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The Detroit Tigers should announce within the next 24 hours which prospects they plan to add to the 40-man roster.
That might be the extent of the excitement for the next few weeks.
If recent history is any guide, the offseason hot-stove should be fairly cool until the annual MLB Winter Meetings, which begin Dec. 9 in San Diego.
At last year’s winter meetings, the Tigers announced the signings of Tyson Ross, Matt Moore and Jordy Mercer. Two years ago, they signed Mike Fiers and Leonys Martin. Three years ago, they traded second baseman Ian Kinsler.
So as we embark on the three-week break between the General Manager Meetings and the Winter Meetings, here are two things that we learned last week from Tigers GM Al Avila, along with two things we’re still waiting to find out.
1. A new catcher is a must.
The Tigers aren’t going to play it coy with this one. Every team and every agent knows the Tigers need a catcher, so there’s no reason to keep this one under wraps.
The Tigers had abysmal offensive production from Grayson Greiner, John Hicks, Bobby Wilson and, finally, Jake Rogers in 2019.
Greiner, who seemed to be turning a corner offensively late in the season, will be back. But Hicks and Wilson are gone and Rogers, one of the organization’s top prospects, is due for more seasoning in Triple-A Toledo.
That leaves a spot for a veteran catcher to work alongside Greiner. Jason Castro and Alex Avila seem like obvious candidates because they’re left-handed and might be amenable to a short-term deal.
2. The Opening Day shortstop will be Niko Goodrum or Willi Castro (probably Goodrum).
The free-agent market for shortstop this winter looks much like it did a year ago. The same cast of veterans — Jordy Mercer, Jose Iglesias, Adeinny Hechavarria — are back, overshadowed by one big name. (It was Manny Machado a year ago; it’s Didi Gregorius this year).
Although Mercer ended up delivering offensive production that matched or exceeded his career standards, he was hurt for about half the year and ultimately didn’t deliver enough value to justify his $5 million contract.
So the Tigers are likely to keep things in-house in 2020. Castro, only 22, got a 30-game audition in September. While he didn’t look overmatched, he didn’t exactly seize the job, either.
Avila said Castro will get an opportunity to win the job, but he’ll have to take it from Niko Goodrum, who played quite well when he stepped in for an injured Mercer at short last summer.
2. Who will start at second?
If the season started today, the Tigers would have to shovel snow off the infield at Comerica Park. They’d also have Harold Castro and Ronny Rodriguez at second base.
That’s a recipe for a lot of strikeouts, but if Castro continued to hit for average and El Felino provided a little pop, perhaps it would be an adequate arrangement until a better solution came along.
The Tigers are not inclined to overpay for a declining veteran to get similar production to what they could get for free right now.
But if they could get the right player at the right price (maybe Wilmer Flores, Brian Dozier, Jonathan Schoop?), this could be an affordable upgrade opportunity.
4. Who will manage at Triple-A Toledo?
We should have an answer for this question soon. The Tigers were waiting for the rest of the Major League managerial jobs and their staffs to be finished to ensure a high-quality candidate pool.
Why is the replacement for Doug Mientkiewicz so intriguing? Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire will be in the final year of his contract in 2020.
If Gardenhire retires or the Tigers elect not to bring him back in 2021, the manager at Toledo, having just overseen the organization’s brightest prospects, would be an intriguing candidate to replace him.
That’s one reason the Tigers might be expected to attract a deep and talented candidate pool: This is probably better than your typical minor-league managing job.