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Mensching: K-Rod, Maybin options should be no-brainer for Tigers

Kurt Mensching
Special to The Detroit News
Francisco Rodriguez

Of all the decisions Tigers general manager Al Avila has to make this offseason, exercising the options on Francisco Rodriguez and Cameron Maybin’s contracts really is a no-brainer. There is actually no downside to extending either player another year, while it would be a pointless waste to pay either of them to simply go away.

This might sound counter to Avila’s goal “to get younger and leaner,” but it’s not. It’s as simple as knowing the value of something and using that to your advantage in whatever way you can.

Start with Rodriguez. If the Tigers pick up his option for 2017, they’ll be on the hook for $6 million. If they decline it, they still owe him $2 million. So it’s really just a $4 million decision.

What do they get for that $4 million? A pitcher who saved 44 out of 49 games last season, for a 90-percent success rate. He ranked fifth in baseball in saves, and 10th in save percentage among relievers with at least 30 save opportunities.

It would be pure negligence as a GM if Avila paid him to go away, regardless of whether the Tigers go into a full-on rebuild mode, as some posit, or simply attempt to reload.

That’s because it wouldn’t take long for Rodriguez’s agent to feel the buzz of his cell phone as opposing GMs reached out to make a deal.

While Tigers fans remember the times Rodriguez didn’t successfully close a game, and new-age baseball thinkers believe saves are overrated, the value of a thing is what the highest bidder is willing to pay for it. And you’re going to find more than one GM willing to pay for a closer with the word “proven” as part of his job title.

So what Avila has on his hands is, at worst, a rather nice trade chip. The surefire way to become a losing organization for the long haul is to just simply give away assets for nothing.

What about Maybin? The decision on him wouldn’t seem as cut-and-dry on first glance. The Tigers can choose to pay him $9 million to have him under contract for 2017, or $1 million to decline the option.

When you think about a player who has played in 100-plus games just once in the past four seasons, you might be a bit reticent to pay him.

But that wouldn’t be fair to Maybin, who missed the Tigers’ first 37 games of the regular season after having his wrist broken by a wild pitch in the Grapefruit League opener against the Yankees. That’s just a fluke occurrence.

When he did play, he was a starter in center field and a major key to making the Tigers’ lineup efficient. Maybin batted .315 with .383 on-base percentage and .418 slugging for an .801 OPS.

Cameron Maybin

His WAR was 1.9 at Baseball Reference and 2.0 at Fangraphs, giving him the equivalent free-agent value of about $16 million to Detroit last year.

So, again, there’s two ways to look at Maybin. You could see the opportunity to save $8 million and just let him walk away while replacing him with a player like Tyler Collins, or you could see him for the asset to the ballclub that he is, whether that’s through his play on the field for Detroit, or for his trade value to another club.

Nine million dollars might sound like a lot to you or me, but it certainly doesn’t to a club that needs a dependable center fielder.

And if the Tigers have to pick up a portion of the salary to move him, they may even find themselves bringing better prospects into the organization.

So no matter the true meaning of Avila’s cryptic quotes earlier this month, exercising the options on Rodriguez and Maybin make sense. It gives the Tigers valuable players for their 2017 roster, or useful assets to move in order to work toward being a more prospect-rich organization for the future. And considering the weak free-agent class, the decision is all the easier.

There are few no-brainers in baseball, so it’s best not to overthink them at times like this when they arise.

Kurt Mensching is the editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (www.blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at bybtigers@gmail.com.