the No. 1 overall pick in 2020, could be in the mix for the Opening Day roster, but he seems on track for a few extra weeks in the minor leagues before making his MLB debut. Until Torkelson arrives, Schoop will shift between first and second base, with help at first from designated hitter Miguel Cabrera.
“When Tork is ready, obviously, it’ll be a better situation for us,” Avila said. “The good thing about Schoop is he’s very versatile. He can play second. If we needed him to play short, he could play short. He can play third. It’ll be a plus for us when Torkelson’s ready.”
Because of the rebuild, the Tigers have accumulated a slew of prospects.
The headliners, ranked by MLB Pipeline: Torkelson, Greene, Jackson Jobe, Dillon Dingler, Ty Madden, Izaac Pacheco, Dylan Smith, Roberto Campos, Cristian Santana, Ryan Kreidler, Reese Olson, Colt Keith, Joey Wentz, Gage Workman and Alex Faedo.
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Involving these top prospects in trades would produce established MLB players in return, but Avila isn’t ready to dump his farm system. The Tigers want to be sustainable winners, so blowing up the minor-league system isn’t in the plan — especially not after recently making organization-altering player development moves.
“I’m still very sensitive to that, trading prospects for established players,” Avila said. “We have to be very careful on that. I’m not going to rule it out. Anything that makes sense, we’re going to look at it. If there’s a trade to be made, we will. But I’ll be very sensitive to trade guys that we feel can be part of this winning organization in the future.”
The Boyd situation
Regarding the Tigers’ business relationship with Boyd, there’s a ton of uncertainty.
The organization needs to decide this winter if he will be tendered a contract. Players with at least three years, but less than six, of MLB service time are eligible for salary arbitration if they don’t have a contract for the upcoming season.
“I’m not going to get into it at this point, because there is a decision to be made on our part,” Avila said. “Eventually, there’ll be a decision to be made on his part, if that gets to that point. It’s going to be a two-way thing here for us.”
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Players with at least three years, but less than six, of MLB service time are eligible for salary arbitration if they don’t have a contract for the upcoming season. If a team chooses not to offer a contract — known as “non-tendering” — they become free agents.
Represented by agent Scott Boras, Boyd enters his final round of arbitration eligibility this offseason, ahead of free agency after the 2022 campaign. (Last winter, the Tigers tendered Boyd a contract and avoided an arbitration hearing by agreeing to a $6.5 million deal for 2021.)
“If we do go forward in that sense, then he’s going to have to make a decision of whether it’s going to be good enough for him, too,” Avila said. “At this point, I’ll leave it at that because, obviously, we haven’t gotten into it yet. We’re not going to make any more comments on it.”
Boyd, 30, posted a 3.89 ERA, 23 walks and 67 strikeouts over 78⅔ innings in 15 starts in his injury-plagued 2021 season. He made 12 starts in 2020, recording a 6.71 ERA, 22 walks and 60 strikeouts across 60⅓ innings.
Hinch guaranteed all but one member of his coaching staff will return for 2022.
There is an opening for the first-base coach, a position held by Kimera Bartee from July through early October on an interim basis. Bartee will apply to stay in his role but is expected to remain with the organization regardless of what happens.
“In the middle of the season, when you bring somebody up, there’s always the question of what I can lead to,” Hinch said. “I said on the front end to both Hess and KB, that there were no guarantees. It is tough to not just be able to roll right into next season, especially for KB. He did a nice job.”
Earlier in the season, the Tigers lost assistant hitting coach Jose Cruz Jr. and third base coach Chip Hale to head coaching jobs at Rice University and Arizona, respectively. Hinch replaced Cruz with Mike Hessman, then moved Ramon Santiago from first base to third base before adding Bartee to handle the duties at first base.
Hessman and Baretee came from within the organization.
Entering the offseason, here’s how the coaching staff shapes up:
Bench coach: George Lombard.
Hitting coach: Scott Coolbaugh.
Assistant hitting coach: Mike Hessman.
Pitching coach: Chris Fetter.
Assistant pitching coach: Juan Nieves.
First base coach: OPEN.
Third base coach: Ramon Santiago.
Quality control coach: Josh Paul.
“This coaching staff did a tremendous job of staying through everything this season,” Hinch said. “I can’t thank them enough. Everybody came here … to make a difference. I think this group did everything they could for the players.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers GM Al Avila outlines offseason needs, goals