Detroit Tigers: AJ Hinch knows the answer is “Yes”

Jun: Detroit Tigers manager A.J. Hinch walks on the field during a pitching change. David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Jun: Detroit Tigers manager A.J. Hinch walks on the field during a pitching change. David Richard-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Detroit Tigers manager knows what has to be done when the season ends.

If you have to ask a question about a given position group on a baseball team akin to “should the club pursue upgrades this year” the answer is almost certainly “yes”. It’s a safe bet AJ Hinch and his fellow Detroit Tigers front office staffers know this.

Hinch probably lays awake at night pondering his universe and I’m sure he’s proud of his club’s effort in Detroit. But as the sleepless hours of a man with a busy mind tick away it’s a good bet he knows a winter of aggressive change would be best for his club moving ahead.

Talent needs to be found all over his roster. How much can GM Al Avila get done on his behest over the Hot Stove season?

A fair number of observers seem to think differently to some degree. Segments of fans have bonded with this club. A dose of winning, even a small one, cures many ills and this Tigers club has won just enough in “Little Engine That Could” fashion.

Fan comments have been fairly reserved lately. Few seem to have a laundry list of needs. They want shortstop addressed but seem patient beyond that. Unless…

Maybe they’re saying “get Stan Patt” instead of “stand pat” and Patt is a catcher who can hit above his weight with a little power. 

Or perhaps I’m not hearing “status quo” and they’re saying “sign the next Sadaharu Oh” from Japan to play right-field.

Hey…it’s possible. But more likely it seems AJ Hinch’s charges have struck a nerve called “fan loyalty”. Which, by the way, is fantastic. This has been a relatively enjoyable season. It hasn’t been as full of despair and boredom as 2017, 2018, and 2019 were for everyone.

For instance, a link to Evan Woodbery’s mailbag was posted to a Tigers Facebook chat group. They highlighted the question on the Tigers’ needs at catcher. A hefty percentage of FB respondents were set on “stand pat” with some combo of Eric Haase, Dustin Garneau, Grayson Greiner, waiting for Jake Rogers recovery from surgery, and the hopeful arrival one day of Dillon Dingler. (Note: Woodbery does believe the club pursues a catcher likely via trade)

On the Tigers Radio podcast, a question was sent in about the Tigers pursuing outfield help this winter. It was a great question. The gent asking the question also provided his view. He’s for the status quo and giving young players Akil Baddoo, Derek Hill, Daz Cameron, and “even Victor Reyes” more time for development at the MLB level versus adding free-agent talent. It’s anecdotal evidence but there is a good chance many folks are in agreement across Tigers Fandom.

In late August MLB.com had a piece by Anthony Castrovince really highlighted the aspects of Detroit’s rebuild that indicate a return to winning. Castrovince talked about the youthful pitching staff coming together. This is true in some respects. What he didn’t mention was adding pitching this winter. He instead went down the path of pouring huge dollars into a Carlos Correa signing of one of the other shortstops.

The Righteous Date of Baseball Forgiveness

Much of the fealty for this club can be traced to a date that has become synonymous with all that is heavenly in the eyes of fans. There is probably a petition circulating to make May 8th some sort of day of honor. “The Tigers record since May 8th” has been ballyhooed steadily all summer. The general ickiness (technical term) of the Tigers 9-24 start was dismissed as though a sacrament from Al Kaline up in Heaven had washed away all their sins and winning baseball commenced.

Saturday’s victory over the Tampa Bay Rays gives Detroit a 62-54 record since “May 8th-Baseball Thanksgiving”. There is no doubt the quality of baseball since 5/8 has been better. As noted earlier, it’s been an enjoyable summer.

However…and you knew a “however” was looming…while the .534 winning percentage since 5/8 is solid, it’s still just North of also-ran status. Even if we could wipe away the 9-24 start and substitute in a .534 winning percentage for the whole Tigers season they’d still be well out of reach of all playoff spots in the American League. In short, .534 baseball is presentable but it’s not enough.

Off-Season Talent Search

In truth, the Tigers are a team with a -58 run differential and have performed like it offensively all too often. A 4-run game by the offense seems like an “outburst” instead of a minimum expectation. They scored a lot of runs in June and July but in many other points of the season, they’ve been toothless Tigers.

Detroit needs to consider upgrades across the board in 2022 if they expect to contend. It just seems like ‘21 has milked the most it can from the ragtag crew they’ve assembled. Hinch and his staff get plenty of credit for this and so do the players.

But the record is what the record is…they sit here on September 19th at 71-78 and that’s not good enough. Surely Hinch and Avila know this. Hopefully, top exec Chris Ilitch believes this with his self-professed “burning inside to compete”.

There is really no position group good enough right now to say it’s off limits for improvement. The infield could absolutely use a big commitment at shortstop but also at first-base if they don’t know if Spencer Torkelson is ready in ‘22.

The offense could absolutely use an upgrade possible in the outfield. Especially a Starling Marte-type who could bat near the top of the order providing a power/OBP combo. Riley Greene is the shining jewel about to arrive but it seems like he’d be best suited early on as a sidekick to an established outfield mate.

Standing pat means standing still

It’s not really possible to build a perfect team. Nobody is expecting the Tigers will have this long wishlist of additions and fulfill each in one winter via trade, free agency, or minor league promotions. It is possible though to ruthlessly find upgrades wherever they can. There is no need to cross off any position group.

As stated a few weeks back, this Tigers team isn’t a club you marry. It’s a hot summer fling to recall with a smile. The team built to contend isn’t all in the organization yet. Nothing is off-limits.

The Tigers were roughly $45M below the average MLB payroll. They can afford to add a wide breadth of talent if they choose. They have some great prospects on the rise. They have very few players who are untouchable in trade. In other words, they have the ability to make moves and look at improvements to contend in ‘22 or ‘23 at the latest.

”Standing pat” or embracing the “status quo” because they believe in the talent at any position right now might seem okay with some fans…but it might be nothing more than an excuse not to spend if the front office goes that route.

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