The Detroit Tigers could be a real key at the 2016 Winter Meetings as the club decides whether to retool for a 2017 run, or rebuild for the future.
There are few teams in as interesting a position as the Detroit Tigers find themselves in during this off-season. Al Avila, the EVP of Baseball Operations and the team’s GM has to decide whether to rebuild, or retool for another big 2017 run.
The Tigers were just short this past season, finishing at 86-75. That record left the club eight games in back of the division-winning Cleveland Indians. But Detroit was only 2.5 games off the AL Wildcard pace.
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This is a club with most of its key performers already past age 30, a few well into those 30’s. The decision to be made is whether to cash in on those players while they still have real value, or add to that core and make another playoff push.
There are heavy rumors that Detroit is looking to slash payroll. The club has been big spenders and steady contenders for years. While they would like to keep contending while also getting rid of some big salaries, that usually proves a difficult tightrope to walk.
VERLANDER AND MIGGY
The biggest problem in making a move might not be the players themselves, but those salaries. Their two signature players, first baseman Miguel Cabrera and starting pitcher Justin Verlander, could find themselves on the move if the right deal is presented.
Verlander will turn 34 years old as spring training gets underway. He is owed $84 million over the next three years, with a 2020 vesting option. That would require a top five Cy Young finish in his age 37 season, which is unlikely.
Cabrera will turn 34 just after the 2017 season gets underway. He has a $28 million salary for next season, and then another $184 million guaranteed over the following six years.
There are also a pair of vesting options with Miggy for 2024 and 2025 at $30 million each. Those are unlikely, as they would require him to finish among the top ten in MVP voting during his ages 41 and 42 seasons.
POSITION PLAYERS WHO COULD GO IN A FIRE SALE
Whether or not the Tigers can move either of their marquee veterans, they will likely listen on a number of similarly aging, high-salaried, but talented players.
Second baseman Ian Kinsler just won his first career Gold Glove Award at age 34. He is coming off one of the best offensive seasons of his 11-year big league career as well.
Kinsler could be very attractive to another team. He will be entering the final guaranteed season of his contract at $11 million, with a $12 team option for 2018. So the dollars are reasonable, and the commitment is short-term only.
J.D. Martinez can play either corner outfield spot, and spends most of next season at age 29. He will then be a free agent. His salary is $11.75 million, but again, it’s only a one-year commitment for an acquiring club.
Left fielder Justin Upton also plays most of next season at age 29. He is owed another $110+ million guaranteed over the next five years, though he can opt out of the deal after the coming season.
Based on Upton’s recent seasons and the fact that he will be aging into his 30’s, it is probably a longshot that he takes the opt out. That is, unless he has a monster 2017 season.
DH Victor Martinez turns 39 years old just before Christmas. He is still owed a guaranteed $18 million for each of the next two seasons. Martinez has played just 15 games at first base over the last two seasons combined, so trade partners are surely limited to the American League.
TIGERS PITCHERS WHO COULD GO
Starting pitchers Mike Pelfrey and Anibal Sanchez will each turn 33 years old in January and February respectively. Each will become a free agent after next season.
Aug 29, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Rodriguez (57) and first baseman Cabrera (24) celebrate after defeating the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Sanchez has a $16.8 million salary with a 2018 team option at the same level. Pelfrey is a far more attractive $8 million.
Closer Francisco Rodriguez is another arm who will be a free agent after the 2017 season. ‘KRod’ will turn 35 years old in January. The 15-year veteran was brought back for one more go-around at just $6 million.
Jordan Zimmermann just signed a big free agent deal with Detroit last off-season. But if the club decides on a full rebuild, he could be moved. He turns 31 years old in May, and is guaranteed another $92 million over the next four years.
DETROIT AS BUYERS?
Nothing would surprise me with Detroit, frankly. If the Tigers decide to buy, they could be in on someone like Chris Archer, for instance.
However, they could still try to move a couple of big salaries while also trying to swing that kind of deal. At the GM meetings a few weeks back, Avila addressed the Tigers situation.
“I think there’s going to be interest in several of our players, I do,” said Avila per Anthony Fenech with the Detroit Free Press. “It’s just going to be a matter of where we go with those talks. But, yes, there is interest, and we expect there to be interest.”
One thing that appears certain is that Avila’s cell phone will be ringing off the hook down at National Harbor next week. In fact, it has probably already been ringing for weeks. Keep an eye on the Tigers this winter.