Henning: Tigers have several things they must mull over
Spring camp is 10 weeks away. And if that isn’t enough to hammer home how quickly baseball’s offseason dissolves, be reminded the Winter Meetings begin Monday at Gaylord National Resort just outside Washington, D.C.
No one knows for sure how much flesh from 30 big-league rosters might be peddled between now and the end of the Meetings on Dec. 8, all because owners and players need to bite on a new contract once the old pact expires Thursday. But if you side with those who insist big-league baseball wants no part of a lockout or labor squabble, then assume something workable will spur handshakes by the end of this week.
The Tigers would appreciate it. They have players to barter. And new realities to consider, none of which appear helpful. Five storylines to ponder.
Dodgers might have disappeared as a serious big-name trade partner.
This was serious news, Bill Shaikin’s Sunday exclusive in the Los Angeles Times detailing the Dodgers have been ordered by Commissioner Rob Manfred’s office to crimp their league-leading payroll ($223 million in 2016, nearly $300 million in 2015) after spending about a billion dollars on salaries the past four years.
Ramifications of any such trimming will be felt in multiple ways by plenty of teams. The Tigers included.
They have people they’d consider trading. Expensive, talented people.
Justin Verlander, for example, who would align nicely next to Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw as the Dodgers plot a World Series path.
Ahead of Manfred’s memo, the Dodgers, conceivably, would have had no serious issue with Verlander’s remaining paydays: $28 million in 2017, 2018, and 2019, as well as an option for 2020 that will be difficult to trigger.
The Dodgers also would appreciate a right-handed power bat in their outfield. J.D. Martinez could be helpful there — if he weren’t making $11.75 million in 2017. A salary once more than digestible by L.A. standards might now be prohibitive.
The Dodgers always have in surplus what the Tigers need: good, young talent. The Tigers have what the Dodgers ordered: a second ace, steeped in playoff lore, who could help them, perhaps, tame the Cubs and win a championship.
Now, though, Manfred’s memo apparently was taken more than seriously by Dodgers ownership. And, if so, they’ll be lopping expensive players, not trading for them.
Ian Kinsler wants an extension — if he’s dealt to the wrong club.
The Tigers have a bright-blue trade chip in Kinsler, one of the game’s better all-around players and second basemen, and, in many Tigers games, the team’s most essential two-way star.
Kinsler is 34, but just won a Gold Glove. He also clubbed 28 home runs in 2016 and had an .831 OPS. He also has a cordial contract: $11 million in 2017, with $12 million or a $5 million buyout due in 2018, depending upon the club’s choice.
Ah, but the hitch is a 10-team, no-trade contract clause. ESPN’s Buster Olney has reported Kinsler wants an extension as sweetener to join any of those undesirable 10 teams which, Olney says, includes the Dodgers.
This could make any auctioning of Kinsler problematic, never mind the Tigers at the moment have no Kinsler replacement. It’s one more reality for a team trying to slice salaries and pull greener talent onto a roster heavy with age and expense.
Al Avila playing hardball in trade conversations.
Olney has written inquiring teams have learned the Tigers want way above retail for any of their tradeable hotshots: Verlander, Kinsler, J.D. Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, etc.
Unless asking prices are eased, Olney says teams are waving quick goodbyes to the Tigers.
Avila, Detroit’s general manager, can of course mark down merchandise. He understands markets. And he wants to move salaries no more than he wants fresher, younger, players and pitchers for a roster that needs faster feet, bats, and arms.
Avila knows other general managers aren’t keen on hold-ups and that reasonable deals can always be made after initial asking prices drop. He watched his old boss, Dave Dombrowski, time and again haggle with counterparts and eventually reach a happy compromise.
It’s a lesson Avila figures to follow, applying his own contours, in the next 10 days.
Chris Sale is everyone’s target. Verlander is next.
The problem with Sale is that there’s only one of him. There are a half-dozen teams, at the minimum, slobbering over thoughts they could land a 27-year-old stud left-hander three years from free agency who will make $38 million — total — through 2019.
So, assuming Sale is gobbled up by one of the many bidders now salivating, it figures one or more of the runners-up would view Verlander as a wonderful consolation prize. That’s assuming the deal is right by Detroit’s standards and, equally important, the swap is to a club Verlander would accept, given he has the right to turn down any trade.
Best bets to deal with the Tigers?
A first thought: Boston.
The Red Sox need help at places where the Tigers can help. Verlander, of course, would be a handsome add-on to Dombrowski’s rotation. And everyone knows Dombrowski is a fan of those he has known at previous stops and came to prize.
Given what Verlander did for him and for the Tigers during Dombrowski’s time in Detroit, assume the appetite there is large, maybe large enough to swing a billboard deal with his old cohorts.
Cabrera, too, is at least plausible, all because the Red Sox ideally prefer to replace a superstar (David Ortiz, now retired) with a commensurate slugger. There is a matter of $200 million-plus yet owed Cabrera, but Dombrowski understands today’s contract tends, in a very few years, to appear rather manageable.
It’s something to consider five days before teams check into the Gaylord. As long as a new owners-players deal gets done, figure on baseball’s seismographs recording some serious and impending upheaval.