Detroit — Tigers general manager Al Avila already has made his intentions known throughout the baseball community: He is open for business.
And he may not wait for the Winter Meetings, which get under way Monday at Disney World, to start dealing.
Avila and his staff have been hunting for veteran starting pitching (one, possibly two) and for a veteran reliever. The requirement — experience and durability. The stipulation — willing to accept a lower-end, one-year deal.
“That’s no secret,” Avila said during the general manager’s meetings last month. “We are looking for pitching help, maybe a couple of starting pitchers. And we’re always looking for bullpen help.
“But look around. There are 29 other teams here and they are all looking for starting pitching and bullpen help.”
Obviously, Avila wasn’t about to tip his hand as to which pitchers the club is targeting. But, from various industry reports and interviews, it appears the Tigers have been kicking the tires on two starting pitchers in particular, both looking for bounce-back opportunities — right-handers Mike Fiers, formerly of the Astros, and Chris Tillman, ex-Oriole.
Fiers, 32, was left off all three post-season rosters by the Astros last fall and was non-tendered by the club last week.
He has averaged 167 innings over the last three seasons, with an enlarged 4.43 ERA and 1.34 WHIP. He was 11-8 with a 4.48 ERA in 2016 before falling out of the rotation last season (8-10, 5.22).
Fiers yielded a career-most 32 home runs last season, but he also may have endured some bad luck. According to FanGraphs, his hard-hit rate was down 5 percent last season, from 35 to 30. Also, opponents’ batting averages were down on both his fastball (.247 from .332 on his fastball) and change-up (.244 from .281). Opponents his .211 on his curve ball, up from .192 in 2016.
Tillman will turn 30 in April and averaged 190 innings between 2013 and 2016. He posted a 16-6 record with a 3.77 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 2016. The wheels fell off last season (1-7, 7.84) and he was banished to the bullpen.
According to Brooks Baseball, Tillman lost more the 2 mph off his fastball, both his four-seam and two-seam sinker, from 93.4 mph in 2016 to 91 mph last season. Opponents hit .316 off his four-seamer and .408 off his sinker last season. In 2016, they hit those pitches at a .245 and .285 clip, respectively.
As for bullpen help, the Tigers are among several teams interested in Japanese closer Yoshihisa Hirano. The right-hander will turn 34 in March and from 2013 through last season posted 143 saves, a 2.62 ERA and 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings for the Orix Buffaloes.
The Tigers certainly would be interested in former Cubs reliever Hector Rondon, as well, But the asking price, somewhere in the $6-million range, is probably too steep.
Besides shopping for pitchers, the Tigers also will continue to actively shop second baseman Ian Kinsler. As of last month, several teams, including the Angels, Brewers, Blue Jays and Diamondbacks, had showed at least some interest.
“We had phone calls (on Kinsler) even before coming here,” Avila said last month. “We will take it slow. We’re not going to rush into anything.”
Avila has indicated, too, that he is open to listening to any and all offers, including those on players like Shane Greene, Jose Iglesias, Nick Castellanos and Michael Fulmer — though it seems a long shot those players will be traded this off-season. Their value could be higher at the trade deadline.
“If there’s a trade or a person to be signed today for this year that makes sense, and makes us better one way or another, that’s what we will pursue,” Avila said. “If it happens to be a player fans are really excited about, great. But we can’t acquire or make trades that will make us weaker down the road just to be happy today.”
The Tigers are expected to add a player on Thursday, as well. They have the first pick in the Rule 5 Draft. Among the players presumed to be on the Tigers’ board are Braves middle-infielder Travis Demeritte and a pair of Twins pitchers, Kohl Stewart and Nick Burdi.