Henning: Tigers' future roster has gaping hole at shortstop

By Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Look a couple of years ahead and you’ll see the contours of a rebuilt Tigers roster that’s beginning even now to take shape.

 Here, very loosely, is what the Tigers foresee on the position side, even before trades that are all but inevitable fill a couple of Michigan road-sized holes:

■ Miguel Cabrera, DH.

■ Kody Clemens, 2B.

■ Jeimer Candelario, 3B.

■ Christin Stewart, LF.

■ Daz Cameron, CF

Right field is a tough call, all because it’s a good bet Nick Castellanos will either be dealt or will gamble that free agency in 2019 can get him the long, expensive deal he isn’t likely to pull from Detroit.

Catcher is anything but clear, and so is first base, although the Tigers are hoping that big Rey Rivera, now at West Michigan, will grow into the left-handed basher and first baseman they envisioned a year ago when they drafted him in the second round.

The big void is at shortstop.

Jose Iglesias is expensive and not the kind of hitter the Tigers want at a position that in 2018 is as much about offense as defense. The Tigers have no hotshot candidates at short other than 19-year-old Isaac Paredes, who is a few years away and who, at 5-foot-10, 225 pounds isn’t likely to stick at a position where his range will expand only when his bulk recedes.

Heavy price

The Tigers already would have had their bright-light guy at short in 2018 had they not made a trade four years ago that most of the locals thought was absolute magic.

They included Willy Adames, who's now glowing in his early days at Tampa Bay, along with Drew Smyly in the headline deal that sent David Price to Detroit.

Price a year later was dealt for a package that included Matthew Boyd and Daniel Norris, so we'll all wait for final tabulations on a series of swaps that can't yet be computed completely.

But that hour when the Tigers sent Adames to the Rays was going to hit them, hard, years ahead. And that year is 2018. 

Which is why it's  but a lock the Tigers will make shortstop their grand prize in any heavy trade talk this year, or next, which figure to focus on Detroit’s tip-top trade talent, Michael Fulmer, who had four shutout innings, and a rough fifth, Tuesday when the Tigers were conked by the Cubs, 5-3, at Wrigley Field.

The Tigers would happily make Fulmer a semi-permanent fixture in their roster re-design. But they’ve got to be practical here. Pitching is their farm system’s firepower in 2018. They have, over the horizon, Beau Burrows, Franklin Perez, Matt Manning, Kyle Funkhouser, Alex Faedo, Casey Mize, and maybe Sandy Baez, if they don’t move Baez to the bullpen where his high-90s fastball can be fired with maximum steam in short-inning stints.

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Fulmer all along has been the one player or pitcher with the 24-carat talent the Tigers can conceivably spin for either multiple quality prospects or for a single kingpin player.

It looked as if Fulmer’s stock might be higher this offseason, or maybe as late as next July’s trade deadline, only because he hasn’t had a terribly smooth first half in 2018 and, even more, because bad teams are in surplus and baseball’s sellers are lined up like Main Street merchants during sidewalk sales.

The Tigers could still run into a deal. Bob Nightengale of USA Today wrote Tuesday that the Dodgers, who a year ago seemed like the right team for Justin Verlander’s relocation, are hunting quality help and are at least considering Fulmer.

This makes sense. For the Dodgers, anyway. The Tigers will want full sticker price for Fulmer and that may be too steep for L.A. when lots of pitching looks as if it will be flooding the shelves ahead of the annual July 31 deadline for deals that don’t require waivers.

 Another hang-up, in any narrow analysis, is the Dodgers don’t have a farm-club shortstop that would appear to excite Tigers general manager Al Avila.

There are plenty of ways around this, of course, beginning with the possibility a team other than L.A. at some point tries to pry Fulmer from the Tigers.

Armed and dangerous

Consider, too, that the Dodgers farm has plenty of delectable talent, apart from shortstop, the Tigers could find alluring as they arrange their down-the-road roster. An outfielder, a catcher, a first baseman, another young pitcher? The Tigers need skill just about anywhere and won’t be overly picky about where they deploy it, or at which spot they run into a happy surplus that simply greases the skids for another deal.

 What is known is that Avila is trying now to put pieces in place that will give the Tigers in two or three years a new baseball product. In the front office’s vision, it ideally will be a Tigers roster that, even if very young, can expect to make pitching, and maturing hitters, centerpieces for the kind of run Detroit had from 2006-14 when playoffs were either a reality or an expectation when the club headed north from Florida.

 Pitching will be the new and improved club’s bedrock, just as it was during the best of years when Jim Leyland was manager and the Tigers twice stormed into a World Series where they twice got bounced. It was still pitching, starting pitching anyway, that was the key, as it was the autumn they probably had their best shot at a championship, 2013, at least until the bullpen blew up in Boston.

 But the Tigers will need help getting to that point when they’re again feared in October and not just a contender. They’ll need heavyweight talent to match what the White Sox are assembling, and what the Twins might by then have assembled.

They’ll need to find a star shortstop, primarily, and then work on the other soft spots: catcher, where none of the current crew is the long-term solution and when the farm hasn’t yet shown it has an everyday answer, and at first base, and probably at a corner outfield spot, at least as their organizational depth in 2018 stacks up.

Free agency will offer help, for sure. Expect that the Tigers, who have been getting rid of payroll blubber by the ton, will have trimmed paychecks to a level where, in a couple of years, they can begin investing in prime-time free agents as they did during their earlier decade-long run.

They’ll add a celebrity draft pick or two in the interim, especially if it’s a college star grabbed early who could move within a couple of summers into a new lineup that soon enough will be showing up at Comerica Park.

A new shortstop, someone with All-Star potential, is pretty much a mandate for that remodeled Tigers roster.

That shortstop-to-be isn’t yet wearing a Tigers uniform, either in Detroit or on the farm. Which is why the big, Richter-scale trade that’s almost certain to happen at some point in the coming weeks or months, comes Motown’s way, with Fulmer the likely price.