Tigers

The Detroit News - - Front Page - Lynn.hen­ning@de­troinews.com twit­ter.com/Lyn­n_Hen­ning

stop Jose Igle­sias. The Tigers could be look­ing at pay­ing Igle­sias $6 mil­lion to $7 mil­lion in 2018 be­cause of his ar­bi­tra­tion sta­tus. It’s more than a team still se­verely over­weight with pay­roll cares to pay for a short­stop with a pal­try WAR (wins above re­place­ment) of 1.4 and whose OPS in 2017 was a puny .657. But if Kinsler is dealt the Tigers have a se­ri­ous mid­dle-in­field gap. Dixon Machado is their only daily lineup in­sur­ance if ei­ther Kinsler or Igle­sias leaves. Dawel Lugo, a sec­ond base­man the Tigers got in the Mar­tinez trade, is not yet ready.

It makes Igle­sias ex­pen­sive but nec­es­sary in­sur­ance the Tigers are ex­pected to hang onto when their only other op­tion, apart from a trade, is to non­tender him for 2018.

What about Vic­tor?

The pachy­derm in the room is des­ig­nated hit­ter Vic­tor Mar­tinez.

Mar­tinez turns 39 in De­cem­ber and has a con­tract year re­main­ing at $18 mil­lion. He hit .255 in 2017 with 10 home runs and with an OPS in­de­fen­si­bly low for a DH: .697.

Mar­tinez also missed the fi­nal sea­son of the year be­cause of an ir­reg­u­lar heart­beat that re­quired a Septem­ber pro­ce­dure. Mar­tinez has told the Tigers he feels fine and will be ready for spring camp. The Tigers could de­cide then if it’s wise to bring him north for Open­ing Day or, should he show skills too di­min­ished to carry, sim­ply say good­bye and ab­sorb his 2018 pay­checks.

It’s likely he makes the team and the Tigers work to squeeze as much from his creaky body as pos­si­ble. How they oth­er­wise would patch any hole at des­ig­nated hit­ter is dif­fi­cult to­day to gauge. But be­tween pos­si­ble ro­ta­tions of cur­rent play­ers (Miguel Cabr­era, Ni­cholas Castel­lanos, etc.), and the prob­a­bil­ity Avila would at some point add an af­ford­able, if un­re­mark­able, hit­ter to the mix, the Tigers ap­pear ready to take their chances with Mar­tinez and with a DH slot that’s hardly their first off­sea­son worry.

The Tigers out­field could be one more dice-roll in 2018.

Castel­lanos was com­fort­able dur­ing a Septem­ber reac­quain­tance with right field and fig­ures to stick there as long as rookie Jeimer Can­de­lario sur­vives at third base.

Mikie Mah­took can han­dle left field, or cen­ter in the event JaCoby Jones proves he sim­ply can­not hit enough to jus­tify his edge in de­fense.

Tyler Collins again is part of the mix, at least for now. And so could Alex Pres­ley be in­vited back as a free agent if the Tigers strike Pres­ley as be­ing the best op­tion.

Two farmhands are not far from Detroit. Mike Ger­ber and Christin Ste­wart are ex­pected to be in­vited to big-league camp in Lake­land, Fla., for their first taste of a Tigers club­house each man is ex­pected to crash no later than next Septem­ber.

The Tigers ideally want the left-handed hit­ting Ger­ber and Ste­wart to ma­ture at Triple-A Toledo un­til Septem­ber ros­ter call-ups ar­rive and a mi­nor­league op­tion isn’t burned.

But they can’t be sure of timeta­bles there. In­juries could force an early ticket to Comer­ica Park. A hot stretch at Toledo — Ger­ber is the best bet — also could lead to a fast pro­mo­tion, es­pe­cially if Jones, as the Tigers pri­vately fear, strikes out too much and hits too lit­tle.

It’s a scary sce­nario for the Tigers front of­fice as well as for the team’s fans, count­ing on the above crew to align and cre­ate steady big-league of­fense even if Cabr­era, as the Tigers an­tic­i­pate, has a fruit­ful off­sea­son heal­ing his sore back.

And it has noth­ing to do with the area that most di­rectly sent the Tigers spi­ral­ing to a 64-98 record in 2017.

Tigers pitch­ing was dread­ful, with 16 pitch­ers hold­ing ERAs of 6.00 or higher. Four more came home with 5.00plus ERAs.

Mound mat­ters

Avila un­der­stands he’ll need 10 start­ing pitch­ers in 2018, about the num­ber most ball­clubs re­quire for 162 games be­cause of in­juries and pitch­ers be­ing shipped out for Triple-A tune­ups.

He to­day can count four rea­son­able ro­ta­tion bets: Michael Ful­mer, who is re­cov­er­ing smoothly from nerve re­lo­ca­tion surgery; Jor­dan Zim­mer­mann, whose neck is­sues the Tigers be­lieve can and will im­prove dur­ing an off­sea­son pro­gram; Matthew Boyd, who was great in spring camp, bad dur­ing some early months, then strong, with a near-no-hit­ter in Septem­ber; and Daniel Nor­ris, who could be close to las­so­ing his po­ten­tial.

That leaves a fifth starter to be air-lifted this off­sea­son, prob­a­bly from the low-pro­file end of the free-agent mar­ket. One pos­si­bil­ity is Ani­bal Sanchez, who won’t be re­turn­ing for the $16.5 mil­lion the Tigers owe him for a pick-up of his con­tract op­tion. The Tigers will in­stead hand him a $5 mil­lion buy­out that doesn’t pre­clude them from re-sign­ing him at a mu­tu­ally agree­able price.

The Tigers don’t in­tend to spend big dol­lars on any free agents but are keen on adding one or two pitch­ers they be­lieve can di­gest in­nings next sea­son and keep their ever-thrilling bullpen from dis­in­te­grat­ing.

Re­lief pitch­ing is, of course, some­thing the Tigers seem al­ways to ex­tract from ether and next year will be no dif­fer­ent, par­tic­u­larly if Greene were to be dealt.

But it could get a bail-out if kids can some­how co­a­lesce, which is a sur­prise the Tigers prob­a­bly have com­ing.

Joe Jimenez, Bryan Gar­cia, Zac Reininger, Mark Ecker, Jairo Labourt — chances are only two, at most, will be worth tak­ing north in March. But there should, steadily, be at least mar­ginal help ar­riv­ing from the bushes.

Avila and his of­fice will be busy sign­ing mi­nor-league free agents, as well, hop­ing to run into a sur­prise. As far as their ro­ta­tion, the Tigers will look at Chad Bell and Myles Jaye and oth­ers who might be some­thing above can­non fod­der in a bid to makes games com­pet­i­tive, which is not, in any event, go­ing to be easy.

Not when 10 starters are es­sen­tial. Not when the ex­ist­ing cast of­fers min­i­mal hope.

Avila and his lieu­tenants want to avoid at all costs a des­per­ate plunge into the staffs at Dou­ble A Erie, and at Toledo, where a num­ber of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s strength, young arms, are ex­pected to mi­grate.

Beau Bur­rows will be given all of 2018 to add mus­cle and fi­nesse. So, too, will Sandy Baez, Gre­gory Soto, Kyle Funkhouser, and, of course, June’s top draft pick, Alex Faedo, who will be pitch­ing in his first games since he helped Florida win last June’s Col­lege World Se­ries.

At least that’s the team’s plan for now.

Toss it all to­gether and an early pro­jec­tion is not that the Tigers might lose 100 games in 2018. The is­sue might well be: How many more than 100 will they for­feit while pre­par­ing for that first over­all pick in next June’s draft, and very pos­si­bly, the No. 1 turn in 2019?

It could be some­thing closer to 110 or more. Rebuilding teams en­dure such sea­sons, even if they earn a mag­nif­i­cent con­so­la­tion prize.

Those first over­all picks can be fran­chise tal­ents. Those early draft turns tend to gen­er­ate ex­cel­lence down the road, par­tic­u­larly if en­hanced by trades of the kind made in July and Au­gust; deals that could be re­peated next sum­mer when a pitcher such as Ful­mer might be spun for a pas­sel of bluechip kids.

Avila in a few weeks will wade into this and other facets of the Tigers’ makeover when a new man­ager is in­tro­duced.

That new man, of course, might also at that time watch as Avila pins to his jer­sey a medal of valor.

This isn’t go­ing to be easy, skip­per­ing the Tigers. Not for a while. Per­haps for a long while.

Pho­tos by Robin Buck­son/Detroit News

Shane Greene picked up valu­able clos­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in 2017, which could make him a hot com­mod­ity.

One of these two men, short­stop Jose Igle­sias, left, and sec­ond base­man Ian Kinsler, is likely gone, but prob­a­bly not both of them.

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