Mensching: No coincidence so many Tiger deals are up after ’17
Last week the Tigers announced they’d reached a two-year agreement with outfielder J.D. Martinez, buying out his final two arbitration-eligible years but not extending him beyond that.
If there’s one thing you can say about Tigers general manager Al Avila, it’s that he’s disciplined.
That’s because he’s been steadfastly focused on 2018 during his first offseason guiding the team.
Closer “K-Rod” Francisco Rodriguez has a one-year deal with a team option for 2017. Outfielder Cameron Maybin, also acquired by trade, has a 2017 team option as well.
Reliever Mark Lowe signed a two-year deal. So did starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey.
Utility man Mike Aviles is gone after 2016.
And, sure, outfielder Justin Upton signed a five-year contract, but he can opt out after 2017.
Only two additions fell outside the theme: reliever Justin Wilson, who can’t declare for free agency until 2019, and starter Jordan Zimmermann, who signed a five-year contract because you weren’t going to get a top starter for less.
The intrigue only grows when you note that both second baseman Ian Kinsler and starter Anibal Sanchez have team options for 2018, as well.
This didn’t happen by pure coincidence. So what is going on here?
As much as we’d like to think the Tigers are making room to sign Bryce Harper (to a monster $500 million contract), that’s not it.
Although, well … no. That’s probably not it. He’s not a free agent until a year later, anyway.
What we’re seeing is a team willing to spend money to compete in the short-term while giving the organization a chance to catch its breath for the long-term after years of the farm being sold off by former GM Dave Dombrowski.
The Tigers had a problem, readily apparent to anyone paying attention the past few years. They were getting older, more expensive, with less depth, and the window was threatening to shut on a franchise squandering the prime years of both future first-ballot Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera and probable Hall of Famer Justin Verlander.
Some people looked at this and saw only one solution: a total rebuild. But rebuilds take time, and if you’re 86-year-old owner Mike Ilitch, time is the one commodity you don’t control.
Fortunately, Ilitch has money. Lots of money.
And he’s willing to spend it, a fact he didn’t mind pointing out during the November press conference to introduce Zimmermann.
So, Avila helped him spend it wisely. Thanks to past transactions, the Tigers are going to be hit by the luxury tax for their offseason, but nobody’s complaining.
All the spending might not make them a World Series favorite, and most “experts” with a short memory won’t even peg them as a favorite to make the playoffs.
But for the cost of a few extra dollars on top of an already colossal payroll, the Tigers were able to put a playoff-caliber team loaded with stars and fan favorites onto the field for the next two years, giving a little hope. And selling some tickets, too.
It would be hard to sustain this long-term though, and everybody knows it.
So while the big league team is hopefully playing according to plan, they’ll need to remain disciplined with their prospects, building sorely lacking depth and the framework for a more affordable future.
They’ll even have a top-10 draft pick next June.
Undoubtedly the temptation was there to trade a player like Daniel Norris or Michael Fulmer for a more established player, but discipline calls for sticking to the plan. That might be tested again near the trade deadline in July, depending on how the standings look at the time, but the Tigers will just have to remain steadfast.
There are no guarantees. There never are. The 2013 Tigers were good enough to win the World Series, but didn’t. A solid plan can be derailed by injuries or just some bad luck.
But Avila and his staff have set the table right this offseason for the Tigers to be able to retool without costing the product on the field.
For the first time in a long time, the Tigers look like they actually have a plan for their future.
Kurt Mensching is the editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (www.blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.