J.D. Martinez is gone. Justin Wilson and Alex Avila are now working at Wrigley Field.
Five new players, all young, all infielders, all with varying degrees of talent, have replaced them as part of Tigers roster strategies and makeovers that will only have begun during a trade-tense month of July.
The Tigers, in fact, will be making more moves, with a heavy deal or two probably in the cards for this offseason or at some point in 2018.
It’s really the only way general manager Al Avila’s team can hope to retool a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2014 and won’t realistically be playoff-grade until more young talent, in multiples, arrives at Comerica Park.
Avila and his big-league GM partners probably popped a cork or two at 4 p.m. Monday when the inter-league trade deadline arrived. July is grueling for baseball’s front offices, particularly for those GMs who are all but obligated to make playoff-caliber teams stronger, or, in the Tigers’ case, to sell off inventory and refurbish future rosters.
Three questions prevailed Monday as the Tigers reviewed a month when they had hoped to make as many defensible deals as possible before settling on two multiplayer transactions with the Diamondbacks and Cubs.
How dramatically was the 2017 Tigers roster affected by July’s deals?
Oh, ninth innings will suddenly have drama worthy of a HBO miniseries. Wilson had matters corralled there. Your new Tigers bullpen fireman is Shane Greene.
Those who have followed the Tigers for eons and who thought to themselves at various times the past couple of months, “Oh, so this is what it’s like to have a shutdown closer,” will wince knowing Wilson is now mowing down hitters in a Cubs uniform.
Martinez, likewise, is hammering home runs at Arizona and making Tigers fans wonder as Mikie Mahtook bats fifth what happened to that old lineup dynamite.
Alex Avila, too, will no longer be around at a point the Tigers could benefit from a late-inning walk, or maybe from a home run into the shrubs in center field, or even from a postgame clubhouse spokesman whose patience and intelligence could put baseball’s craziness into a coherent context.
But the price for new baseball blood is expensive. And that’s particularly true in 2017 when teams have decided the younger you are, the better you stand to be economically and competitively.
How does the team stack up after jettisoning three important players?
The Tigers are patching up in right field with a consortium of volunteers: Jim Adduci, Andrew Romine, and Alex Presley (now injured). They’ll be hoping this offseason to find a dashing young right-fielder as part of any deals Avila is almost sure to engineer.
The Tigers bullpen is a slightly different story. Joe Jimenez is back from Triple A and remains a potentially dandy addition, at least if his slider makes progress. The Tigers also happen to have in their minor-league archipelago one particular strength, which is young relievers, with Jairo Labourt and Bryan Garcia possible conversation pieces when spring camp convenes in six months.
Backup catcher was always going to be a comparatively easy fix for the Tigers. John Hicks has aptitude there. He handles the job, defensively. He can get an occasional big hit, and he, like Avila, can also fill in at first base.
He might not be the go-to guy for postgame interviews. But Avila will be the first to tell him that’s a quality you can do without.
What cannot be missed is the Tigers’ concentration on infielders in their two big July deals.
Pick your position and the Tigers either do, or will, have need for infield replacements.
Jose Iglesias is not a safe bet at shortstop in 2018. He again is arbitration-eligible in 2018 and stands to get a nice raise from the $4.1 million he makes this season. The Tigers suspect they can get reasonable production, both ways, from Dixon Machado and will need to think long and hard about Iglesias, who might be non-tendered — not offered a contract for 2018.
The Tigers had hoped to trade Iglesias, as well as Kinsler, but July’s mushy market for position players kayoed any thoughts there.
Kinsler is being retained, as well, and the Tigers aren’t complaining. Along with a guy named Justin Verlander, who also was on the market but didn’t draw serious shoppers, the Tigers are happy to have back two high-grade performers and clubhouse pillars whose presence reassures teammates as well as fans.
Miguel Cabrera remains at first base and will stick there, for now, all because his defense is strong and Victor Martinez is under contract as the Tigers designated hitter through 2018. Roles and roster spots can change between now and spring camp, but for now, it looks like status quo.
Third base is a different matter. The Tigers still believe Nick Castellanos carries a heart-and-soul, mid-order bat that will do nothing but get better. The problem is his position. There can no longer be any hiding it. The Tigers are paying a price every time Castellanos plays third base, not only in range but now because his arm-strength has slid so significantly.
Castellanos could become part of an eventual mix at DH or at first base. And if the Tigers don’t score this offseason on an everyday right-fielder, they will consider — rather uncomfortably — returning Castellanos to the outfield, where he worked for a couple of seasons during his minor-league training.
He could also be dealt as part of Avila’s autumn-winter business.
But it is reasonably certain the Tigers will try mightily to install one of Sunday’s trade pieces, switch-hitting Jeimer Candelario, as their 2018 third baseman.
What’s ahead in trades and roster reshuffling?
Those who breathlessly follow July’s trade machinations tend to forget about another month: August.
You can still make deals. The difference is they must be waiver deals. A player’s tossed onto the waiver wire, a player’s claimed, a deal might be worked out between the two teams, or the player can be pulled back from waivers.
Or, of course, that claiming team can be stuck with the player and his contract, which in Verlander’s case would call for a minimum of $56 million in 2018 and 2019.
That’s why Verlander probably clears waivers, unless a team’s intent on grabbing him, perhaps only for the price of his contract.
If a player clears waivers, he can be dealt anywhere. It’s possible a deal could be made. Kinsler and Iglesias make some sense there. But it’s nothing a GM counts on happening.
It’s more likely this team will stay reasonably intact heading into those wild and wooly months of November, December, and January, when trades and free-agent signings abound.
Figure that a certain GM with the initials A.A. will be busy talking trades as earnestly as he was in July.
Verlander could resurface there, although any contender that didn’t want his contract in July isn’t likely to be overly interested a few months from now when that $56-million obligation still looms.
But one pitcher very much will appeal to any number of clubs.
His name is Michael Fulmer. And it is certain any trade gifts would include at least three Grade A prospects, one of which probably would be a young pitcher with heavy upside.
Fans will shriek but the Tigers will listen. Hard. And all because they must. A half-baked roster retooling will get them nowhere in terms of beating good baseball teams down the road (here’s looking at you, White Sox).
One pitcher, working every five days, won’t do it, even one as good as Fulmer.
The Tigers’ farm crops look some days as if locusts ravaged them. But they do have some arms, starters and relievers. And putting together a capable rotation can any more be an easier task than finding good hitters who can also field, and run, and contribute regularly amid the rigors of a 162-game schedule.
So, don’t be surprised if the blockbuster deal that didn’t happen in July is postponed a few months.
This team needs massive reconstructive surgery if it is to bring back to Comerica Park any semblance of a playoff team.
The Tigers made some nice inroads with this month’s deals, even if it stung fans to lose Wilson, Martinez, and even Avila. They’ll know true agony if a pitcher of Fulmer’s talent and status is dealt.
What they likely won’t appreciate initially is the quality of players that would come in any such deal. But that’s exactly the kind of payload the Tigers will require if they want those old days of October playoffs and 3 million customers to again become part of Detroit’s baseball reality.