NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Brad Ausmus did not sound like a manager facing a rebuilding task as he took his spot in front of the cameras at the Winter Meetings on Tuesday. Instead, the Tigers skipper is planning for 2017 with the team he has now.
"I don't think there's going to be a ton of change," he said from the media room at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center. "It's so much easier to talk about trading people, and a lot [tougher] to actually trade them, especially when you're talking about guys that have some sizable contracts. Some of them have no-trade clauses.
"Quite frankly, even talking about being more responsible fiscally, we don't want to trade. We like them, especially some of the names mentioned earlier in the season. Miguel [Cabrera], Justin [Verlander], I don't want those guys traded. Are you kidding me? That's the last thing I want. I just think it's easy to talk about and harder to do."
Assuming no major moves are made, Ausmus will head into his fourth season as manager with most of his team intact from a club that was in a playoff race until the final day of the regular season in 2016. He would have Verlander, the AL Cy Young runner-up, topping a pitching staff that includes three talented young starters -- notably AL Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer -- a recovering Jordan Zimmermann and a selection of young relievers.
Detroit's competition in the AL Central includes the defending AL champion Indians, but also a White Sox squad that just traded Chris Sale and could soon trade others, as well as a Royals team debating its own potential moves.
If Ausmus takes this team into the season, he believes they can compete.
"To me, there's no doubt," he said. "We didn't have Zimmermann for half the year. J.D. and Nick missed roughly six weeks. We had three rookies in the rotation for the last 45 days or so. And we were still [in contention] going into [the final day], the last team standing that didn't make the postseason."
The one hole right now is in center field, where Cameron Maybin's trade to the Angels leaves a gaping void not just defensively, but in the second spot in the lineup between Kinsler and Cabrera.
"Really, at this point, it's wide open," Ausmus said of the spot. "We have some candidates in-house, but it wouldn't shock me if they somehow got out of house at some point."
Other than that, he said, the lineup won't look much different.
"We have to see how it develops and see what happens at center field now that Cam is gone," he said. "I think, generally speaking, the lineup, assuming we have the same guys other than Cam, it's going to look pretty similar. There's not a ton of stuff you can do with a lineup. There's not a ton of flexibility with it. We have a lot of guys that play on a regular basis. So, even in terms of platooning or playing the nonstarters, just doesn't happen very much with our lineup."
As for other issues with the club, Ausmus said:
Zimmermann, who underwent an injection a few weeks ago to alleviate lingering pain in his neck, is feeling good and expected to undergo another injection in January. "Really all we can do is kind of hold our breath and get to Spring Training and hope it doesn't flare up again, because we need him," Ausmus said.
Castellanos, who missed most of the final two weeks with a broken hand, is working out normally this season.
Reliever Bruce Rondon has the chance to pitch at the back end of the bullpen, but has to be ready to put together a full, productive season. "You can't just do it for two-thirds of a season at the Major League-level," Ausmus said. "He has to keep doing the same thing from Day One next year."
Anthony Gose will come to camp as a center-field candidate despite ending the season at Double-A Erie. His previous issues with Triple-A Toledo manager Lloyd McClendon, now the hitting coach in Detroit, are "water under the bridge," Ausmus said.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.