What's next for Tigers? Here are some thoughts
Detroit — After Tigers general manager Al Avila's season-ending debriefing Tuesday, here are some of my takeaways.
1. Can we stop assuming Avila has had conversations with Mike Ilitch? The Tigers are very conveniently using the phrase "Mr. I." or "Mr. Ilitch" these days. My question is: Which Mr. Ilitch? Given the Tigers clearly have an edict to cut the payroll, you have to wonder if it's coming from heir apparent, Christopher Ilitch. Mike Ilitch is 87 and may not be as involved with the team as he has been in the past. Under Mike Ilitch, the Tigers have been aggressive spenders every year since Comerica Park opened in 2000 — from the eight-year, $140-million offer to Juan Gonzalez to last year's six-year, $132.75-million deal for Justin Upton — until, it seems, now.
2. I've been listening to a lot of sports-talk radio this week, and I've heard some so-called experts say they don't necessarily trust Avila to orchestrate this rebuild, or whatever you want to call it. Get real. Ask around, and folks in the know will tell you Avila is one of the best talent evaluators in the game. Yes, he goofed on Mike Pelfrey and Mark Lowe. He also is the guy who identified J.D. Martinez and Michael Fulmer as stars in the making, long before they were Tigers.
3. Avila has warned fans not to expect any significant free-agent signings. Well, this is the offseason to do that, given the free-agent market is mediocre. Outside of position players Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Justin Turner, Neil Walker and Ian Desmond — and closers Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen — there's nothing to write home about. That's right, no good starting pitching to speak about. There's a lot of teams that will sit out this sweepstakes.
4. So, who do you trade? The obvious answers are right fielder J.D. Martinez and second baseman Ian Kinsler. That's more than $22 million in payroll right there for next season, and you'd get a significant return of young, controllable talent in return. Problem is, obviously, there aren't immediate replacements for those guys. So expect any package of either Martinez or Kinsler to include a young chip who could project to be the immediate — and long-term — replacements.
5. So, who don't you trade? Simple. Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera. A year ago, they weren't even movable, because they weren't the stars they used to be, and they'd been injured. Now, there certainly would be suitors, especially for Verlander, given the vacant pitching free-agent market. But these guys will be making this franchise money long after we're gone and buried — fans will be wearing Cabrera and Verlander jerseys 100 years from now. They stay, for sure.
6. I'll give Avila credit for being overly transparent Tuesday in regard to the Tigers' tough-decision offseason. That's not easy to do, given the fans are now either nervous, or downright upset. That means the Tigers best be bracing for another significant drop in season-ticket renewals, even more than they lost after their last-place finish in 2015.
7. The Tigers have been operating beyond their means for years, under Mike Ilitch, who never looked at the Tigers as a money maker as opposed to his own personal toy. He wanted a World Series ring more than anything, and was willing to spend whatever it took, profits be darned. The Tigers are a mid-market team; mid-market teams can't sustain $200-million payrolls and luxury taxes, especially when they've now gone two years without a single playoff gate, and three years with just one.
8. Perhaps the most troubling news out of Tuesday's presser was that the Tigers haven't decided whether to pick up the super-affordable options of two of their better players from 2016 — center fielder Cameron Maybin ($9 million, 1.9 WAR) and closer Francisco Rodriguez ($6 million, 1.1 WAR). Maybin is a catalyst, and Anthony Gose, a guy who last I checked had yet to apologize to Lloyd McClendon for his immature blowup at Triple A Toledo, isn't an answer. And Bruce Rondon isn't a closer, yet.
9. On that front, here's one option — pick up Maybin's option, and then trade him. That could be the way to go, given, again, the weak free-agent market, and the fact his stock is at an all-time high. There would be suitors, and the Tigers could roll the dice with a JaCoby Jones and Tyler Collins platoon. It wouldn't be as feasible to pick up-and-trade with K-Rod, even though he's been good for many, many years. The closer free-agent market is actually robust.
10. I've heard just about every Tigers name being talked about as a trade chip. Here's who likely isn't going anywhere: A) Pelfrey, Anibal Sanchez, Lowe and Victor Martinez, because their contracts are too big to unload; the only way one of these comes off the books is if they're packaged in a J.D. Martinez or Kinsler deal, but, then, that will minimize your return haul. B) Jose Iglesias, Nick Castellanos, Michael Fulmer, Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd and James McCann. They're the future.