Prior to Saturday’s penultimate matchup with the Milwaukee Brewers, Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila gave a lengthy question-and-answer session with Tigers media members. He had a lot to say about some of his players, the recent ownership rumors, and the state of the rebuild. With the season nearly over, there are quite a few issues facing the Tigers this winter. While Avila stayed away from specifics, his comments help to frame what should be an interesting offseason as they navigate the baseball limbo they find themselves in.
The Tigers have reached a point in which many of their top prospects have graduated into the upper levels of the minor leagues. Several quality prospects like Christin Stewart and Spencer Turnbull have made their debuts in September. However, the real cream of the crop isn’t going to be ready until later next season or in 2020. With two bad seasons in a row behind them (and seriously declining attendance) the Tigers organization now looks forward to what they hope will be a bridge year to brighter days ahead. The major question is how aggressive they will be with trades and signings this offseason. They may choose to punt, to a degree. There are certainly options available to start improving the product on the field and provide more of an experienced, winning environment as their young talent debuts.
“You can’t have a lineup full of .200 hitters,” Tigers general manager Al Avila said.— anthony fenech (@anthonyfenech) September 30, 2018
Amen to that, Al. We didn’t get any answers from the Tigers’ general manager, understandably, but he did give some revealing comments in his chat with the media.
Sale denied again
One of the bigger rumors in recent weeks has revolved around the guess that prominent Detroit mogul and owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert, was working to buy the Tigers. Gilbert’s moves to sell his gambling assets, which would be required to own an MLB franchise, sparked the reports. Avila confirmed to reporters that, to the best of his knowledge, nothing of the sort is going on, and that the Ilitch family remains committed to the long-term ownership of the franchise.
Of course, no one ever says otherwise until a sale is imminent anyway.
Al Avila on report that Dan Gilbert was trying to buy Tigers: "No, to my knowledge nothing like that is going on. I can tell you that Chris Ilitch has told me that he's committed to being the owner of this team 100 percent for the long term."— Evan Woodbery (@evanwoodbery) September 29, 2018
Expect Nicholas Castellanos in right field in 2019
While Avila didn’t rule out the possibility that Castellanos could begin work at first base this offseason to give manager Ron Gardenhire more flexibility, Avila plans to leave such a decision to Gardenhire and Castellanos. It’s far from ideal to keep moving him around to learn a new position every offseason, but Castellanos graded out as likely the worst defensive starter in any outfield in the major leagues this season. For his own future earnings and viability as a starter anywhere but as a designated hitter, it would behoove him to at least start adding some work at first base to see how it goes.
As to the future, Avila was non-committal on the possibility of floating the 26-year-old outfielder a contract extension offer this winter. Chris McCosky of the Detroit News had the story, along with most of the other beat writers, and one quote on Castellanos stood out in particular.
“That’s the big question. If you could tell me in the next couple of years we’re going to be a team that’s going to the postseason, then it’d be easy to answer. We’d keep Nick around. He’s a great hitter.”
That sounds like the decision to tender an extension might say a bit about the Tigers’ own assessment of their chances at winning in the near-term. Castellanos is hardly irreplaceable in terms of overall value, but with scant few potential impact bats in the farm system, losing his bat just as he enters his prime years could be a real setback. Avila, of course, is paid to get the Tigers back to the postseason. No one really wants a prediction. They want results. If he doesn’t think the team is going to contend again within a few years, we would seem to have serious problems.
One way or another, Castellanos will be a big part of the Tigers’ lineup in 2019. It’s hard to imagine that he will be particularly keen to sign an extension with just one year until free agency. But, with teams showing a distinct unwillingness to pay for players who are a liability on one side of the ball, he may want to rethink things should the Tigers tender a contract extension. Should he pass on this option, the Tigers can tender a qualifying offer at the end of next season and pick up a compensation round pick, as Castellanos would be unlikely to accept a one-year deal.
Future uncertain for McCann
After three seasons of struggles behind the plate and in the batter’s box, Tigers catcher James McCann is due a raise in his first year of arbitration. That’s rather ill-timed, as McCann is wrapping up a disastrous offensive campaign, currently hitting .220 with no power. According to Avila, it’s a tough decision whether or not to bring McCann back. Per McCosky’s piece, the Tigers still believe that top catching prospect Jake Rogers is still a year away from major league readiness.
As for the Tigers’ glaring weakness in the middle infield, Avila did provide a glimmer of hope, saying that the Tigers would attempt to fill at least one spot in free agency. One would think the soon-to-be free agent shortstop would be a major target, but things have been perhaps eerily quiet on that front.
No surprise that Tigers will be looking at the middle infield market this winter for both 2nd base and shortstop, Al Avila said.— Evan Woodbery (@evanwoodbery) September 29, 2018
"I don’t know if we’re going to be able to sign both but at least we’ll try to sign one."
Tigers will have a scout at the Mesa brothers workout
Top international prospect Victor Victor Mesa and his younger brother, Victor Mesa Jr., will host a workout for major league teams on October 5th at Marlins Park in Miami, Fla. Hard-throwing Cuban righthander Sandy Gaston will also throw for scouts. The brothers, also from Cuba, have been declared free agents by Major League Baseball, and are free to sign with any club.
While Gaston and Mesa Jr. won’t command top dollar, Victor Victor Mesa on his own will presumably command most of the international pool money available to whichever team signs him. According to Avila, the Tigers will have a scout at the workouts. Don’t expect the elder Mesa to end up in their organization, however. The Tigers committed a combined $3.25 million to international free agents Adinso Reyes, and Jose de la Cruz back in July, burning the majority of the nearly $5 million they were allotted to spend.
The Baltimore Orioles still have their entire $5.5 million available to spend, and along with the Miami Marlins and Chicago Cubs, make up the only three teams with more than $3 million of their pool still available. It’s possible that Mesa could wait until the next international signing period to sign, and increase the pool of suitors who can afford him. However, with the limitations on spending in place now, that would just give him more options. It might have no effect on how much he actually commands for his signing bonus.