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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila will be seeking a veteran catcher on the free-agent market this winter. He’s also looking to add a big bat — perhaps a first baseman or outfielder — to inject some life into a moribund offense.
But perhaps the most interesting tidbit he shared on Tuesday afternoon was about a position that the Tigers don’t plan to fill externally.
The Tigers plan to give Niko Goodrum every opportunity to win the starting shortstop job in spring training, Avila said during a break in the annual General Manager Meetings at the Omni Resort in suburban Phoenix.
“All the indicators seem to point to him being the guy that can play shortstop for us in 2020,” Avila said. “He’ll certainly receive that opportunity. He’s done a fantastic job as a super-utility guy and that’s really probably his best role. But in our situation right now, (shortstop) might turn out to be the best bet.”
What about 22-year-old prospect Willi Castro, who made his Major League debut last September?
“In a perfect world Willi Castro probably needs a bit more seasoning in Toledo,” Avila said. “In saying that, in spring training he’ll be allowed to compete and see what happens. But the player coming back that we feel good about that can possibly give us the most innings at shortstop is Niko Goodrum.”
Goodrum got an extended look at shortstop after Jordy Mercer was hurt and graded out well defensively. That audition may have convinced the Tigers to give the 27-year-old a longer look at one position rather than bouncing him around the diamond.
Signed as a minor-league free agent before the 2018 season, Goodrum has played in 243 games for the Tigers over the last two seasons, appearing at every position except pitcher and catcher.
Catcher Jake Rogers didn’t do as well in his late-season audition with the Tigers, and Avila confirmed that the Tigers will definitely sign a veteran catcher to pair with Grayson Greiner. Rogers is likely ticketed to Triple-A Toledo.
“I think last year we brought him up out of necessity,” Avila said of Rogers. “He got some experience, but it showed that he was a little overexposed and he probably needs a little more seasoning.”
Despite Rogers’ struggles at the plate and occasional defensive lapses, the Tigers haven’t soured on one of their top prospects.
“We have a high level of confidence that he’s going to become the player we think he can be. From a defensive perspective for sure. From an offensive perspective, I think that when a player struggles, it opens his mind and his eyes and he would be more open to making adjustments. I think we’re at that point and hopefully it works out for him and for us,” Avila said.
In addition to a catcher, the Tigers are seeking a “bat” to add some pop to a lineup that was the worst in baseball in 2019.
Will that be a first baseman, an outfielder, something else? Stay tuned, Avila said.
“Therein lies the issue,” he said. “At the end of the day, we’d just like to acquire a bat for sure.”
Brandon Dixon played first base for much of the year after Miguel Cabrera was consigned to DH duty and Jeimer Candelario moved to first after Dawel Lugo started playing every day at third base late in the year.
The Tigers have not given up on Candelario, Avila said, although it remains up in the air on which side of the infield he’ll play in 2020.
“Last year he obviously didn’t have a good year. We feel like he’s a good candidate to get back on track,” Avila said. “That could happen at first or at third. If we end up getting a first baseman, there might be more competition between him and Lugo at third base, which is good. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
The loser of the battle could just go to the bench, Avila said. (Both players are out of options and would have to be exposed to waivers before being sent to the minor leagues).
“There will be competition. It’s time we give these guys some competition,” he said.