The end of the baseball season always requires a bit of recalibration for diehard fans, but this year will be particularly disorienting for Detroit Tigers fans. After winning four consecutive AL Central Division titles, the Tigers are not part of the playoff picture for the first time since 2010. Their 74-87 record doesn't tell the whole story, but it doesn't take an in-depth breakdown to realize that this team has plenty of holes to fill before the 2016 season begins.
The Tigers have already made their first big move of the offseason, announcing in late September that manager Brad Ausmus would return for the 2016 season. While this decision was not well-received by the fanbase, there is something to be said for the continuity that it provides. Ausmus and his entire staff will return, and the Tigers players appear to be in full support of their young manager. Plus, rumors indicate that former Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was the odds-on favorite to land the job if Ausmus had been fired. Some may have preferred the grizzled veteran, but Gardenhire would not have been the first name on many lists.
Far more important than the manager, however, will be what the newly-organized front office does to bolster the roster. There are several holes to be plugged, but payroll space will still be somewhat limited. The Tigers have a fair amount of cash coming off the books, with the likes of David Price, Yoenis Cespedes, Rajai Davis, and others hitting the free agent market. However, the Tigers owe too much money to a small percentage of their roster, and likely won't be going on a major spending spree. We may see one marquee free agent sign with the Tigers, but this does not appear to be a banner offseason in the making.
With several holes to fill and only so many dollars at his disposal, general manager Al Avila has his work cut out for him. The Tigers' new GM has vowed to bring more statistical analysis to the organization's decision-making braintrust, but this offseason will be our first chance to see that plan in action. The MLB Hot Stove won't heat up until after the World Series is over, and it is difficult to anticipate what to expect given the front office turnover that occurred in August.
Under Dave Dombrowski, Tigers fans had come to expect a blockbuster trade or two during the winter. Dombrowski would be in his element this offseason, with limited payroll space to work with but a bolstered farm system to burn if needed. However, we do not know Avila's modus operandi quite yet. Is he as adept on the trade market as his predecessor, or do his strengths lie elsewhere? Many believe that Avila will also look to bolster the farm system during his tenure as Detroit's head man, but with owner Mike Ilitch pressing for a championship as soon as possible, the farm will take a backseat to 2016.
Some of the Tigers' holes can be filled internally. Daniel Norris looks primed to step into a full-time rotation role, and other young players -- James McCann, Nick Castellanos, and others -- may improve on their 2015 production. An offseason of recovery for veterans like Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and Justin Verlander may bolster their production as well, giving the Tigers a bump in value from some of the money they have already spent.
There are still plenty of needs, though. The pitching staff has been decimated by departures over the past few years, and Norris is the only legitimate addition in the past few years. The jury is still out on the likes of Matt Boyd and Michael Fulmer, not to mention a bullpen that has ranked among the league's worst for the better part of a decade. Brad Ausmus wants a closer, and many would argue that the Tigers need multiple arms to shore up the pen.
It will be interesting to see how the Tigers progress through this offseason, arguably their most pivotal winter since Dombrowski traded away Curtis Granderson in 2009. With a new organizational vision supposedly in place, the Tigers roster could look very different at the start of 2016. It may take a while to see the pieces come together -- October can get very long when you're not involved in the postseason -- but there should be plenty to talk about over the next few months.