DETROIT -- Before the 2015 season ended, Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander was asked to make a prediction about his club’s offseason agenda. He didn’t offer up any specific players or positional needs, but he was almost certain about one thing: Team owner Mike Ilitch would spend the money necessary to field a championship-caliber team.
Turns out, he was right.
After a frenetic start to the offseason in which the Tigers were among the most aggressive teams in the free agent marketplace, Ilitch issued a mandate to Al Avila, prompting the first-year general manager to sign premier outfielder Justin Upton to a six-year $132.75 million deal.
“He’s the man,” Verlander said. “He is, in my opinion, the best owner in baseball. He wants to win a championship.”
Verlander lauded the addition of Upton as proof that the 86-year-old Ilitch went “above and beyond” in bolstering an already formidable lineup that also boasts Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez at the heart of the order.
“It wasn’t like a glaring need, but does it make us better? Absolutely, when you add the caliber of a player like that. That’s Mr. I,” Verlander said.
Verlander wasn’t the only pitcher feeling confident about the type of run support he’ll be receiving on the mound. Newcomer Jordan Zimmermann, who inked a five-year $110 million deal with the Tigers back in November, has been encouraged with the moves the club has made this winter. Still, he was surprised to hear about the splashy Upton signing.
“I think we have the best lineup in baseball, to be honest with you,” Zimmermann said.
Upton likely will be the beneficiary of hitting near some of the biggest bats in baseball, including Cabrera, who was thrilled to hear Upton was joining the team.
“I mean, it’s great,” Cabrera said. “He’s going to be a great addition to our lineup and he’s going to help us in the outfield.”
Almost immediately, where Upton will hit in the lineup was a topic of fierce debate and intrigue among fans. On Wednesday, Avila deftly avoided the question, deferring to manager Brad Ausmus.
Ausmus explained that he was not dead-set on any lineup configuration as of yet, though he had an idea in mind about where Upton would fit in.
“There’s probably three spots -- either second, fifth or sixth,” Ausmus said.
Ausmus said he’s amazed that Upton is only 28 -- “I played against him,” he said -- considering how much experience he has in the majors. He said Upton has been a pretty polished player even from a young age.
The former catcher did his due diligence looking into Upton back in October, when his name surfaced in organizational meetings, and was pleased with what he learned after consulting with Alan Trammell, Kirk Gibson, Bud Black and some of Upton's former cohorts in San Diego.
“It was all positive, they all said he was a good guy. Good guy in the clubhouse. Plays close to every day,” Ausmus said. “Really, they had nothing bad to say about him.”