DETROIT -- The calls started coming right before Christmas. Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch was worried about offense.
First-year general manager Al Avila tried assuaging his anxieties, assuring Ilitch that the club would be making some shrewd additions and tweaking the roster to yield more offensive production.
But as free agency wore on and many of the premier players remained available, this was not what Ilitch wanted to hear.
"He wanted more than a tweak," Avila said at Wednesday's news conference, where the team introduced its newest outfielder, Justin Upton.
Avila went over the scenarios and presented players the club had discussed, but Ilitch wanted improvement, not just minor upgrades.
"And then he gave me the straight order, basically, to get it done," Avila said.
Indeed, Ilitch got the itch to swing for the fences and bolster the Tigers with Upton, a 28-year-old whose consistent production and powerful bat give the Tigers one of the most formidable heart-of-the-lineups in the league. Upton, who has recorded 26 or more home runs each of the past three seasons, will probably slot in with the likes of slugger Miguel Cabrera and switch-hitter Victor Martinez.
As many suspected, Ilitch, 86, was revealed to be "the driving force" behind Upton's six-year, $132.75 million deal, which includes an opt-out clause in 2017 and comes in at an average annual value of $22.125 million.
It was Ilitch's fervent desire and sense of urgency to win that ultimately swayed Upton to head to Motown.
"What sold me was Mr. Ilitch," Upton said, describing him as a man who "wants to win ballgames, wants to win championships."
Upton arrived in frigid Detroit on the heels of a meeting with both Avila and manager Brad Ausmus, both of whom jetted to his home in Arizona last weekend to convince him the team needed his talents. (His first thought upon landing in his new home? "It's cold.")
It was a long process, and at times a difficult one for Upton, who has already had an eventful offseason. Just two weeks ago, he and wife Ashley welcomed their newborn daughter, Sydnee, so finding a home for his young, growing family took some careful consideration.
Upton solicited advice from former Tiger Torii Hunter, with whom he shares an agent, and received a hearty endorsement. He wanted a team capable of winning and a committed fan base. He said he believes he has found both in Detroit.
Because of his age and performance, Upton and his agent, Larry Reynolds, had been aiming for a seven- or eight-year deal. But they presented the Tigers with an alternate scenario, in which Upton would feel comfortable taking a six-year deal with an opt-out after two seasons.
Reynolds insists that Upton has no plans to bolt and that he is committed to making a new home in Detroit.
"And then [team owner Mike Ilitch] gave me the straight order, basically, to get it done."Tigers general manager Al Avila on signing Justin Upton
"That was not our intent, to come here for two years," said Reynolds, who joked that Upton wanted to "stay put" after playing on three teams the past four seasons.
Avila deftly sidestepped questions about where Upton would bat in the lineup, deferring that topic to Ausmus, and was beginning a defense of the Tigers' imbalanced, right-handed-heavy batting order, when Upton interjected.
"I don't think Miguel Cabrera has any problem hitting a right-handed pitcher," he said, smiling.
It seems as though Upton is already settling in and licking his chops to spring training.
Meanwhile, the Tigers are a vastly different team from the one that feebly underperformed last season, finishing last in the American League Central.
With the bevy of new additions also comes a steep price tag, however, and the Tigers are now in luxury tax territory for the first time since the current collective bargaining agreement went into place. Asked if he was comfortable with his payroll commitments, Avila said that was a better question for Ilitch, but he answered it anyway.
"He is comfortable with it," Avila said, "so that's what counts."