Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila has stated his case. Supported it with evidence. Ardently declared a new road will be taken this off-season. Are Tigers fans ready for this? Better yet, is Mike Ilitch ready for this?
The Tigers, who for over a decade, have bought and bought and bought players — many of whom experts and fans thought Detroit had no shot at landing. Owner Mike Ilitch loves stars and wants to make them his stars. And he has little issue with opening the pursestrings when he feels it’s time. From Juan Gonzalez to Prince Fielder, ending with the latest in Justin Upton last season. Just when everyone thinks the wheeling and dealing is dead, the beloved “Mr. I” enters the room, smiles, and empties the piggybank in the lap of a superstar player. Often times to the (pick your own adjective here) dismay, shock, surprise, elation of his general manager and personnel guys. Not that having an owner, who is willing to pay whatever price is asked in order for his team to be competitive year-in and year-out, is a bad thing. It’s just tough to manage so many enormous salaries. And that brings us to the winter of 16-17.
Al Avila is charged with the task of making the Tigers “younger and leaner”, as he said in his press conference this week, when talking about the team’s immediate future. With the massive (and likely unmovable) contracts of Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Upton, and Victor Martinez, the Tigers have little room left to pay their up-and-coming stars the money they will be commanding — some sooner than later. Thus, this winter promises to be intriguing, if nothing else, for fans of the team who’s motto for years has been to throw caution to the wind and pay any luxury tax that is placed on them.
Here are five things that all Tigers fans should hope happen in the coming months before pitchers and catchers report in February.
1. Trade J.D. Martinez.
This hurts because J.D. Martinez is just the type of young player, who can hit for average and for power, that fits what the Tigers should want. But he’s also the perfect example of what happens when there’s just no money left in the checkbook because older vets took it in large, long contracts. Martinez is likely to command a long-term deal north of $24 million per year when his current deal expires after the ’17 season. That’s not something the Tigers can even consider paying. At the same time, they cannot let him up and walk away for nothing when he becomes a free agent. Avila will get the most in return for the 29-year old outfielder — not just unproven prospects. And the sooner it happens, the more valuable Martinez is.
2. Trade Justin Verlander.
The former league MVP and Cy Young award winner had a bit of a revival in 2016. Verlander will finish high in the Cy Young voting, again, this season, making his trade value higher than it will be from here on out for the rest of his career. Although, it would take something of a minor miracle for another team to take on the ace’s $28 million per year contract. But much stranger things have happened. Verlander would bring in a haul of players and prospects in return. Avila would be savvy to look to playoff contenders that need a strong arm and have pieces to trade away — Boston, the New York Yankees, Seattle to name a few.
3. Victor Martinez retires.
With David Ortiz stepping away, there are few better DHs in MLB right now. Victor Martinez is a “professional hitter”. But his contract, brokered by former Tigers GM David Dombrowski, is an albatross. Martinez, who will turn 38 years old next season, is set to earn a base salary of $18 million in 2017. That’s a huge chunk of money devoted to a player of that age, who has already experienced long-lasting knee, back, and hamstring injuries. He’s not exactly very easily tradable — couldn’t go to the National League and not sure many AL teams want that age or that contract.
4. Pick up Cameron Maybin’s option. Then trade him.
Cameron Maybin, arguably, was the most impactful Tiger of the 2016 season. When Maybin started, Detroit was 51-38; and when the CF scored a run, the team was 34-9. Maybin’s option for 2017 would cost the Tigers only $9 million. Here’s the catch — that’s only for a year. What happens in 2018? Why not get what you can for Maybin now and cash in while his stock is as high as it’s ever been? Platooning JaCoby Jones and Anthony Gose in centerfield — along with possibly whatever pieces come into Detroit from other deals — could be effective.
5. Re-sign Francisco Rodriguez.
K-Rod’s contract will only cost the team $6 million, which is a very affordable price — just about half of what Aroldis Chapman and David Robertson make. Plus, it doesn’t appear Bruce Rondon is ready to be the closer,
yet. Make Rondon the 8th inning guy in 2017 with Rodriguez remaining as the closer; and proceed after ’17 with Rondon transitioning to the 9th inning. With the free agent market for closers looking quite full this off-season, it wouldn’t be a wise move on K-Rod’s part to want to test the open market.
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