Last week I published my yearly offseason plan for the Tigers and, among other things, I called for the Tigers to sign Ben Zobrist and acquire one of Chris Young/Austin Jackson/Peter Bourjos. The idea was to install Zobrist (or a player of similar quality) in a corner opposite JD Martinez and use the right-handed hitter to compliment Anthony Gose. I haven’ been secretive about viewing Gose as more of a bench player, but the Tigers seem to like him so I didn’t go as far as to totally discount him.
Yet something Al Avila said recently concerned me a little bit. Now of course, Avila might just be saying words to reporters that don’t mean anything. His predecessor did that pretty often and it’s totally reasonable that Avila doesn’t believe what he said. Here’s a quote from a Jason Beck summary of Avila’s comments:
The Tigers also are looking at the outfield market, Avila confirmed, either for a full-time left fielder or a right-handed hitter to platoon. How the search for pitching goes is likely to affect how they approach that.
I’ll call your attention to the “or” in that statement. The Tigers want to get a full time left fielder or a right-handed hitter to platoon. The assumption here is that the Tigers are going with Martinez-Gose-UNDECIDED for the outfield. That undecided spot either belongs to a full time guy or a guy who they can platoon with Tyler Collins, or perhaps Steven Moya.
If Avila’s comments can be taken at face value we should be a touch worried. Of course, wins are fungible. If you have five Clayton Kershaws, you don’t need much of an offense and if you are world beaters at the plate, you don’t need great pitching, but we have a strong sense of what the Tigers roster will look like. Given what we know about their 2016 roster already, it concerns me that the Tigers think they could go to battle with a Collins/some guy platoon while also having Gose as a full-time player.
All of this is predicated on the team not making some insane trade to upgrade their infield dramatically, but if we assume they go out and get a good starter and an okay starter to supplement the rotation and some relief help (not as much as I suggested though), then we can expect the team to sit in he low to mid 80s in terms of expected wins. It’s a fine club, but there is a significant gap between that and a playoff team.
If the Tigers go out and sign a legitimate outfielder like Zobrist (or Gordon, Heyward, Cespedes, Upton, etc), then they are in a much better position certainly. If the outfield is Zobrist-Gose-Martinez, it’s a very different thing that Collins/platoon-Gose-Martinez. That’s kind of self-evident, but that’s the line Avila is walking in that comment. Either they get a left fielder, or they’re going to platoon Collins with a low-key righty. That’s a huge difference.
If you pile that onto his comments about being more restrictive about free agent spending than in the past, you have to assume the Tigers aren’t going to add significant payroll. They were at $170M or so last year, and maybe you can imagine $180M or so, but if the world according to Avila is true, it starts to look difficult for the Tigers to build a winner.
It sounds like, at least, that the Tigers are either going to sign a good starter or a good outfielder, and they’ll go fringy with whichever doesn’t shake out. I have no problem investing in one part of the roster over the other. Wins are wins. But if you break down the comments, it sounds like the Tigers are limited financially and there’s a chance they won’t acquire a quality bat for the outfield and might enter the season relying on Gose for a full time spot and a weak platoon in left. And that’s just not going to get the job done.
You can support one kind of iffy outfield spot, but supporting two iffy spots when you’re already unsure about the bats at third base and catcher (not to mention the health of your DH), means that you’re counting on your team to prevent runs very well. That would be fine except for the fact that requires adding at least a really good starter and an okay one in addition to like three relievers just to get yourself into the conversation.
Hopefully, this is just Avila keeping things noncommittal. You can get by with signing a high quality outfielder and ignoring a platoon mate for Gose, but you can’t get buy with only finding a platoon partner for Collins. That leaves the offense too weak and very exposed to injuries. And that’s to say nothing of the only left handed bats being Collins, Gose, and VMart. If the Tigers don’t acquire a quality bat in the outfield, they better intend to invest heavily in pitching. And this isn’t a Iwakuma and Latos kind of investment, but a Price/Iwakuma kind of investment.
It’s okay to go with pitching or offense, but if the Tigers take the low offense play, they need to understand how much pitching it would truly require to make them competitive. And they also need to keep in mind that next year’s free agent class is very thin, so a two-year shopping effort isn’t really a wise move.
You can’t put too much stock into a few GM comments, but if the Tigers are going to compete, they need to add two really good players, three okay players, and to bolster the bullpen. They can choose to do that in many different ways, but if they think they can ignore the outfield and get away with acquiring only one top level pitcher, it’s going to be another October of watching other teams spray champagne.