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Mailbag: Finding the Tigers’ new manager, and a home for Shohei Otani

The Tigers are working through a list of 50+ names to find their new skipper.

Chicago White Sox v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Welcome to the abyss that is the MLB offseason. While this season of Detroit Tigers baseball wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as many in years past, there is still a sense of emptiness that comes when baseball is done for the winter. We still have postseason baseball to fill the void — and we did our best to pick sides — but it’s not quite as exciting when our Tigers aren’t involved.

Fortunately, this offseason promises to be a little busier than last year’s. For one, the Tigers need to find a new manager now that they have parted ways with Brad Ausmus. Detroit has its sights set on 50-plus names at the moment, many of whom are probably preparing for playoff runs with their current clubs. If the Tigers are to be as thorough with this search as they have promised, we might not have our new skipper for another month.

The Tigers should also be somewhat active on the free agent market. They (hopefully) won’t sign any big money contracts, but could find value and potential trade targets if they look hard enough. Another potential signee is Japanese superstar Shohei Otani, who will move to the United States in time for the 2018 season.

This week’s mailbag is a full one, so let’s get to it! Remember to drop your questions in the comments or on Twitter.

Now that Ausmus is officially no longer the Tigers manager, let’s speculate on some names. I said last week that I wouldn’t mind a retread like Ron Gardenhire or Fredi Gonzalez to take over a clubhouse seemingly in disarray. My colleagues preferred new-age managers like Dave Martinez or Gabe Kapler. The Tigers have seemingly gone in another direction so far, looking at lesser known names like Phil Nevin and Charlie Montoyo. They also approached the Marlins about Gonzalez recently.

Since we know what to expect from Gardenhire and Gonzalez, let’s tackle the other two factions. Kapler is an interesting choice in part because of his... umm, progressive ideas. Misleading Deadspin headlines aside, Kapler sounds like the manager we hoped Brad Ausmus would be: young and progressive, with an eye towards analytics and more efficient in-game management. He also comes with the same question marks, including a glaring lack of experience in the manager’s role. If the organization is okay with another young manager learning on the job, I’d certainly be interested in Kapler above anyone else.

Nevin and Montoyo aren’t as sexy as Kapler (in more ways than one), but they both have lengthy track records as minor league managers. Nevin worked in the Tigers system for a while, managing Triple-A Toledo for four years before he was fired following the 2013 season. Montoyo enjoyed a lot of success with the Durham Bulls, including two International League titles and three runner-up finishes in the last decade. Their experience with managing and developing young players would be vital for the Tigers’ rebuild.

If I had to pick right now, I’d probably go back on my initial thoughts and choose someone like Kapler. His lack of experience is a bit of a concern — especially if things in the Tigers clubhouse are as bad as we think — but he would be able to grow with a young roster and (hopefully) implement more progressive in-game tactics and bullpen management as the team returns to contention.

The arithmetic on any of the trades the Tigers executed this season hasn’t changed, save for maybe the Justin Wilson deal. It’s far too early to judge any of the other trades that Detroit executed because none of the players they received have reached the major leagues yet. As a pending free agent, J.D. Martinez was a luxury the Tigers did not need — if anything, his absence helped more than it hurt — and the return on his trade should be judged the same whether he hit 29 home runs or two.

The Verlander trade is a little trickier because he is still under contract for two more years. He was better than he showed in the first few months of the year, and finally returned to #MustSeeJV status by August. There is always the “what if?” that occurs here, especially if some of the other young players on the roster take a step forward. Big leaps from Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd, and a bullpen piece or two could legitimately push this team into Wild Card contention next year, and it would be nice to have a Verlander atop the rotation if that happens.

That’s a biiiiiig if, though; big enough that it was worth flipping Verlander to Houston for a surprisingly robust haul. Franklin Perez may not prove to be the second coming, but he’s a talented young pitcher who could be a key contributor for the next great Tigers team.

As for the Wilson deal, Jeimer Candelario’s strong performance down the stretch makes this look like an early win for general manager Al Avila. I’ve argued in the comments that it would have been a shrewd deal for Avila to make even if the Tigers were in contention, because it provided an upgrade at third base for the next half decade. Add in Isaac Paredes, who thrived in the Midwest League as a teenager, and the trade borders on “fleecing” after just two months.

I’m all sorts of awful when it comes to player comps, so take it with a large grain of salt when I compare Gregory Soto to a poor man’s Francisco Liriano. Liriano came up through the Minnesota Twins system with violent stuff, and made his debut at age 21. Soto doesn’t have nearly as much bite on the slider, and hasn’t made it out of Single-A ball by age 22.

However, Soto can still hit 95-96 miles per hour with his fastball, and like Liriano, has a bit of “whoa where’s that ball going” in him. Soto has flashed an above-average slider at times, and harnessed his command enough to limit opponents to a 2.25 ERA in 124 total innings this year.

He still issued nearly five walks per nine innings, though, and his changeup and curveball lag behind the other two pitches. The slider isn’t good enough to stand alone as Soto’s only secondary pitch in a starter’s role (Liriano’s is), so unless one of his other secondaries take a step forward, he might be relegated to the bullpen.

Unfortunately, it probably won’t look much different from the one that closed out the 2017 season. I think Nicholas Castellanos will get another chance to play the outfield next year, especially as the team probably won’t be too worried about remaining in contention. The rest of the outfield is a bit of a mystery, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Tigers go get a veteran outfielder in free agency this winter (still love you, Curtis).

The infield should look exactly the same. Jeimer Candelario is Detroit’s third baseman of the future, and Miguel Cabrera is still under the longest contract known to man. We could see one of Jose Iglesias or Ian Kinsler traded this winter, but Dixon Machado seems like a safe bet to slide into that vacated role for the near future. Dawel Lugo will be in the mix to replace Kinsler later in the year, but needs more time in the minor leagues to start the season. James McCann will get plenty of starts behind the plate next year, with John Hicks presumably the one spelling him against tough righties. He has one more minor league option remaining, but the Tigers will have to add Grayson Greiner to the 40-man roster this offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, so they will probably not look to add a free agent catcher this winter.

Yes. The Tigers have rarely dipped into the Asian market in the past; Taiwanese lefthander Fu-Te Ni the only player I remember them signing out of an Asian league (Hideo Nomo was already an established big leaguer). Even with players like Jung-ho Kang coming over from Korea on much cheaper contracts, the Tigers have not looked to bite.

The Tigers also have little to offer either free agent. Yu Darvish will likely want to go to a contender — my early guess is he stays with Los Angeles — and will warrant the kind of big contract Detroit just spent all season ridding themselves of. Otani will also probably opt for a bigger market, like New York or Los Angeles. West coast teams have a major advantage over the rest of the U.S. when it comes to signing Japanese players due to their larger Japanese communities.

I sure wouldn’t say no if Otani wants to come to Detroit, though.