Henning: Change is in air as Tigers cap Comerica slate
Detroit — Flash ahead, almost seven months, to a place the Tigers vacated Sunday.
It will be a reshaped Tigers team that assembles here next April, beginning with a roster that likely will be pruned and replaced in as many as eight or even 10 places.
Sunday not only was the scene of a 7-1 loss to the Twins in the Tigers’ final home game of 2015. It was the stage on which many players who have little chance of returning probably had their curtain calls as Tigers.
It was the place, also, where Tigers manager Brad Ausmus could talk with security about next year and about hopes that never came close to materializing in the Tigers’ first non-playoff season since 2010.
“No question,” he said, speaking of Sunday’s realities and how they hit him. “Coming up the stairs (from dugout to clubhouse) I was thinking about a year ago coming up those same stairs.
“We were getting ready to dump champagne and getting ready for the playoffs.
“But baseball is such a difficult game. For all the prognostications in March and April, you still have to play 162 games.”
The Tigers are 72-83 and well beneath break-even as they head to Texas and Chicago for the regular season’s final six games, all ahead of a long and potentially volatile offseason that could see new general manager re-weave his roster.
In announcing Saturday that Ausmus would return in 2016, Avila vowed the Tigers would do what they can this autumn and winter to craft trades and pay free agents.
Avila’s words doubtless matched plans already implied by Tigers owner Mike Ilitch, who wants another shot at a World Series the Tigers never came close to approaching during a wreck of a 2015 season.
Ausmus made the same case Sunday, pretty much repeating Avila’s words.
“Because of our core players, I think we can have an instant turnaround,” Ausmus said. “The offseason allows you to repair a lot in baseball.
“You can repair players’ psyches and you can repair psyches on a team basis.”
You can also do a lot of personnel shuffling.
It is expected the Tigers will attack their primary ill, the pitching staff, by importing new and improved arms, beginning with a pair of starters, which is Avila’s tentative plan.
Among those sure to depart and to be replaced is starter Alfredo Simon (free agency). But the roster trimming and re-seeding won’t stop there.
More deeply rearranged could be the Tigers bullpen as Avila attacks a team’s most persistent, most fan-infuriating soft spot.
Included in his new inventory for 2016 will be a closer he somehow must find ahead of spring camp. Replacement parts aren’t plentiful, nor will they be cheap.
But it will be a significantly different cast of relievers who will be introduced on Opening Day, 2016. Jose Valdez, Jeff Ferrell, Kyle Lobstein, Neftali Feliz, Tom Gorzelanny, Al Alburquerque — all were in uniform Sunday. It is expected few will stick, if they are yet Tigers property, when the team breaks camp in Florida early in April.
Avila’s player roster will be altered, as well.
Rajai Davis was doing his best to be helpful Sunday. He listened and nodded when it was mentioned the Tigers, who will need help in left field in 2016, might seek a re-up as free agency arrives and his two-year Tigers contract expires.
“Anything’s possible,” said an outfielder who was a certified bargain during his time in Detroit, which earned him annual pay of $5 million.
But the Tigers will probably look at someone younger than Davis, who next month turns 35. Ideally, they will want someone more dynamic, offensively.
Other farewells, as near as can be identified in September, played out Sunday as a Comerica crowd (33,517 tickets sold) enjoyed the sun and thoughts of a Tigers rally that never caught fire.
Alex Avila had four strong at-bats that included a double and a walk as he prepares in a few weeks for free agency and, most likely, a new employer in 2016.
He has had tough years with the Tigers following an All-Star start in 2011. But a catcher’s roots are with the Tigers, as is his father’s position. It was his long home run to right field in Game 2 of the 2013 ALCS that gave the Tigers a late, 5-1, lead over the Red Sox and moved them to within a handful of outs from putting a chokehold on what might have been a World Series trophy.
All before a momentous eighth-inning bullpen incineration handed Boston a gift game and, eventually, another championship.
So many moments from six years washed over Avila as he bored into his four at-bats Sunday, the last of which ended in a walk, on a 3-2 pitch.
Appropriate for a man whose on-base percentage has never been an issue.
“Part of me,” Avila said afterward as he took a long look at a clubhouse and his teammates, “didn’t want that at-bat to end.”
It did. The at-bat. The game. The home season. The playoff visions.
And now Avila — both Avilas, for that matter — and the Tigers inch closer to new tasks, rosters, lives, and, they hope, better fortunes than ever seemed destined to be known in 2015.
It was something of a crucible. The home half of it, at least, is history.