Al Avila has checked into Carlsbad, California, which isn’t the worst place for baseball’s general managers to hold their annual meetings.
It’s got a crashing Pacific surf pounding below and some excellent hotels (hello, Ritz-Carlton) on tall bluffs above. And should the GMs get restless after their waiver-wire meetings and early-stage trade talk, they might want to join a few locals who enjoy riding high on those tall rollers slamming into southern California’s beach.
Or, perhaps because they’ve had their full of the disabled list and don’t care to join it, the GMs will pass on surfing.
Avila is there for business -- private business. There were a couple of obvious reasons he wasn’t saying much when contacted last week.
“It will take time for things to develop,” Avila said, explaining that he was “getting a feel” for what other GMs might have in mind as he and the Tigers fulfill their own roster plans ahead of February’s spring camp.
He also needs to be careful about tipping cards. Everyone knows the Tigers need a new shortstop. Avila doesn’t care to drive up free-agent prices, either by way of alerting competing GMs, or by appearing overly zealous to player agents, as the Tigers search for a man to replace the departed Jose Iglesias.
The player who still makes sense is Adeiny Hechavarria. He’s a free agent, 28 years old, who last season played for the Yankees, Pirates, and Rays. He has the defense manager Ron Gardenhire’s gang will require in 2019 and he won’t overload the payroll. The only hitch is his bat, which is why he played for three teams in 2018. Hechavarria has a .254 career average and .635 OPS.
But he also would be viewed primarily as a one-season regular when the Tigers are getting closer to making newcomer Willi Castro their everyday guy in 2020.
Avila, too, will be browsing the aisles for a free-agent starter the Tigers will need even if they don’t deal Matthew Boyd, which is more than possible.
The pitching market is sufficiently flush that Avila probably can take his time there and shop options even during spring camp. That also tells you the Tigers, of course, won’t be adding any free-agent trophies. Expect reasonable facsimiles of last year’s offseason adds, Mike Fiers and Francisco Liriano.
That suggests Edwin Jackson, or Tyson Ross, or Brett Anderson, or Trevor Cahill, or maybe Jeremy Hellickson, or even Marco Estrada, could be moving to Detroit for a team-friendly deal that doubles as good business for the pitcher, especially when the pitcher, like Fiers, could find himself at midseason pitching for a playoff team.
If all of this sounds familiar, as if it’s a repeat of 2017-18, with no seismic shift in Detroit’s baseball fortunes ahead of 2018, well, it kind of is.
The Tigers finished 64-98 a season ago. They finished 64-98 in 2018. And if an early stab were to be made at how they’ll fare in 2019, it might be more than cute to pick, once again, 64-98. This turnover won’t truly get rolling until 2020.
At that point, here’s a stab at your 2020 Opening Day lineup:
1. Daz Cameron or JaCoby Jones, CF
2. Kody Clemens, 2B
3. Nick Castellanos, RF
4. Miguel Cabrera, DH
5. Jeimer Candelario, 1B
6. Christin Stewart, LF
7. Willi Castro, SS
8. Isaac Paredes, 3B
9. Jake Rogers, C
A couple of caveats: Niko Goodrum will play either at second base, or perhaps in right field, depending upon what happens next season with Castellanos’ free agency and Clemens’ development at second. One of those positions will almost certainly be available for Goodrum. Castellanos might bite on the qualifying offer Detroit figures to offer for 2020, which is why he remains an option.
Rogers could be too green for Opening Day 2020, in which case Grayson Greiner or John Hicks works at catcher. But looking at the roster rebuild’s grand vision, it’s permissible to look at some long-term kids as being ready to go early in 2020.
Starting rotation: Michael Fulmer, Beau Burrows, Matt Manning, Franklin Perez, Casey Mize, and Daniel Norris.
Note there are six names, minus Boyd, who could have too much trade value for the Tigers to ignore. At least one of those four rookies, if not two or more, won’t be ready. But they should be close. Norris, it is believed here, will finally be spared in 2019 from a parade of surgeons’ wards and rehab centers and will settle in as a quality starter.
The wild card is Spencer Turnbull, who could become a rotation regular when the team breaks camp in March and who could develop into reliable help heading into 2020.
That’s the toughest group to project, of course. Pitchers are all over the cosmos when it comes to development and health. What matters is the Tigers are gathering enough skilled arms to make some combination of the above possible, and more like probable, heading into 2020.
That still requires getting through 2019. There is some patching-up to do between now and Opening Day. A fair amount of early research and maybe a move or two could begin gestating this week in Carlsbad.
If not, the meetings should be productive, anyway, even if it’s to sit for a moment on the hotel’s back patio, marveling at the Pacific’s fury. If only a baseball team's rebuild could be as dynamic and as dependable.