The Tigers’ decisions this offseason almost certainly won’t be popular with the fans. After years of spending they started the selloff by trading center fielder Cameron Maybin last week, proving talk about bringing their payroll to more realistic levels wasn’t just lip service.
They have a cheaper team now, without a doubt, but they also have a worse one. And as Maybin actually had ability on the basepaths, they have made themselves even more one-dimensional in the process.
Without wisely reinvesting that $9 million, the Tigers are going to have a harder time making the postseason next year, because their internal options at the position are all worse.
And one thing you can guarantee is that fans aren’t going to have a lot of sympathy for the plight of a billionaire owner claiming money problems while his team charges $10 for a beer and falls a player or two short of the playoffs. Their displeasure is going to show up at the box office.
So, what now?
You may as well deal with the fan backlash on a shorter-term basis in order to put a winner back on the field as soon as possible.
Before trading Maybin, you could make an argument for the Tigers attempting to contend one last time before beginning a roster tear down.
Detroit still has Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera. Combine that with a bounce-back year from Jordan Zimmermann and steadfast performances by young rotation mates Michael Fulmer, Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd, and the more optimistic can squint and see the Tiger still contending.
But if trading Maybin was truly about cutting costs, the Tigers have to complete the job. Anything between going all-in and having a full-on rebuild is simply going to extend the pain another year.
That doesn’t do anyone any good. Not the star players who deserve better chances at World Series championships, not the ownership investing a lot of money in a team with sinking attendance, and not the fan base shrinking by the year.
Go big or go home.
That’s the idea Craig Edwards of Fangraphs had when exploring what the trade value of Verlander and Cabrera might be.
“If they aren’t going all in next year — and it appears they aren’t — the quickest route to the playoffs is to tear it all down,” Edwards wrote. “To do that, the team needs to move Miguel Cabrera, and that might best be done by packaging him with Justin Verlander.”
The bad news is that the idea is a little wild. It’s going to be hard enough trading Verlander or Cabrera, because their expensive contracts limit the number of teams that can take them on. On the flip side of that equation, 10-and-5 rights (a player with 10 years in MLB and the last five of those with their current team) mean the players have the right to veto any trade they don’t like.
It’s GMing on expert mode to trade either one, let alone both at once.
The good news for Detroit is that Verlander and Cabrera do both have some value, so there should at least be some interest in helping GM Al Avila remove $30 to $60 million a year from their payroll. The players’ trade value today will probably never be higher, making a good start for any rebuild. So it’ll just be up to Verlander or Cabrera to determine how interested each is in winning.
If a deal can be done, it should be. Even if the Tigers can’t trade both, the more money they can move the better.
Add in deals sending Ian Kinsler and J.D. Martinez to new homes, and the Tigers should have plenty of prospects in the organization and a lot of financial flexibility for when the free-agent market looks a little brighter than it does this offseason.
The Tigers did all they could to keep the window open for as many years as they did. They put their future on a credit card, and now the debt is coming due.
It’s going to be painful. But it’s better to pay the debt in full now than to do it half-heartedly year after year and look back after five lost seasons to find you’re still not a contender.
Just ask the Philadelphia Phillies about how painful that is.
Kurt Mensching is the editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (www.blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at email@example.com.