Henning: Tigers add pieces, but prospects vital, too

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

When the Tigers got busy with their offseason shopping, they were intent on adding two starting pitchers, at least three relievers, an outfielder, a back-up catcher, and another utility piece.

They also were dead-set on not trading any of their upper-crust prospects.

What seemed like a good-luck-with-that safari ended nicely for Tigers general manager Al Avila. He got all of the above, plus a guy named Justin Upton, without touching Daniel Norris, Michael Fulmer, Joe Jimenez, Dixon Machado, Steven Moya, or JaCoby Jones.

It seems contradictory, the idea a team with $200 million in player salaries would look at the above group as necessary payroll protection in the months ahead. But not only will pink cheeks keep paychecks somewhere within bounds for owner Mike Ilitch, most of those pitchers and position players Avila was obliged to keep could be making Comerica Park guest appearances this season, and certainly by 2017 — for the Tigers or for another club.

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Norris already is a near-lock for the 2016 rotation. Fulmer and Jimenez could pitch in Detroit at least by September, perhaps earlier.

And then there is the matter of those three position players: Moya, a Bunyan-sized, left-handed hitting outfielder; Machado a very good middle-infield defender and potentially helpful hitter; and Jones, who by next season could be working at least semi-regularly at an infield, outfield, or hybrid spot on Detroit’s 25-man roster.

Where they might play and who they might displace is what makes the latter trio particularly intriguing.

Moya is no favorite among Tigers fans. Today, anyway. They see him as a strikeout machine with little upside.

The Tigers, particularly after a 24-year-old man wrapped up a very good stint of winter ball in the Dominican Republic, view him still as a hitter who, in short time, will hit 30 home runs and drive in 100. He will strike out — a lot. But across front offices coast to coast, strikeouts aren’t the taboo they once were.

It’s the game-changing nature of Moya’s power, as well as his all-around game, the Tigers believe will move him steadily toward everyday work in the big leagues.

Machado had a breakthrough year at Double A in 2014 and followed up with a nice second half at Triple A Toledo. He just wrapped up a winter-ball shift in Venezuela that saw him bat .295 in 29 games with an .889 OPS. A man who turns 24 next month, and who has an All-Star glove, will, like Moya, be allowed to marinate at Toledo in 2016 as the Tigers decide what to do with a potential infield glut ahead of next season.

Jones, who was the Pirates’ dowry for grabbing Joakim Soria last July, is currently on an unintended 50-game vacation for having tested positive for a non-addictive drug. The Tigers weren’t happy. But neither were they overly concerned. He has a good reputation and, to their satisfaction, Jones got caught more in an act of mischief than of malevolence.

Jones, 23, and a right-handed hitter, has the handy advantage of playing multiple positions: shortstop, third base, second base, the outfield. There is a thought at Comerica Park, by no means baseless, that Jones could become a kind of Ben Zobrist.

He might also allow the Tigers to do what Machado or Moya could also allow at some point during the next year: making trades that might help a team and its bulging payroll.

Moya, should he develop as the Tigers imagine, could move to a corner outfield spot and facilitate a handsome trade involving J.D. Martinez or Upton. Machado could displace Jose Iglesias, who probably would move to second base if Machado became a starter, and permit a corresponding deal involving Ian Kinsler, who figures to have trade value even at the end of this season.

Jones, if he proves to be the player Dave Dombrowski envisioned during last July’s swap with the Pirates, would conceivably become an indispensable super-sub, or, perhaps, could be used as cost protection as Iglesias and Nick Castellanos (arbitration-eligible in 2017) become more expensive roster pieces.

Fans, many of them, will sneer at some of the Tigers’ grand plan here. But fans are notorious for believing that what they see in initial stages of a player’s development is what they’ll get down the line.

It rarely works that way in baseball. Which is why the Tigers, for now, will stick to their in-house script, and with their scouts’ appraisals, and allow some potential future assets to take on more luster in 2016.