Detroit Tigers: Will Al Avila make good on his pitch to AJ Hinch?

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 20: Jackie Bradley Jr. #19 of the Boston Red Sox returns to the dugout during the seventh inning against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park on September 20, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 20: Jackie Bradley Jr. #19 of the Boston Red Sox returns to the dugout during the seventh inning against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park on September 20, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

If you want to know a team’s intentions sometimes it’s just best to take a statement seriously. Recently, new Detroit Tigers skipper AJ Hinch said. “I know that in the early talks with (Tigers general manager Al Avila), he’s been very forward with me about the fact that we’re not going into camp with the same team that we have today.”

Certainly, no specifics are attached to the Hinch quote. But it quite obviously asserts Hinch had at least some loose assurances made to him there would be some action to upgrade the Detroit Tigers roster heading into the 2021 campaign. To what level is Avila willing and able to fulfill the promises he evidently discussed in his initial talks to lure Hinch?

The Detroit Tigers now boast one of the best minor league systems in baseball and will be adding the 3rd overall pick in the ‘21 draft to bolster it further. A few of those players started to bubble to the big league surface this past season. The youth accumulation phase is winding down. There is a faint light at the end of the rebuild phase tunnel.

However, that light is using a dimmer bulb at the major league level. The Tigers were quite frankly a terrible baseball team in ‘20 with only a handful of players who looked like a fair bet to be a part of the next Tigers team looking to contend for the playoffs.

As things stand today, Hinch inherits a club that would much rather discuss the possibilities of the coming talent rush instead of spending much time trying to find anything positive to say about some of its big-league talents who rode the struggle-bus far too often in ‘20.

If Hinch and Avila are looking to gain ground immediately in the AL Central there isn’t a realistic path there with the talent on hand. Some established big league competence will be required. What moves would “count” toward judging Avila as making a good faith effort to come through on his word to Hinch?

In ‘20 the Tigers did dabble in bringing in some vets on short deals. None of these moves seemed to much juice behind them as a signal this player was brought in to be a tent pole player. They were placeholders much like the manager they were signing to toil for. Austin Romine, CJ Cron, Jonathan Schoop, Cameron Maybin, and Ivan Nova were all brought in to try and put together a presentable lineup.

However…with the possible exception of Schoop, these don’t seem like the level of acquisitions Hinch was alluding to. There are players out there who would quite likely boost Detroit without being as expensive as the premium tier of the free-agent market.

This space has been used this off-season to urge Tigers owner Chris Ilitch and Avila to start the build-up phase and spend. In-depth looks at pursuing George Springer and JT Realmuto were done to explore what the Tigers have to gain by pushing the afterburner button. Perhaps it’s unrealistic to expect the Tigers to actually ink the top two position players in free agency. But it was good to discuss how the money is likely available especially with the light payroll Detroit is projected to carry. (Make no mistake…this space would still find an all-out move on obtaining Springer and Realmuto to be the correct play and not an impossible fool’s errand)

Then what would be an acceptable level of investment if we look to find some middle ground between the bargain bin and Ivan Nova and buying tons of prime real estate with Springer and Realmuto?

The Detroit Tigers definitely could use legitimate help in their rotation, at second base, catcher, and just about any outfielder who can hit they can lure in.

If the Tigers were to invest in a package centered around Taijuan Walker, Jackie Bradley, Jr, a re-run of Romine, and Tommy LaStella —with assorted low-level guys sprinkled in trying to find the next Jose Cisnero— would that be enough to polish some of the rough edges of the Tigers roster. Maybe add in trying to resurrect Chris Archer. It’s definitely a large step down from a pursuit of Springer and Realmuto but it’s also a group of players bringing a better skill set than the crew they brought aboard last season. The expenditure would be very affordable and perhaps even more so if the dire predictions on free-agent spending levels around MLB prove true.

Walker has already been linked to Detroit by Fox Sports’ JP Morosi. The big righty is talented and could definitely show enough to carve out a spot in Detroit for a few years given he’s only 28.

Bradley is a legitimate difference-maker defensively in centerfield and showing no signs of slowing down. His bat has been up and down over his career but he’s coming off an up year and it would seem that just on defense he could yield a 2.0 WAR season without even hitting a ton.

LaStella is coming off a good season in Anaheim and Oakland. What LaStella brings is some defensive versatility on the infield but also, and perhaps more importantly, a microscopic K-rate last year of 5.3%. That’s a very different type of hitter to inject into the Tigers hack-tastic lineup.

Would Detroit vault up in the standings with a free agent class like this? It’s debatable and also very reliant on how many youngsters in the organization breakthrough at the big league level. But a group like this or one similar with different names attached would give the Tigers a few players who might actually be around and contributing the next time they make any noise about a playoff spot. It seems the Tigers are at the point where they need to build and no longer wait on just the kiddies. (Kitties?)

AJ Hinch wasn’t brought in to linger in the division cellar. He was brought in to be the guy you win with. A James Beard Award-winning chef still needs quality ingredients though. Hinch was likely promised some in his interview. It’s time for Avila to shop and spend. He can’t settle for hot dogs and beans again this year. Avila needs to find the gourmet aisle.