Teardown is complete: Tigers shift into build-up mode for 2020

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

San Diego — Tigers general manager Al Avila Monday night laid out his mission for this offseason, essentially saying the teardown, which has gone on for the better part of three seasons now, is over.

“The mindset here is to move forward and build back up,” said Avila, after he finished the first day of activity at the Winter Meetings. “We’ve made a lot of trades. We’ve traded everyone we needed to trade and we’re at the point where this team is very young and we need to build it back up.”

Catcher Austin Romine is one possible candidate to fill the Tigers' needs behind the plate.

Toward that end, Avila and his staff are looking to add a veteran catcher, first baseman, corner outfielder, starting pitcher and possibly a middle infielder before spring training begins in February.

“The biggest concern when you bring in veteran free agents is taking away time from your prospects,” he said. “But the situation here now is we can add free agents as needed and maybe create competition for young guys.”

The Tigers were caught in the unenviable position last season of having to play too many inexperienced players without the support of veteran players — at catcher, at third base and first base, in left field, center field and, after Nick Castellanos was traded, in right field.

“We are looking to make the team better for 2020,” Avila said. “This is what we’ve talked about. First day of spring training, let’s go. This is your time to step up. We’re in a situation now where we feel good about being able to build this back up in the next three years.

“Are you going to be part of this or is it going to be somebody else?”

The No. 1 priority is getting a catcher. Jake Rogers, who struggled mightily in his late-season audition, will begin the season at Triple-A Toledo and John Hicks has been released. That leaves only second-year Grayson Greiner.

So, Avila is on the hunt, either through free agency or trade.

“That is our top priority because we have a void,” he said. “There are a lot of catchers on the market and we fully intend to acquire one of them, and maybe even another.”

The Tigers already lost out on their first choice, old friend Alex Avila who signed a one-year, $4.25 million contract with the Twins.

“I saw (Twins GM) Thad Levine in the elevator today and he laughed at me,” Avila said, laughing.

But that contract probably shows how much the Tigers will spend for a catcher, no more than $4 million. That still leaves plenty of capable players — former Twins catcher Jason Castro, former Yankee Austin Romine, former Royal Martin Maldonado and former Indian Kevin Plawecki, to name a few.

“We’ve had talks with agents and the one thing we offer is a unique opportunity,” Avila said. “In that the person we acquire could be a starting catcher depending on performance. We’re looking to build up and we’re looking to get better — without trying to crush a young kid.

“We’re going to give equal opportunity and the competition is going to be real. Guys here have to start stepping up and performing, that’s the only way you’re going to get better. Otherwise, you are just spinning your wheels.”

Avila made it clear he wasn't closing the book on Rogers. They still feel he can be the catcher of the future.

"He's going to have the opportunity to play," Avila said. "But it's not going to be handed to him."

Avila said he was not actively looking to trade anybody this winter, and that includes pitcher Matthew Boyd. Surprisingly, though, he has gotten some inquiries about Niko Goodrum, who right now is the Tigers’ starting shortstop.

“We’ve gotten a lot of calls, people think he can play,” Avila said. “And we think he can play and we’re going to give him an opportunity. As we sit here, Niko is the front-runner at shortstop, that doesn’t mean it can’t change.”

The second priority is to get either a slugging first baseman (Justin Smoak, C.J. Cron) and/or corner outfielder. They already signed former Royals outfielder Jorge Bonifacio to a minor-league deal and he will have a chance to win the right-field job.

That would create competition in left between Christin Stewart and Victor Reyes. Same theory behind signing a veteran first baseman — it would create a position battle at third base between Jeimer Candelario and Dawel Lugo.

Avila, though, preferring to add players on one-year contracts, downplayed any serious interest in Japanese outfielder Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, who would come with at least a three-year commitment.

“That’s been overplayed,” he said. “We scout internationally and we have reports on these guys. But the timing of where we are at, it’s probably not our biggest priority.”

Last season, the Tigers spent $15.5 million on four free agents. Although Avila would not be specific about his budget, said, "I'll have enough money to cover some of the needs we have here."


Twitter: @cmccosky