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Grayson Greiner might be the Tigers’ starting catcher next season, according to Ron Gardenhire

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We’ll see if this is true come Opening Day, though.

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

Detroit Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire spoke with assorted media at the MLB Winter Meetings on Wednesday, and offered several noteworthy quotes. The juiciest of them all? A rather surprising admission that Grayson Greiner will likely be the Tigers’ starting catcher in 2019, with John Hicks serving as a backup.

Greiner, 26, is a former third round pick out of South Carolina. He made his MLB debut in 2018 and played in 30 games for the Tigers. He looked overmatched at the plate at times, and only hit .219 and slugged .281 in 116 plate appearances. He also struck out at a 27.6 percent clip, and was a replacement level player when all was said and done.

He 14.7 percent walk rate was a positive, though, and he looked like a capable defender behind the plate. Greiner was a slight negative as a pitch framer, but we should wait until he has a larger sample of games played before we draw any conclusions about that aspect of his game (they had him at +9.5 runs in 46 games at Triple-A Toledo, for what it’s worth). He only threw out five of 22 attempted base stealers at the MLB level, but was in the high 30s in the minors in both 2017 and 2018.

Giving Greiner a larger share of the playing time behind the plate makes sense. He only projects as a career backup, but put up solid offensive numbers in the minors. His walk rate is also promising; if he can generate even a little bit of power out of his 6’6 frame, he could very well exceed those expectations. And with the team not expected to compete for a playoff spot next year, it’s worth giving him a starter-ish workload to see what he is made of.

I say “starter-ish” because we could still see the Tigers add a veteran option this winter. Gardenhire’s quotes leave some wiggle room in case the Tigers want to sign another player, and it’s unlikely they sign someone who demands 100-plus starts behind the plate. Giving both Greiner and a veteran free agent — let’s call him Nick Hundley, just for kicks — somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 to 80 starts apiece would be a nice split and keep both players fresh throughout the year.

It would also give the Tigers a bit more versatility elsewhere on the roster. Hicks could shuffle between first base and the designated hitter spot, and pick up 20-odd starts behind the plate throughout the year. It would give Gardenhire a bit more flexibility in late-game situations, and give him a bit more confidence in using Hicks as the DH on days when Greiner is behind the plate. And since catcher injuries are a thing, it wouldn’t hurt to have a third backstop on the MLB roster.

Gardy is also open to new things, which is nice

Gardenhire also told the media that he would be open to utilizing the ‘opener’ strategy that the Tampa Bay Rays used to great effect last year. He didn’t go into specifics — given how 2018 went, it might entirely depend on which pitchers are healthy — and didn’t fully commit to using an opener.

One player that could potentially be used in the role is Blaine Hardy. The 31-year-old lefthander had the best season of his career in 2018 moving between the rotation and the bullpen. Hardy’s performance has drawn attention from other teams, including the Oakland Athletics, who expressed some interest in trading for him this week.

But don’t worry, Gardy isn’t too new school