Detroit Tigers: Five Burning Offseason Questions

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 07: Matthew Boyd #48 of the Detroit Tigers pitches during the first inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on August 7, 2020 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 07: Matthew Boyd #48 of the Detroit Tigers pitches during the first inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on August 7, 2020 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) /

The Detroit Tigers have started their offseason on a high note with some of their coaching hires, but there is a long way to go in fielding a competitive club

One of the biggest questions in the offseason has already been solved. That being, would the Detroit Tigers dare go bold with their next choice for a manager after an abrupt absence of Ron Gardenhire from the position? There were several salacious choices to fill the vacancy–AJ Hinch, Alex Cora, and Carlos Beltran among them (although Beltran was never a reported candidate for the position). Meanwhile, universal ‘good guys’ Don Kelly and Marcus Thames would provide fresh air despite their tenures as players here already. Outside of the experience card, both hires would have likely been applauded.

However, Detroit, in its quest for competitive baseball once again, opted for Hinch–perhaps the best combination of know-how, youthfulness, desire, and openness about his past. Hinch wasted no time with some stud hires to his staff either, with Chris Fetter, George Lombard, Scott Coolbaugh, Juan Nieves, and Chip Hale joining as new additions to the club.

While coaching is an imperative part of building a winner, though, the bottom line is it takes good players on the field to win ball games. So what will the Detroit Tigers do to address those needs this offseason? These are the five most burning questions heading into winter:

1) What Will the Detroit Tigers’ Budget Look Like?

To be more forward, this question could simply read, “Will Chris Illitch spend?” It’s a question many have thought through with a variety of hypotheses. Hinch appears to have an affirmative answer to the question, but we are not likely to know just how much until the off-season is over with. Frankly, it’s likely even Avila does not know until there is some direction with a 2021 season.

I wrote a piece around re-allocating Jordan Zimmermann’s recently jettisoned contract, as I felt that would be a realistic starting point. Apart from his $25 million, however, the club also has around $20 million recently departed in Austin Romine, CJ Cron, Jonathan Schoop, Ivan Nova, and Cameron Maybin. If the Tigers do have somewhere in the $50 million-range to address needs this offseason, it will do a ton to not only replace these holes but also make upgrades to the current roster.

2) What is the Detroit Tigers’ Plan With the Rotation?

Recently, the Tigers had reported interest in free-agent starting pitcher Taijuan Walker, with MLB Network’s JP Morosi reporting that the club would like to add a veteran starter this offseason. The move makes sense and the need is certainly warranted, but there is concern one may not be enough.

Starters Spencer Turnbull and Matthew Boyd are coming off shortened full seasons while Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal are almost certainly to be on an innings limit in 2021, assuming a full season. Expecting any of these four to pitch a full 200 innings may be a tough ask. Likewise, Michael Fulmer did not appear ready to be penciled in and Daniel Norris has settled into a long-relief role.

Matt Manning and Alex Faedo seem to be healthy based on all the reports, but a full, successful season from them is also a steep ask. This isn’t even taking any new injuries into account, which are a reality of the game, so a second starter may not only be justifiable but perhaps necessary.

3) What Will a Detroit Tigers Season Look Like?

As referenced above, the plan of attack in the offseason will likely require some direction as to how the 2021 MLB season is approached. Some such as the Toronto Blue Jays do not appear to be concerned and are making moves now, but the set of needs for a club in a 60-game season and a 162-game season are wildly different.

In a shortened year, additional starters are less requisite because they simply aren’t on the mound as long. Likewise, in the event of doubleheaders, they may only need to go seven innings for a complete game. Additionally, teams have to be more careful in a shortened year about bullpen management since off days are so few-and-far-between, although it would be fascinating to know if the league would opt to spread games out more in the event of a shortened 2021 season.

For the Tigers specifically, a shortened season may cause them to focus on a few more reliable relief options to remove the stress from Bryan Garcia and Gregory Soto, who have been playing the fireman roles for the team last season. Likewise, it’ll allow Hinch to shorten his leash on the starters. He has been public about his willingness to do the unorthodox if it means winning baseball games.

4) Will the Club Get Creative with Trades?

One of the gripes with the current front office is the lack of creativity they have deployed since the rebuild started. Prospect-for-prospect trades, utilizing international bonus pool money in trades, and acquiring MLB talent that could be dealt later for meaningful returns have been some of what other clubs are doing but the Detroit Tigers are not.

Specifically, the club seems to have always mistimed selling their pitching. We saw it with Michael Fulmer, to a lesser extent with Spencer Turnbull, and we may have just witnessed it with someone like Alex Faedo as well. We knew the slew of prospects were only going to succeed at a marginal rate. Therefore, selling high on those prospects may have been a shrewd move in the past.

There should be one goal this year: get better now while getting better tomorrow. If trading any of their pitching prospects would help to accomplish that goal, it’s malpractice not to consider it.

5) Can Chris Fetter Fix Matthew Boyd?

A question that will not be answered until next year, Boyd is perhaps one of the more polarizing pitchers in baseball. On one side, he has embraced analytics and is well-known for his time spent at Driveline–a premiere pitching sanctuary for study and stability. He has an incredible work ethic, he is intelligent, he has some insane strikeout-to-walk numbers, and he does some amazing things off the field.

On the other hand, his home run and earned run numbers are off the charts and he has statistically been one of the worst pitchers in the entire league in 2020. University of Michigan head coach Erik Bakich called Fetter a star, claiming he would be an elite coach at any level. Perhaps, if anyone can fix Boyd, it is Fetter. The ingredients are there; the question being if Chris Fetter can leverage those ingredients to make Boyd a successful pitcher in 2021.