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Al Avila still looking for opportunities to improve Tigers' pitching depth

There are still a few places Detroit could strengthen their pitching despite their improvements.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

DETROIT -- Well, the Detroit Tigers signed Justin Upton. The outfield is solved and the offense is stronger. Now, take that and move it aside because that's not a part of this discussion. Why? Because of something general manager Al Avila mentioned about the pitching at Wednesday's press conference.

"I like the depth in the infield, I like the depth in the outfield," he said. "I'd still like to have more depth in pitching, truth be told. But it's adequate right now."

Adequate. That's not exactly a ringing endorsement from the organization's GM. But he had a point. Take a look at the starting rotation and the bullpen.

Starting pitching:

Justin Verlander
Jordan Zimmermann
Anibal Sanchez
Daniel Norris
Mike Pelfrey

Relief pitching:

Drew VerHagen
Buck Farmer
Bruce Rondon
Justin Wilson
Kyle Ryan
Shane Greene
Blaine Hardy
Alex Wilson
Mark Lowe
Francisco Rodriguez

Asked where he would most like to see improvements, Avila offered a blanket answer. He wanted to see the pitching get stronger "in general." If there's a specific area he's concerned about, he wasn't saying. In some ways, the starting rotation has more questions than the bullpen, and just saying that is a bit weird since the bullpen generally gives the Tigers fits.

You can throw Matt Boyd in there as a "maybe" for the rotation for support, but in truth he could use some more time in Triple-A after being roughed up repeatedly during 10 starts in Detroit. Bullpen-wise, Rondon still has much to prove before he's handed any semblance of responsibility, but he'll be in the mix. And while VerHagen had back issues that forced him to the bullpen, he became a solid arm in relief in 2015 -- a pleasant surprise amid the bullpen wasteland.

Other glaring question marks lie with the starting five. From one vantage point you could argue that the success of the rotation depends on Verlander's season. Or whether Zimmermann can follow. However, it's the latter three that should generate an abundance of caution, not the other way around.

There is no perfect team. There have been teams close to perfect, (yet) they haven't won-Al Avila

Can Sanchez stay healthy? Sure, he can be very good when he's 100 percent, but that's been an issue for him over the years. Norris was great after coming to the Tigers and put on some real shows, but can he repeat that for a full season? And perhaps the biggest question of all: Can Pelfrey, who has been fair to middling his entire career, put up a career season he's never approached? Because that's essentially what the team needs from him in 2016.

Now, that doesn't mean the Tigers can't make it to September, take back the American League Central, and make a deep postseason run. They've done it before with worse bullpens and more injuries. This year's bullpen looks solid, but until you get the guys out on the mound into live games, you don't know what you're getting. Greene's 2015 was riddled with injuries, Rondon might never put it together, VerHagen might fall apart, and Farmer and Ryan may lack stability.

Or everything could go right, things might come together and the bullpen becomes a force to be reckoned with. But between the two, the starting rotation has more holes. Every team could always be better, and Avila was quick to acknowledge that.

"There is no perfect team," Avila said. "There have been teams that people look at as close to perfect as possible, and they haven't won. I'm not telling you this is a perfect team. We could bring Babe Ruth here tomorrow. It's not going to guarantee a win here, a championship here. It's going to take the entire roster."

The glaring difference between last year and 2016? Everyone is healthy right now. There have not been any major losses, and by this time last year the team had already dealt with some setbacks. And that was before Victor Martinez and Justin Verlander suffered injuries. The lineup is stronger. True, it's a right-handed heavy offense, but half of the lineup can hit dingers with regularity. Power isn't an issue, nor is gap-to-gap contact. And the team is now shored up defensively, too.

Upton adds the final offensive and defensive piece to the glaring puzzle. The team could very well go into the season carrying the staff they currently have and do just fine. They could also add to their pitching along the way -- that might come in the form of a minor leaguer who outshines during spring training to make the roster, and Avila isn't ruling that out. But if this is the "adequate" roster that the Tigers have going into the season, it would be interesting to see what counts as a "good" one in Avila's book.