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Tigers Den Roundtable: What is the Tigers’ biggest need?

The Tigers have given off enough conflicting signals in the past year to confuse an entire fanbase. Let’s try to cut through the noise with some priorities.

Kansas City Royals v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

The 2016 baseball season finally, mercifully, comes to an end tonight in Cleveland. The Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians will engage in the most glorious high-stakes game in the sport, a World Series game seven. Here, in the first week of November, for crying out loud, the baseball gods will finally exalt just one team, one fanbase, above the rest.

Just get it over with already!

For the other 28 teams and their fans, tonight’s contest will finally represent a new beginning after the long limbo of October. Starting tomorrow, we’re officially into offseason territory. Rumors will be mongered. Schemes that would make Rube Goldberg roll his eyes will fly thick and fast. Agents and front office personnel will settle into their war rooms, and the alchemy that turns a dud into a contender, at least in dreams, will begin.

With that in mind, allow us to start warming the hot stove. We appreciate all the thoughtful and creative offseason plans submitted over the past week. There’s a lot to digest from all your fanposts already. But before we slip down the rabbit hole of #ROOMERS, let’s try to get our priorities straight.

This week’s question: What is the Tigers’ most glaring need this offseason?

Nolan: The Tigers’ biggest need this offseason, is to rid themselves of Mike Pelfrey. There were very few worse pitchers in the American League last season, and at $8 million, he’s cramping Detroit’s ability to sign a cheap replacement for J.D. Martinez (or anyone else they may move this offseason). Finding someone to take his contract is necessary before anything else can be done to fix the roster.

How do you do it? That’s the difficult part, and it probably involves doing something like the Tigers did with Mike Aviles—kicking in a prospect to get someone to take Pelfrey off their hands. If a team still restocking prospects, such as the Braves, want someone like Michael Gerber added in to take Pelfrey’s contract, the Tigers should jump at the chance.

Grace: I think the Tigers’ biggest need this offseason is to do whatever it takes to be competitive in 2017, while keeping the future in mind. To me, that means a handful of trades or low-level free agent signings and avoiding any blockbuster moves. The one exception would be a potential J.D. Martinez trade. A move like that makes sense to me, though sentimentally I hope it doesn’t happen. The biggest mistake the Tigers could make, in my opinion, would be to trade Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, or Ian Kinsler.

Brandon: The Tigers, as currently constructed, could find themselves without an outfield a year from now. Cameron Maybin, J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton could all potentially move on, and the Tigers don’t have any great bets in the system to replace them. Possibly Christin Stewart, Mike Gerber or JaCoby Jones is ready to play everyday at that point, but right now all three feel like long shots to be ready.

There’s an overall need for cost-controlled positional talent, both for depth, and to replace the many gaps likely to open in the roster over the next two seasons.

Of course, there will be plenty of money off the books at this time next year. With some financial flexibility, filling a corner OF spot, for example, isn’t so difficult. But this team has a need for a long term answer in CF and that’s a harder commodity to come by in free agency. If the Tigers decide to move J.D. Martinez, rather than looking to get his replacement in return, the Tigers should make finding their CF of the future a priority.

Peter: The Tigers need to focus on getting young offensive pieces to build on and around. They’re off to a good start in stocking up on young pitchers already. As good as Miguel Cabrera is, he’s not getting any younger. Some key pieces like Ian Kinsler, J.D. Martinez, Victor Martinez or Justin Upton could be traded away or are going to be gone after next year. Nick Castellanos is a good young hitter to plan on down the road, but now they need to find more of the same.

Sad to say, but one of their most likely, and attractive, trade pieces, J.D. Martinez, is the kind of guy they should probably have locked up long term by now. Obligations to other assets probably make that impossible. So I think they should try to trade Martinez, or Kinsler, for a young, up-and-coming, fielder. That’s easier said than done, as cost-controlled young hitters are a hot commodity to any team. The Tigers will likely have to take a chance on a guy who is still in Triple-A and blocked on a team that could use one of the veteran players Detroit has to offer.

Jacob: The Tigers’ most glaring need to address is the catching situation, though that can perhaps be addressed in-house. John Hicks performed extremely well in Toledo in 2016 and has earned a shot at the backup job. Grayson Greiner also did well at Double-A Erie, and leapfrogging a good prospect over Triple-A isn’t unheard of. I vote they battle it out in spring training. To a certain extent, I agree with Brandon that the long-term answer in center field needs to be found, and soon, but figuring out what to do behind the plate is a slightly more pressing issue.

Ashley: I think, in spite of Avila’s comments on making changes toward a younger team, there won’t be any huge moves this offseason unless there’s an opportunity to get a really stellar return. There’s also a need for a backup catcher, as Saltalamacchia’s bat didn’t justify his work behind the plate. Bringing back Alex Avila would be a great move, both from a fan perspective—see we’re not dumping everyone you love!—and from a team perspective. Avila was a well-loved player in the clubhouse, and is familiar with much of the Tigers’ pitching staff.

At this point, trading Verlander, Cabrera or Kinsler would be a mistake, not to mention the difficulty of moving veterans with 5/10 rights. Everyone else is fair game. If trading J.D. Martinez can net you some talented young players, then it’s the right decision. Ultimately, the Tigers will lose some of their beloved talent in 2018 no matter what, so if Al Avila can make some magic happen to acquire cost-controlled talent, this may be the time to do it. But sacrificing the big three would cost them a lot as far as fan loyalty goes. At least until folks find themselves a new favorite player.

Jeff: The Tigers’ biggest need is flexibility. Look at the Chicago Cubs. They have several everyday players who can handle multiple positions. Versatile, talented players like Kris Bryant, Ben Zobrist and Javier Baez allow them to mix and match against opponents to gain optimal advantages. Their depth allowed them to weather the loss of Kyle Schwarber all season, as well as the struggles of Jason Heyward. I would love it if the Tigers were able to emulate this on their roster. Cameron Maybin, J.D. Martinez and Nick Castellanos all missed significant time in 2016. If the Tigers had the kind of the depth the Cubs do, those injuries wouldn’t have been as difficult to overcome. Jacoby Jones may be starting point if he can meet expectations in both CF and 3B. But I want far more flexibility overall.

Kyle: The Tigers would be wise to get rid of Anibal Sanchez’s contract this offseason. Sanchez has the sixth-highest average contract value on the team, and the Tigers cannot afford to keep him on the roster for two more seasons. Though he is unlikely to ever return to the level of performance we saw just a few seasons ago, Sanchez may still prove a valuable starter or bullpen piece. However, at his cost, the Tigers cannot take a chance on him being useful when they can probably replace his production in-house or via a replacement level signing. Moving him won’t be easy, but a team may be willing to take a short-term chance on him. Eat some salary, throw in a sweetener, because finding a way to move Sanchez would be a huge win for the Tigers.

Patrick OKennedy: The Tigers’ biggest need is good health, but with the reality that injuries are part of the game, they need much better depth to avoid the kind of drop off in production that we have seen when a starter goes down in recent years. They got much needed help from their starting pitching depth in 2015--in most cases better than the players they lost--but when J.D. Martinez, Nick Castellanos or Cameron Maybin were out, production suffered.

Ron: The Tigers’ biggest need going into the 2017 season is to shore up their bullpen. They already have a few solid arms in Alex Wilson, Bruce Rondon and, assuming they pick up his inexpensive option, Francisco Rodriguez. Kyle Ryan can also be added to that list after his 2016 performance. However they had a lot of struggles from Shane Greene, Justin Wilson and of course Mark Lowe. I expect a strong return from Justin Wilson and hopefully resurgence from Shane Greene, but other options need to be ready in case that doesn't happen. This could be fixed by adding Joe Jimenez to the roster, as well as not being afraid to DFA or release Lowe if he continues to struggle. We cannot afford to carry any dead-weight in the pen if we want to be a contender.

Other internal bullpen options: Blaine Hardy, Drew VerHagen, Anibal Sanchez/Mike Pelfrey (if either of them don't make the rotation).

Free Agent options: Brad Ziegler, Travis Wood, Trevor Cahill, Mark Melancon, Brandon Morrow, Sergio Romo, Joe Blanton, or Jerry Blevins. If the Tigers decide not to cut spending, they could go after Aroldis Chapman as he's an unrestricted free agent at the end of the postseason.