With the Cubs winning the World Series (that is an odd thing to type) the 2016 season is officially over, which means its time for Al Avila to get to work. And he must move quickly as he has until November 7th to start making decisions on player options.
Outlined below is a road map of sorts for what I believe Avila should do this offseason, based on the comments he made at his season ending press conference.
To be clear: I believe this team is close to contending in 2017 & would prefer to be writing a list of the free agent targets the team should be looking at & listing the few roster moves they should make while constructing some batting line ups.
Instead it will be a plan for completely dismantling the roster.
The reason this should be a complete overhaul is that the Tigers have 3 options in front of them:
- Fix Bullpen: Add 1-2 free agents or trade for a high leverage releif pitcher & add a back up catcher. Compete.
- Get below Luxury Tax threashold: Trading one or two of the higher paid players (JD Martinez, Ian Kinsler) and declining options on a few players, don’t sign anyone. Finish 3rd or 4th in the AL Central.
- Blow it up: Sell off every available veteran, clear out as much payroll as possible, get as many prospects back as possible. Wait 4 years, win World Series (this may be a stretch).
Of the above options, “Fix Bullpen” has been all but eliminated as a choice by comments made regarding cutting the payroll.
The other two options, just getting below the Luxury Tax threshold only helps the teams payroll, it will not significantly help the team compete past 2017 and will deplete the roster enough that competing in 2017 would be quite a stretch.
The preferred method of blowing the roster up remains and the reason it is preferred is what the baseball world just watched: the Chicago Cubs wining a World Series with a roster full of young, talented players that have been drafted & acquired via trades for veterans over the past few seasons. This method works.
The advantage that Al Avila and the Tigers have over Theo Epstien & Jed Hoyer, who took over the Cubs 5 years ago, is the Cubs roster was worse off than the Tigers & the assets Epstien & Hoyer had to trade were much less valuable.
The Tigers won’t have to wait 5 years to turn around a potential rebuild, it could be done in 2-3 years, if done now & done correctly.
The Tigers current payroll sits at a touch over $200 million when factoring in arbitration players, Options & pre-arbitration players.
The first move Avila needs to make is picking up the team option on both OF Cameron Maybin & RP Francisco Rodriguez, the options for the 2017 season that are very team friendly at $9 & $6 million, respectively.
Then the complicated parts begin:
- Trade Justin Verlander to the Dodgers or Yankees
- This year’s starting pitcher free agency class is incredibly weak, making Verlander available could make him the jewel of the offseason
- Both teams have holes in their starting rotation & the ability to take on Verlander’s remaining 3 years at $28 million per year
- Both the Dodgers & Yankees have deep farm systems that could provide the Tigers 3-4 prospects with 2 highly ranked prospects as part of the package
- The sticking point on this trade is that Verlander has no-trade protection, however, an opportunity to be traded to either of the biggest markets in baseball, both of which are contenders when the Tigers are looking to dump payroll doesn’t seem like a big issue to overcome
- Trade JD Martinez to the Blue Jays, Orioles or Mets
- The list of teams that could be interested in Martinez is quite long, but three teams stood out as needing OF power hitter this offseason
- Martinez is in the final year of a 2 year bridge contract signed before the final year of arbitration before the 2015 season
- The top RH Power bats on the free agent market are all 5-7 years older than JD & looking for longer term & much more than the 1 year $12 million he has remaining
- Martinez would likely return 2-3 prospects with at least 1 being a top 100 player
- Trade Ian Kinsler to the Cardinals or Dodgers
- Kinsler has been one of the best values in baseball since joining the Tigers with $11 million owed in 2017 and a team option for 2018 could make him more than a rental
- Both Dodgers & Cardinals have holes at 2b and the veteran hasn’t lost a step defensively & he has been a very good top of the order hitter for years
- Kinsler is great value, so his return would be similar to JD Martinez, 2-3 prospects with 1 highly touted in the group
- Trade Cameron Maybin to any OF needy team; Update 11/3/16- Tigers trade Cameron Maybin to Angels for minor league pitcher Victor Alcontara
- Maybin was a catalyst of the Tigers in 2016 when healthy and for a single season at $9million Maybin would be an attractive CF plug on a contending team losing an OF or a team looking to make the next step & compete but with limited payroll room
- Maybin would fetch a return of 1 or 2 prospects, both would be depth prospects, not highly ranked
- Trade Francisco Rodriguez to anyone
- The relief pitcher market has some very good options, Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Janssen and Marc Melancon are all established arms at the back end of a game, but all are going to sign deals closer to, if not over $100 million
- Rodriguez has 1 year left at just $6 million and would be an excellent addition to any playoff team, Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals, Mets, Yankees, Indians…seriously, anyone
- Rodriguez could be packaged with Verlander or Kinsler or Martinez to improve any of those offers from teams with deep systems
- A straight return for Rodriguez would probably be 2-3 prospects with one being highly touted
- Trade Justin Upton to anyone
- This trade will be a bit more difficult, but Upton has the opportunity to opt out of his contract after 2017, which he will likely do, meaning a team taking him on is probably looking at a 1 year $22 million investment
- Any team that is a contender could use Upton as he is younger than all of the free agent power bats & even if he didn’t opt out, after a slow start, he adjusted to the new league & proved quite a bit in 2016
- A return for Upton is probaly 2-3 prospects, MAYBE a top 100 prospect or just some much younger, less developed players
- Trade Jose Iglesias to the Rays or Nationals
- Iglesias is going to be a bit different of a player on this list as he is still young and only going into his 2nd arbitration season
- He is expected to get about $3.2 million in 2017, then perhaps double that in 2018 before becoming a free agent
- His offense is limited but all Tigers fans know what he can do with the glove
- There are some teams with a severe lack of defense at SS and the offense those SS provide their team doesn’t usually make up for the slow footwork they provide
- Iglesias is probably going to get the Tigers a couple of high risk/high reward low level prospects
If the Tigers go ahead and trade those 7 players, the payroll for 2017 drops to just over $110 million (before adding in a few low cost free agents to fill out the roster).
The following season, 2018, the payroll, with no additional long term contracts, the payroll will drop down to about $95 million, creating a lot of flexibility to sign a single higher end free agent to fill a specific need that the team wasn’t able to develop a solid internal player at.
This offseason, the Tigers have the opportunity to shed over $80 million in payroll, while adding 12-18 prospects to the farm system, some of whom would be top 100 prospects with the ability to provide a quick impact on the MLB roster.
The belief behind the trades for all of these current players is that it frees the team from some of the long term contracts that would hinder their ability to win in the future along with filling the farm system with enough young prospects that 3-5 of them could become MLB regulars and maybe a couple of them All Stars.
The young players could develop around the time that Daniel Norris & Michael Boyd have found their footing in the MLB rotation, matching Michael Fulmer and keeping a veteran like Jordan Zimmerman will provide experienced depth to have a very nice foundation of a team looking to win a division again as early as 2018 or 2019.
This approach isn’t always the friendliest to the fans, but if the Tigers are to compete in the coming years, it will either be 2017 (very unlikely) or only a few seasons away, if Avila can pull off the major overhaul outlined above.