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An uncertain economic landscape may curb Tigers' spending this offseason

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — It’s far too early for Tigers general manager Al Avila to tip his hand about his plans for this offseason.

The Tigers, who presently have only Miguel Cabrera’s $30 million in committed salaries for 2021, will have money to spend. But an uncertain economic landscape — coming off a shortened, fan-less season and with a new collective bargaining agreement coming in a year — might discourage making lucrative long-term deals.

“It’s a little early for us with what we just came out of,” Avila said Friday in his post-season Zoom conference. “And going into the offseason and next season with not a good idea of what’s going to be in front of us as far as fans, what the season will look like — it’s just really uncertain.

“We just have to take it week by week, month by month and see how things develop as we move forward.”

Tigers GM Al Avila

Avila said he was not in a position to say with any certainty how much money they might spend, or whether they will spend any at all.

“At this point we’re still evaluating where we came from and where we are going, and where the league is going,” he said. “There is a lot of uncertainty across the board.”

One position you’d think the Tigers would almost certainly be spending money on would be catcher, where the Tigers produced a negative-0.8 WAR. Austin Romine, who was on a one-year deal, struggled down the stretch and may not be in the plans for next season.

That would leave Grayson Greiner, Jake Rogers and Eric Haase going into 2021. Even with J.T. Realmuto and James McCann likely on the market, Avila’s interest in pursuing a free agent catcher seemed tepid.

“The free agent market, it’s a lot of the same guys every year,” Avila said. “If you really want an upgrade at that position you almost have to develop your own.”

Toward that end, the Tigers drafted Ohio State’s Dillon Dingler and let him work at the alternate site this summer. But he’s still a couple of years away. In the meantime, the Tigers have not quit on Rogers, even though they stashed him at the alternate site all summer.

More: Al Avila will consider A.J. Hinch and Alex Cora for Tigers' managerial job

“From a defensive perspective, he’s the real deal,” Avila said. “He’s really talented behind the plate and at Toledo he showed that…But I’m worried about his offense. I didn’t feel comfortable at the time bringing him up. I felt it would benefit him and the organization more to keep him down there and under less scrutiny and then wait until spring training and go from there.”

Jake Rogers spent the 2020 season at the Tigers' alternate training site.

Avila said Rogers will have every opportunity to win a spot on the active roster in 2021 — and whether he got a handful of games down the stretch last month wouldn’t have changed that.

“Just because we didn’t bring him up the last two or three weeks doesn’t mean anything to me,” he said. “He could’ve gone 0-for-20 or hit .400, those at-bats weren’t going to determine whether he’s going to do anything at this point.”

Instead, the Tigers got a short look at Haase, whom they knew less about.

“Catching is an area we are worried about,” Avila said. “But more from an offensive perspective. With the three guys we have, you can make a case that we could get through a season with them. We’re happy with the defense side. Where we’d like to have an upgrade is on the offense side.

“Hopefully Jake can be that guy.”

Uncovered gems

In terms of development and assessment of players, Avila said 2020 was a bust. The experience some of the prospects and younger players got was a plus, but overall, a 58-game season and two months of drills and scrimmages in Toledo set the Tigers’ rebuild back.

“I don’t think it helped by any means,” Avila said. “Obviously, it hurts on the development side…The alternative training site was not a good plan for development. We practiced, we did drills and we played intrasquad games, but that’s not the best way to develop players.”

When asked if any players played their way into a bigger role in 2021, Avila cited outfielder Daz Cameron and shortstop Willi Castro.

“This guy’s got the five tools,” Avila said of Cameron. “He can run, field, throw and he showed at the end there that he can hit, too. We saw some signs of what he can do and we feel really good about that.”

More: Detroit News 2020 Tigers progress report

As for Castro, Avila said he hit well enough to be in the lineup every day — whether that’s at shortstop or not remains to be seen.

“Offensively he made tremendous strides,” he said. “At shortstop he struggled a little bit. But there have been other shortstops in the past who struggled early in their career, too.”

He mentioned the White Sox's Tim Anderson, who in his second season in 2017 made 28 errors and was a minus-22 defensive runs saved.

“All of a sudden Tim Anderson is one of the best players in all of baseball,” Avila said. “Now I’m not comparing Willi Castro to Tim Anderson, I’m just not. But I’m just saying players sometimes struggle at the beginning. But you see what his athletic ability is. We know he has the ability to play anywhere on the infield.

“A guy who hits, you find a place for them.”

Around the horn

Avila would love to give Cabrera his wish and let him play first base some next season. But the risk is too great.

“Look at C.J. Cron,” Avila said of the Tigers' free agent-signee last winter who played just 13 games. “Perfectly healthy guy, one little move and he needs knee surgery. Those are the risks. There is no doubt in my mind Miggy can play first base, but there are risks involved.”

…Fifty prospects (none from the 40-man roster) and 20 staff members are already in Lakeland for fall Instructional League. This year, Avila said, they are hoping to play at least 15 games against other teams, which isn’t normally part of the instruction.

Tigers pitching prospects Alex Faedo and Matt Manning, who both had their seasons cut short with forearm strains, will participate in the workouts. But Avila said they won’t pitch in the games.

…Avila said the club reorganized its pro scouting department and “a few” scouts were told their contracts would not be renewed. Seven pro scouts will not be re-signed for 2021. The amateur scouting department, Avila said, remains intact. The Tigers have the third pick in the 2021 draft.

Twitter: @cmccosky