Christopher Ilitch on Tigers seeking high-end talent: 'Undoubtedly this could happen this winter'
Hamtramck — What a morning it was.
Not only was ground ceremoniously broken on a $2.6 million renovation plan for historic Hamtramck Stadium, now appropriately named after Detroit Stars Negro League star Norman “Turkey” Stearnes, but president and CEO Christopher Ilitch gave the firmest indication to date that the Tigers are going to start adding top-shelf free agents as soon as this winter.
“Al (Avila, Tigers general manager) and his team are very focused on continuing to improve our team,” Ilitch said Tuesday, standing on the same infield grass where 18 Hall of Famers once played. “We see the long-term efforts put forth by his team and we see the emergence of a young core. And I think Al feels we need to continue to improve our ballclub in a high, impactful way.
“And I fully support that and will support that.”
Does that mean Tigers could be high-end shoppers on the free agent market this winter?
“Undoubtedly this could happen this winter,” Ilitch said. “Al has been the architect of our vision. He and his staff have done all the hard work and our fans have been incredibly patient through this process. And I think Al’s vision is very much aligned with my vision and the fans’ vision — which is we want not only a highly competitive team, but we want to be a playoff contender and we want to compete for championships and do it on a long-term, sustainable basis.
“I very much support the approach he and his team have taken — building a young core of talent and now having the desire to bring in high-impact players to fill that out. I’m very supportive of that.”
So, naturally, is manager AJ Hinch, though Ilitch's comments were not exactly news to him.
"It's all positive," Hinch said. "From my vantage point, he's never wavered on what he wants and what he expects and the direction he wants to take this organization. I guess in some ways it's a surprise in going public and making those comments to you, but behind the scenes, he's always told me what his desires and hopes are in terms of building a winner here and sustaining it."
But Hinch knows that Ilitch doesn't make those comments public unless the baseball team showed some real progress this season. And three straight winning months, plus the development of a contributing young core group of players, represents exactly that.
"You have to earn the right to ask for help and to build on what you're already doing," Hinch said. "Obviously, everybody wants the team to be better. We want more wins. We want to be a playoff team. We want to be in the news for all the right reasons.
"But as the owner, he's set the bar really high for us. I went through the interview process and I've gone through this first season trying to do our part to earn the right to build off a team that we're pretty excited about."
There is certainly no mystery at this point about what aisle the Tigers might be shopping.
“We all know you have to be strong up the middle in order to have success,” Ilitch said. “So that’s not lost on anybody in our organization.”
Shortstop and second base are two of the biggest holes the Tigers will need to fill going forward. Shortstops expected to be on the market include Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, Corey Seager, Javier Baez, Marcus Semien and Andrelton Simmons.
“Al has done a wonderful job, he really has, and our manager AJ Hinch, has had a profound effect on our ballclub. He has us playing competitively night in and night out,” Ilitch said. “And for 27 outs. We’ve seen so many games where our team has not thrown in the towel and we’ve had some tremendous comeback wins because of that.
“He’s been a great addition. He’s completely in control and our players are responding to him. The future of Tigers baseball is very bright.”