Don’t be fooled by the optics of the Detroit Tigers’ 2016 campaign, one that saw the organization miss the playoffs by a mere 2.5 games.

They’re stuck in one of the worse places in today’s win-or-rebuild world of baseball.

The Tigers own MLB’s fourth-most expensive roster, but it’s one that isn’t talented enough to be considered a serious World Series contender. While every team seems to be trying to get younger, Detroit’s key players are aging.

So it came as no surprise Tuesday when general manager Al Avila revealed the organization will pivot.

Avila told Jason Beck of

We have to be open-minded to anything. That doesn’t mean that we’re dangling Player A out there and seeing what happens, but it does mean that in our conversations with other clubs, we will be open-minded, and if somebody has interest in a certain player, we’ll take a look at it. If it makes sense for the Detroit Tigers present and future, then we certainly will consider things that we feel will make us better.

Read: Starting pitcher Justin Verlander, first baseman Miguel Cabrera and other Detroit veterans could be traded this offseason.


What was most suggestive of the fact that two Tigers cornerstones and a slew of other high-priced players could move was that Avila said “this organization has been working way above its means as far as payroll for many, many years.”’s Buster Olney confirmed the notion Saturday, writing: “But the message being received from the rest of the industry is a dramatic shift for one of baseball’s oldest franchises: They will listen to trade offers on everybody. Miguel Cabrera. Justin Verlander. Ian Kinsler. Anybody.”

Verlander and Cabrera, both 33, are two of four Detroit players above 30 years old who are making at least $18 million per year, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

But they can also still make a major impact on contending rosters.

Given that baseball’s 2017 free-agent class is drier than August in Death Valley, this could be the ideal time to trade them, too.

First baseman Edwin Encarnacion and outfielders Jose Bautista, Ian Desmond and potentially Yoenis Cespedes are among the cream of this year’s free-agent class in terms of high-impact position players. The market for starting pitchers is without a front-line starter like last year’s class, which included David Price and Zack Greinke, their performances this season notwithstanding.

So teams may forgo spending money in free agency and instead try to add via the trade market.

While Verlander may not be the top-end ace he was earlier this decade, his 3.04 ERA still suggests he has top-of-the-rotation stuff and could make an impact on a playoff roster.

The Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox, who were swept out of the playoffs this year, saw the Cleveland Indians cruise to the World Series with outstanding starting pitching, which each of them lacked all season.

Both the Red Sox and Rangers are loaded with young talent, which they could send to the Tigers to bolster their respective rotations.

Cabrera still swings an All-Star bat—he hit .316/.393/.563 with 38 homers and 108 RBI—and could become the centerpiece of a World Series hopeful’s lineup.

And immediate thoughts gravitate to a particular AL playoff team that lost a prolific slugger to retirement. Ahem, the Red Sox and David Ortiz.

In fact, Cabrera has better offensive numbers than any potential free agent.

But it seems in their current spots on the Tigers’ hole-filled roster, Verlander and Cabrera are playing useless roles. They’re like unused chops at a high-end steakhouse, thrown away when the restaurant closes.

Detroit appears as if it’ll be closing for business every October.

Without giving them the opportunity to impact a postseason, Detroit is wasting what few prime years Verlander and Cabrera have remaining.

The Tigers seem pointed toward a rebuild. Or a retooling. Or a reworking. Or whichever way the organization wants to spin what is to come.

Regardless, this much is clear: Detroit may not contend for a title the next few seasons.

By then, Verlander and Cabrera will be in their twilight years. And though they still may be effective, the Tigers can’t bank on the duo’s impacting a long-term rebuild.

Simply, the dearth of high-impact free agents could create the highest possible demand for both players. It may be the perfect time to deal them, and it could net the Tigers the highest possible return in younger prospects.

And that is Avila’s stated goal: to get “younger and leaner.”

So as the general manager opens his mind to all possibilities, it might be time to open the phone lines, too. Because Detroit is certain to get calls on Verlander and Cabrera.

The demand for them may never be higher.


Seth Gruen is a national baseball columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @SethGruen.

Read more MLB news on