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Henning: Here's why Tigers need Gordon (or Cespedes)

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Alex Gordon

Lots of applause out there for the Tigers and the way they've handled this particular offseason. It's impressive, the A-minus they got from ESPN's Jim Bowden, among others, when general manager Al Avila was staring at so many do-it-yourself tasks the Tigers might as well have begun their autumn shopping at Home Depot.

There's still a hole in this team. A big one. And everyone knows it.

Left field.

You can argue that Cameron Maybin and Tyler Collins will cut it as a platoon option. That an incentivized Maybin ($9 million in 2017 if he has a nice year in 2016 -- $1 million buyout if he doesn't) will hit more than he has hit in past seasons. That a young player with Collins' left-handed pop could be a handy bat in manager Brad Ausmus' lineup, even if Collins' defense figures to be, at best, average, as it optimally will be with Maybin.

But it ignores probabilities.

The Tigers, simply stated, need a bigger bat for left field.

They need Alex Gordon or Yoenis Cespedes.

Tigers get A- from Bowden for offseason moves

The nervy question is whether Tigers owner Mike Ilitch, who already is pushing the luxury-tax threshold in 2016, would pull the trigger on something in the neighborhood of five years and $80 million for the left-handed hitting, slick-fielding Gordon, or six years and $120 million or more for Cespedes.

Justin Upton is another option, preferable because of age (28) and career offensive numbers (.825 OPS), even if his defense is average. But add him to the list of players who might seduce a team looking for an All-Star upgrade in left.

It's so easy for fans to say yes. It is so very difficult for an owner, even one as magnanimous as Ilitch, to say, sure, let's get that one extra piece, which might or might not be good enough to win a playoff spot and ultimately a World Series that remains Ilitch's sole sports dream.

But if the Tigers are as dead-set on making a legitimate championship run in 2016 as they've vowed, it almost certainly requires one more weapon. Ideally, it would be a sturdy hitter who can win a game or two with his glove when Comerica's left field acreage is on a par with most ballparks' center-field tracts.

What Gordon would add 

It seems the better investment here would be Gordon. For multiple reasons.

Of heaviest consideration is that he would cost less -- maybe $40 million beneath the haul Cespedes figures to draw.

He also is a left-handed hitter in a lineup that could get enormous help from one more everyday left-hand bat.

And then there is defense, the Gold Glove defense Gordon brings. He's a difference-maker in any ballpark. He could be of maximum blue-chip value working left field, taking neat routes to drives into the left-center gap, enabling center fielder Anthony Gose to cheat a bit toward right-center in Metro Detroit's vast primeval territory, a ballpark that might as well be known as Comerica County.

But could Ilitch do it? Investing tens of millions of additional dollars and five years of obligations in a player who turns 32 in February is one more log added to an aging, expensive payroll that could shortly ignite into a financial and competitive conflagration.

Unless, of course, you do in fact win next year. Then it achieves rapture. It justifies all the dollars and faith an owner has placed on a team and a vision, which he wants as much for his fans and community as he craves for himself.

Money matters

There also is a fallback plan.

Players and pieces likely can be shed, at least in sufficient number to avoid any luxury-tax hangover in 2017, if that remains part of the picture.

Yoenis Cespedes

The Tigers realistically couldn't get into a selloff this autumn. Going for broke in 2016 became the more pragmatic call when Ilitch and Avila were dealing with realities that worked against rebuilding this Tigers team, of continuing to deal expensive headline talent for prospects, as the club had done in July in swapping Cespedes, David Price, and Joakim Soria.

There simply was going to be no market value this offseason attached to Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, or Victor Martinez. They are aging players with expensive and lengthy deals. More critically, each was injured for long portions of 2015.

If healthy and productive, they carry potential trade cachet, even in 2016, given the manic passions a contender can display during those waning hours in July.

But this autumn there would be little chance to offload a contract, and even less chance to earn much in return for any of the above.

It left Ilitch and Avila with an agreed mandate to re-tool Detroit's pitching as thoroughly as possible and make at least one more serious run for the roses in 2016.

What it didn't include was a serious plan for making left field, long a position of offensive muscle, any kind of edge in the Tigers' battle plan.

For that to be the case, another player probably needs to be considered.

Gordon makes the closest thing to sense in a baseball market long unshackled from the bounds of reason. Cespedes would bring more in terms of explosiveness and opposing-pitcher intimidation.

Avila might have indicated to his boss during some award-winning work these past weeks that the Tigers are, in fact, close to being a serious contender. Again.

If the owner sees it that way, another investment could be doable. And if he doesn't, no one will blame Mike Ilitch for having said he, like everyone else, has his limits.

lynn.henning@detroitnews.com

Twitter.com/Lynn_Henning