Henning: Tigers just beginning their makeover for 2016

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Daniel Norris

Notes, thoughts, items after the Tigers kicked off their Going Out of Business (2015, anyway) sale Thursday with a big return from the Blue Jays in exchange for David Price:

The market was ripe for Tigers to do some essential dealing. 

The idea you could trade a pitcher, any pitcher, for 8-10 weeks of paydays and get in return three creditable young left-handed starters proves the Tigers were shrewd to sell their billboard free-agents-to-be.

It also says this 2015 deadline market could deliver one of the higher-yield trade crops in memory. And that the Tigers’ timing probably couldn’t have been better.

Getting three prospects carrying scouting reports as heavy as the Tigers pulled from Toronto in Thursday’s Price swap is enormous. It speaks to how badly Toronto craves simply a shot at the postseason. It speaks to Price’s star status. It speaks to the Tigers’ luck at a time when their pitching, their lifeblood, was at the lowest point it has been since Dave Dombrowski began rebuilding Detroit’s baseball team in the early 2000s.

Now the Tigers can expect something flashy in exchange for a position player who stands to offer nearly as much cachet as Price: Yoenis Cespedes. It won’t be personnel that matches Detroit’s haul for Price – ace starters trump outfielders any day when it comes to trade packages.

But it’s conceivable, by the time Friday’s shopping aisles close at 4 p.m., Dombrowski will have dramatically re-crafted a team and its forecasts for 2016 and beyond. He continued the makeover on Thursday night, dealing closer Joakim Soria to the Pirates for minor-league shortstop JaCoby Jones.

That’s what Tigers owner Mike Ilitch authorized, probably to his benefit and to that of Tigers Nation, when he gave Dombrowski the go-ahead Wednesday to turn Detroit’s 2015 baseball disappointment into a potentially longer-term gain.

Dombrowski doesn’t figure to stop with Price, Soria and Cespedes. Rajai Davis, Alex Avila, and maybe others are probably on the block and in line for what could become the Tigers’ biggest midseason makeover in memory.

Dombrowski probably earned an extension with Ilitch’s trade edict. 

Neither of the relevant parties has said a word about Dombrowski’s future in Detroit. His contract expires this year, the extension of which figured to be a formality until a bad, sad season at Comerica Park began to unravel.

It was possible 14 years might have been considered by either Ilitch or by Dombrowski to have been long enough. It’s a long time in professional sports for an owner and a GM to co-exist, even when life has been as good as it has been, relatively speaking, for the Tigers during this past 10 seasons.

Now one would expect Ilitch and Dombrowski to move forward. When an owner entrusts his front office to begin a remodeling effort as expansive as this week’s do-over stands to be, it suggests the owner wants that same general to see it through. To add parts. To subtract contracts and maybe some previously indispensable players.

To give the customers, above all, a new product designed to compete and to keep turnstiles spinning. 
This by no means is a sure thing. Ilitch or Dombrowski might have different ideas. But what seeped into the atmosphere Wednesday, as the Tigers were cleared to call clubs and offer inventory, was Ilitch’s faith in a GM who has gotten him everything in baseball that counts, barring one big prize.

Ilitch hasn’t given up yet on a World Series. But, to his credit, he appeared to agree one era had ended and a new Tigers rendition would give him and the town a better crack at a championship parade.

Tyler Collins

How the Tigers might shape up in 2016. 

Norris and Boyd are expected to be part of Detroit’s rotation in 2016, if not on Opening Day, at some point during a season that’s bound to look quite different from anything Tigers followers have witnessed in 2015.

Much, of course, depends on what happens ahead of 4 p.m. Friday.

Cespedes probably will be dealt, meaning Tyler Collins is all but approaching an I-75 ramp as he prepares to depart Triple-A Toledo and return to Detroit.

Rajai Davis, too, could be headed elsewhere, and don’t be surprised if infielder Andrew Romine, who earlier pulled some outfield shifts for the Tigers, is asked to help in something of a super-sub role.

Second base is interesting. The Tigers probably are talking about Ian Kinsler. He’s important to maintaining their up-the-middle credibility for the remainder of 2015, but he and his contract clearly would be expendable if another team, tempted by his all-around skills at a game-changing position, decided he would be a handy dandy addition to a club’s playoff run.

The Tigers might, at that point, decide Triple-A shortstop Dixon Machado should begin an internship at second base. Machado can play three infield positions and stands to be blocked at his best spot, shortstop, by Jose Iglesias and his Tigers tenure.

Catcher, of course, is another site for possible change should Avila be headed elsewhere. Like the Tigers’ other potential trade pieces, Avila is headed for free agency at a point when James McCann is ready for everyday work in Detroit. Backup catcher Bryan Holaday is at Toledo and just might snag a ride with Collins as each returns to Comerica Park, at least if possible trade scenarios are realized.

There could also be a bullpen departure, and heaven knows what the Tigers would do if Joakim Soria, another imminent free agent, is dealt. On the plus side, a depreciated Tigers team probably won’t be looking at an inordinate amount of save opportunities between now and October.

On the flip side, a Tigers bullpen, already as scary as a Stephen King book, could become a horrifying sight.

It’s likely the Tigers would begin Bruce Rondon’s intensive preparation for a closer’s job in 2016. Such a plan would begin by first reminding Rondon he needs to pitch to his capabilities. A simultaneous message to get doubly serious in this mission might also be issued to the benefit of all parties.

No matter what happens between now and the trade mart’s Friday close, this Tigers team is changing rapidly, in transformative ways, all designed to marry a fresh design with an old brand name.

Prepare for any combination of looks and combinations ahead of 2016. And, if possible, while the picture takes clearer shape, maintain an open mind and a strong stomach.