The Detroit Tigers are already a much different, and improved, team compared to last year’s unit. General manager Al Avila hasn’t wasted any time in his first winter in charge, reshaping a horrendous bullpen while vastly improving the starting rotation.
In addition to focusing on pitching, the Tigers have added some potentially useful hitters. New outfielder Cameron Maybin, who should function as some type of table setter, is the only newcomer who figures to see extended playing time. The others, Mike Aviles and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, figure to make in impact off the bench.
Avila’s makeover of the bench may be the most underrated thing he’s done in his tenure as Detroit’s general manger.
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All of the players certainly brought something to the table. Davis provided excellent speed, while the younger Avila was a valuable veteran presence. Romine and Wilson could be counted on for defensive ability and flexibility, but neither hitter was a Silver Slugger winner. Collins showed flashes of promise, but the outfielder was (and still might be) too green to be given constant at-bats.
One thing you’ll notice that’s missing is the presence of any kind of legitimate pinch-hitting option.
With the additions made this offseason coupled with the improvement of some younger players, the Tigers figure to have a number of worthy pinch-hitting options in 2016.
The most prominent of those is Saltalamacchia. From 2011 to 2014, the catcher averaged 25 doubles, 16 home runs and 56 RBI per season. He hasn’t had much experience as a pinch hitter, but his power is hard to ignore.
Avila also added an offensive upgrade to the likes of Romine, Wilson and Dixon Machado: Mike Aviles. Aviles won’t push Romine or Machado off the 40-man roster, or out of the organization (Wilson has already departed), but he’ll provide more offense.
The utility player, who has suited up for Kansas City, Boston and Cleveland in his career, has averaged 25 extra-base hits per season. Romine and Machado have a combined 21 extra-base hits combined over the course of both players’ careers.
In addition to the two new additions, the improvement and growth of Collins and Steven Moya should benefit the Tigers’ bench if either make the. Collins hit .293 with nine extra-base hits and 13 RBI over the season’s final month, showing that he may be turning a corner. He may not be ready to start full time, but Collins could be an option as a pinch hitter. Moya, on the other hand, had a down year in Triple-A during last season. However, the outfielder has just about as much raw power as any player in baseball. If he can cut down on strikeouts, he has some serious potential. Moya’s power could make him an ideal fit for a pinch-hitting role. He has been on a role in Winter League play, so perhaps there’s a chance for him to make an impact next season.
In addition to an improved bench from a hitting perspective, the Tigers have improved the team’s depth. Romine, Machado, Bryan Holaday and Jefry Marte could all play a part off the bench. This isn’t even mentioning prospect Wynton Bernard, or a player like Nate Schierholtz, who was recently signed to a minor league deal.
So far this offseason, Al Avila turned a weakness in the bullpen into a potential strength. It seems he has done the same with the bench.