Bargain hunters? Tigers GM Al Avila says free agency will be “a little different” this winter

The Detroit Tigers are now set to embark on a new journey with newly-hired manager Ron Gardenhire at the helm, leading a rebuilding club. The team, as it’s currently stacked, features a lot of young and inexperienced players complemented with some seasoned veterans.

Still, the Tigers are going to need to explore the free agent market this winter to fill some gaps on the roster. Though it may be obvious, don’t expect the team to be spending big bucks like they have done in years past, says general manager Al Avila.

“Free agency is going to be a little different this year than we’ve been accustomed to in the past,” Avila said. “We’re going to be looking for Major League free agents that are maybe bargains. I guess you could call them that. You may not see a free agent signing until maybe January.”

“Hopefully we can find a diamond in the rough somewhere. Or maybe lightning in a bottle would be a better term,” Avila said.

This will be the third offseason for Avila, who took over for the departed Dave Dombrowski after the 2015 campaign. Avila was not shy about his spending, largely due to then late owner Mike Ilitch’s drive to win now. He gave players like Justin Upton and Jordan Zimmermann lengthy and lucrative contracts in an effort to address immediate needs for the team at the time.

Mar 16, 2017; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers center fielder JaCoby Jones (40) against the Atlanta Braves at Champion Stadium. The Tigers won 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The former Upton has since then been traded and the latter has struggled immensely since putting on a Tigers uniform. His future with the team, despite being guaranteed big bucks over the next three years, remains up in the air in the eyes of some.

So what are guys that Avila is referring to when they go looking for “bargain” deals? Players who are fringe big leaguers seeking an opportunity to play and rejuvenate their career. Some could even be be quality veterans who could, in theory, be flipped at the trade deadline for assets if said player is performing well enough.

The Tigers will certainly explore the route of inking players to minor league deals. The team made a slew of such moves last offseason, some of which actually paid dividends to the big league club throughout the year. Perhaps none were bigger than outfielder Alex Presley, who put together arguably his best offensive season of his career. It’s definitely put Presley in good standing with the team to re-up him for 2018.

Outfield will be a position of emphasis in the offseason for Detroit. Mikie Mahtook has emerged as the presumptive everyday left fielder. The project of transitioning Nick Castellanos to right field full-time is expected to continue. The team would love for youngster JaCoby Jones to man center field everyday, but whether or not he can produce enough at the plate will be a major question. It could and perhaps should prompt Avila & Co. to sign a bargain outfielder as a safety net for Jones and the others.