Chicago – Among a wide range of topics Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila addressed in an impromptu briefing in the clubhouse Sunday morning was whether Nick Castellanos was being considered a foundation piece of the rebuild, or a trade chip.
“Right now, I would say it’s a little early (to say),” Avila said. “In going into this trade deadline and into the winter, I don’t have a mandate to trade anyone. We’re not picking up the phone, and we’re not going to pick up the phone, and say we’re trading so and so.”
Avila acknowledged that the performances of veterans Francisco Liriano, Mike Fiers, Jose Iglesias and Leonys Martin – players on one-year deals – have perhaps made them more appealing to teams at the July 31 deadline.
“But, we’re not picking up the phone and saying we’re moving this guy, what can you give us?” Avila said. “That’s not our intent here. Our intent is to be open-minded. If somebody offers us something that makes us better as we move forward, we’d really have to consider that.”
That, presumably, goes for younger players like Castellanos and Michael Fulmer, as well.
“As we do move forward, which are the guys who may be here for the long-term?” Avila said. “That’s not a decision we could make a month ago, nor is it one we can make right now. That’s a decision we have to make as we move forward and get closer to where we are trying to be.”
Castellanos has already made his pitch, publicly and to Avila, that he wants to remain here through and beyond the rebuild. He wants to be a part of the process from beginning to end.
“I would say Nick would be a good guy to build around,” Avila said. “But right now, I have to say we have to play it out.”
Change in strategy?
Avila made it clear, too, that the early success of the team -- two games under .500 and 2.5 games behind the Indians in the Central Division entering play Sunday – was neither a surprise nor something that would change the initial mission to rebuild.
In other words, Avila won’t be buying players at the trade deadline.
“We’re still very focused on what we need to do,” he said. “We’ve put together a team of good, young players and you would hope they rise to the occasion and play to their capabilities. Some will and some won’t.
“But Gardy (manager Ron Gardenhire) has done a great job, Chris Bosio has done a great job and the coaching staff. We are on a good path and there isn’t anything bad about that.”
One of the first priorities, after getting the payroll in order, restocking the minor leagues and getting younger and more athletic players, was to change the culture. That’s the biggest takeaway from the first part of this season for Avila.
“You have everyone working for the same goal,” he said. “As we move forward and try to make the team and the whole organization better, the main thing is we have to build a winning culture. And that’s what we’ve done.
“That’s what Gardy has done. And it’s not just this club, it’s the whole organization – from the Dominican Summer League team all the way up through the big-league club.”
Opportunity for Hicks
Avila said there were no plans to go outside the organization to sign a veteran first baseman with Miguel Cabrera out for the season. He said they would not be kicking the tires on released veterans Adrian Gonzalez or Hanley Ramirez.
“I don’t think we need to,” Avila said. “To me, I’d rather go with our young players and see what they can do.”
He said he has seen enough improvement John Hicks’ defense at first base to give him a full opportunity to not only be the first baseman this year, but perhaps share the position with Cabrera next season. That would allow Cabrera to alternate at designated hitter.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for Hicks,” Avila said. “He knows he can catch and play first base at the big-league level, and DH on any given day. He’s a great asset. Why would we want to go out and get a guy who is 39 or 40 years old at this stage of where we are at?
“We feel we have the right guy in place.”
Plan for Perez
No. 1 prospect Franklin Perez, acquired in the trade of Justin Verlander, has been out all season with an oblique strain. He has begun to throw off the mound in Lakeland. Avila said the hope is that he will be pitching competitive by the end of this month.
“He’s getting close,” Avila said. “I don’t want to say a timeline, but we are hoping to start getting him into games toward the end of the month. The plan is to get him two good months and then maybe have him play in the Arizona Fall League.”
Promotions for Faedo, Burrows?
Alex Faedo, the team’s first round pick last year, and Beau Burrows, the first-round pitch in 2015, might be ready for advancement soon.
“I would say you should follow that very closely,” Avila said when asked if they might be moving up a rung.
Faedo is pitching at High-A Lakeland and Burrows at Double-A Erie. There has been concern about Faedo’s fastball velocity. The concern has reached Avila.
“I can’t explain it,” Avila said. “In the College World Series, he was in the upper-90s. He’s not hitting that right now. But he’s pitched very well, the way he has pitched is similar to how he pitched in college, but the velocity at 95-97 – that’s not there.”
Avila said the important thing is that Faedo is healthy.
“If you look at the history of most pitchers, the velocity will fluctuate through the minor leagues,” he said. “Even at the Major-League level. The velocity drops and comes back. He’s in perfect health, so I think it’s just a matter of time before you see that work itself back up.”
Mize will pitch in minors
No. 1 overall pick Casey Mize, Avila said, will pitch some innings in the minor-league system this year – once he is signed. He said it hasn’t been decided where or when, but most likely, it would be at Lakeland.
Last year, after Faedo led Florida to the College World Series title, the Tigers shut him down for the rest of 2017.