Avila Expects Better Season For Tigers 'If Everything Comes Together' In 2020

Their rebuild is still a long way off.

Will Burchfield
November 14, 2019 - 3:01 pm

© Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

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Let's start here. After finishing 47-114 in 2019, the 2020 Tigers can't get much worse. 

Question is, will they be any better? As in, fewer than 100 losses? As in, kind of-sort of respectable? 

They're going to need growth from within, first and foremost. That means improvement among the young players already on the roster, and progression among the prospects knocking on the door. They're also going to need external help, namely a run-producer in free agency. 

And then they're going to need some good fortune along the way. 

“If everything comes together, you would hope that we would have a better season,” general manager Al Avila said at the GM meetings on Wednesday, via MLive. “But (2020) is going to be challenging.”

Indeed.

While the Tigers hope to be competitive again by 2021 -- which is beginning to look less and less realistic -- their rebuild is still a long way off. The players they were counting on to make progress in Detroit last season mostly flopped. And aside from their three big arms in Double-A -- Casey Mize, Matt Manning and Tarik Skubal -- development on the farm was patchy at best. 

The results in Detroit were especially discouraging. 

JaCoby Jones showed signs of progressing offensively, but regressed in center field (according to the metrics) and then wound up on the shelf with a wrist injury. Christin Stewart, who was handed the everyday job in left field, managed just 10 home runs in over 400 plate appearances. Jeimer Candelario started the season at third, ended it at first and spent much of the intervening time in the minors amid his struggles at the plate.

That trio combined for a WAR of 0.3, with both Jones and Stewart in the red. And that won't cut it in 2020. 

“If these guys get better and produce like we think they can, it could make for a better season," Avila said. "If they don’t, it could be a really trying season." 

It's not just those three, of course. The Tigers also need more out of the likes of Niko Goodrum, Harold Castro, Dawel Lugo, Ronny Rodriguez, Jake Rogers and Willi Castro in 2020, assuming the latter two (or three, or four, or five) spend most of the season in the bigs. Consider this. 12 players appeared in at least 75 games for the Tigers last season. Just three of them finished with a positive WAR -- and that's without mentioning the pitching staff. 

Al Avil and the front office can't abide that next season, and it starts by plugging holes in free agency. The Tigers want badly for another hitter or two, and they have clear openings at first base, right field and catcher. Shortstop, second base and third base are question marks as well. They'll be searching for a couple veterans on short-term deals -- and hoping it works out better than last year. 

Expect Detroit to be connected to names like Eric Thames, Justin Smoak, Kole Calhoun and Corey Dickerson. 

(RELATED: 10 Free Agents Who Make Sense For Tigers)

On the trade front, the Tigers will probably be quiet. They are willing to discuss Matthew Boyd again, after they held onto him at the trade deadline last season, but that won't lead anywhere unless they can get their hands on a high-level hitting prospect. And in terms of trading for veteran help, the Tigers would rather hang onto the prospects they already have. 

“We’ve had some trade talks and a lot of teams will try to trade you an older guy or maybe even a guy that they’re going to non-tender. And he might be able to help you this year. But if you’re looking at the big-picture, it’s not going to be a good trade," Avila said. "You’re going to trade a prospect for a guy that’s going to help you maybe win a few more games (in 2020)? You’ve got to keep the big picture in mind." 

More than two years after this rebuild began, that picture still looks pretty grim. There's talent on the horizon, and the Tigers will add another blue-chip prospect with the first overall pick in next year's draft. But the future remains distant from the present, and the present offers little to be excited about on its own. 

Detroit should be better in 2020. But in a way that significantly raises the bar for 2021? 

That's no sure thing.