Tigers' roster likely to resemble '16 club

GM Avila yet to shift toward youth movement

Tigers' roster likely to resemble '16 club

DETROIT -- Four weeks have passed since Brad Ausmus forecast a quiet Tigers winter rather than an offseason shakeup.

"I just think it's easy to talk about and harder to do," Detroit's manager said at the Winter Meetings.

Hot Stove Tracker

A month later, the only Major League move the Tigers have completed since early November is the return of catcher Alex Avila, signed to a one-year, $2 million contract two weeks ago.

The calendar has changed, but the issues facing the team on the Hot Stove circuit haven't. And barring a shift around the league in the coming weeks, the Tigers could go to Spring Training with a roster that looks largely familiar to last year.

Here are some of the storylines to watch as the offseason reaches the late innings:

Trade pieces remain

Aside from Cameron Maybin's trade to the Angels in November, the Tigers have yet to pull off the payroll-clearing, prospect-hoarding deal they've hoped would begin a movement toward a younger, leaner roster. The market remains glutted with power-hitting corner outfielders, either free agents or trade candidates, and doesn't show signs of clearing until Spring Training approaches, leaving J.D. Martinez appearing likely to open the season wearing the old English D. The market for second basemen remains limited to a certain number of teams, and had all but dried up for Ian Kinsler before the holidays given his partial no-trade clause and Detroit's demands for good, young talent in return.

Tigers trade Maybin for prospect

More importantly, teams around baseball remain cognizant of the luxury tax as the rules and ramifications of the new collective bargaining agreement become clearer. While the threshold number is up in 2017, the penalties for crossing it remain stiff, and now extend beyond dollars to Draft picks a team can reap for losing a top player in free agency.

General manager Al Avila has said for a while that the process of going younger and less payroll-heavy could take a while, with maybe nothing big happening this offseason. Avila could take his current team, big contracts and all, into next summer, looking for trades at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline if the Tigers are out of contention.

Center field remains murky

While keeping Martinez and Kinsler improves the Tigers' chances to contend, it could force the Tigers into a different path in center field. Al Avila has said at various points in the offseason that Detroit could look for a center fielder in a trade return, either bringing a long-term solution or a stopgap until prospect JaCoby Jones is deemed ready. If the Tigers don't swing one of those trades, they'll have to look elsewhere, either pulling off a smaller deal for a center fielder or scouring free agency for a short-term deal.

Beck on Jones' progression

One free-agent center fielder, Ben Revere, signed a $4 million deal last month to serve as a fourth outfielder with the Angels. He never seemed to draw much interest in Detroit. Among the free agents still available are former Tigers Austin Jackson, who's coming off surgery last summer to repair the meniscus in his left knee, and Gregor Blanco, Peter Bourjos, Michael Bourn, Coco Crisp, Desmond Jennings and Colby Rasmus.

As with everything else Detroit has done this offseason, cost remains a factor. For that reason, if the Tigers have to sign a free agent, it might not happen until close to Spring Training.

Readying the invites

One of the subthemes of Al Avila's tenure as GM so far has been the emphasis on building organizational depth to protect against injuries. That led to a late flurry of Minor League deals and non-roster invites last winter, led by Casey McGehee and Bobby Parnell. None of them played a major role in Detroit's 2016 season, but they didn't cost much for the insurance. Expect a similar rush later this month into next as free agents lower demands and look for opportunities to fight for roster spots, while the Tigers look for protection in their bullpen and infield.

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.