Tag: AL Central

Danny Duffy, Royals Agree on New Contract: Latest Details, Comments, Reaction

The Kansas City Royals and Danny Duffy agreed to terms on a five-year extension worth $65 million, according to Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan.  

The Royals formally announced the extension on Twitter:

The Kansas City Star‘s Rustin Dodd shared a yearly breakdown of the contract:

Duffy was under team control for one more season before he was set to become a free agent next winter, per Spotrac.

The 28-year-old left-hander went 12-3 with a 3.51 ERA in 42 appearances for the Royals in 2016. He began the year in the bullpen before making his first start May 15 and emerging as the Royals’ ace.

According to FanGraphs, Duffy finished with a 3.56 ERA and 3.99 FIP in 26 starts, both of which were the lowest among Kansas City’s regular starting pitchers. Duffy also averaged a career-best 9.42 strikeouts and 2.10 walks per nine innings.

With major question marks over the starting rotation, re-signing Duffy was a great move for Kansas City. Edinson Volquez signed with the Miami Marlins, Ian Kennedy was disappointing in the first year of his five-year deal, and Yordano Ventura took a big step backward in 2016.

Keeping Duffy for the next five years stabilizes the staff, and an average of $13 million is a more than reasonable salary. He won’t even be the highest-paid starter. Kennedy, who is four years older, will earn an average of roughly $15.6 million for the next four seasons, per Spotrac.

ESPN.com’s Dan Szymborski tweeted that Duffy’s deal gives the Royals some flexibility:

Kansas City made back-to-back World Series in 2014 and 2015, winning a title the second time around, but general manager Dayton Moore said in October he expected the team’s payroll to “regress a little bit” after the Royals spent relatively big in pursuit of a World Series ring, per Dodd.

Duffy’s extension is evidence, however, that Kansas City’s ownership is still willing to invest in the team to ensure it remains competitive in 2017 and beyond.

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Edwin Encarnacion to Indians: Takeaways from DH’s Introductory Press Conference

The Cleveland Indians officially introduced prized free-agent signing Edwin Encarnacion on Thursday.

Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com reported the sides finalized a three-year, $60 million contract after the former Toronto Blue Jays slugger passed a physical Wednesday. The deal also includes a fourth-year club option worth $25 million.

Zack Meisel of Cleveland.com highlighted the donning of the Tribe jersey for the first time:

Chris Antonetti, the Indians’ president of baseball operations, admitted the reigning American League champions weren’t sure they could make this type of offseason splash, per Jordan Bastian of MLB.com.

“At the start of the offseason, we didn’t think this was possible,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet noted Encarnacion called Cleveland a “perfect fit,” even though there’s a part of him that’s struggled with moving on from the Blue Jays.

Now that Encarnacion is a member of the Indians, Tom Withers of the Associated Press pointed out the star’s focus has shifted to one thing: capturing the championship that slipped through Cleveland’s grasp against the Chicago Cubs in last season’s Fall Classic.

“I believe in this team, and I believe we can win the World Series,” Encarnacion said.

OddsShark noted the oddsmakers agree the Indians are once again a serious threat to capture the American League pennant. They rank second behind only the Boston Red Sox in the current AL odds and third overall, with the defending champion Cubs the favorite to repeat as champions.

Encarnacion will carry a heavy burden if Cleveland is going to live up to those expectations. The Dominican Republic native has been one of the game’s best power hitters over the past five years. He’s hit at least 34 home runs every year during that stretch, including 42 homers last season for Toronto.

The 33-year-old marquee addition will probably split time between first base and designated hitter with Carlos Santana. They’ll combine with Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor, Michael Brantley and Jose Ramirez to form a terrific top six in the order if Brantley can stay healthy after missing most of 2016.   


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Edwin Encarnacion Signing Propels Indians Toward Another World Series in 2017

The Cleveland Indians left the rest of the American League in their dust in the 2016 MLB playoffs. After winning 94 games in the regular season, they won seven of eight games en route to a near miss in the World Series.      

But a couple of AL clubs have made key additions since then, so clearly the only thing the Indians could do in response is sign the best free agent remaining on the market.

OK, maybe it’s not the only thing they could have done. But after weeks of will-they-or-won’t-they rumors and speculation, the Indians finally went ahead and signed Edwin Encarnacion on Thursday. According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, the veteran slugger is joining up on a three-year contract:

Cleveland can consider this a discount. According to FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman, Encarnacion once had an $80 million offer on the table to return to the Toronto Blue Jays. He was projected by MLB Trade Rumors to sign for even more at $92 million.

The fact that Encarnacion is settling for a $65 million deal might tell us that he overplayed his hand on this winter’s market by rejecting Toronto’s $80 million offer. It certainly didn’t help his case that he was sharing space with a collection of similarly one-dimensional sluggers.

But more to the point, it tells us that Cleveland could see what the rest of us could see: It had an opening for a right-handed slugger who could fit at first base and designated hitter.

That was Mike Napoli’s job in 2016, and he did it splendidly by posting an .800 OPS and tying Carlos Santana for the team lead with 34 home runs. But now he’s a free agent. And while Napoli would have come cheaper than Encarnacion, the extra money spent Thursday has bought a significant upgrade.

This isn’t a scorching take, is it? Nah, I don’t think so.

Encarnacion has hit 193 home runs since 2012, 77 more than Napoli and only four fewer than league leader Chris Davis. By adjusted OPS+, Encarnacion has also been one of the AL’s five best hitters over the last five seasons:

  1. Mike Trout: 173
  2. Miguel Cabrera: 166
  3. David Ortiz: 154
  4. Edwin Encarnacion: 146
  5. Jose Abreu: 143

Beyond Encarnacion’s ties to draft-pick compensation and his limited skill set, his red flags are his age (34 in January) and his escalating strikeout rate.

But as long as he’s only being weighed against the incumbent Napoli, neither thing is a big concern for Cleveland. Encarnacion is a year younger, and he won’t be anything close to the strikeout black hole Napoli was.

Now, if anyone wants to get technical, the Indians didn’t really need an upgrade as substantial as Encarnacion.

That would imply that they didn’t already have an easy road to a playoff spot in 2017. They did. They’re part of an MLB landscape that, as Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs highlighted, might not feature any division races. They were projected for 89 wins before signing Encarnacion, six more than the next best projection in the AL Central. 

However, Cleveland’s unfinished business for 2017 isn’t winning the division. It’s winning the World Series. 

Two AL teams figured to make that tough. The Boston Red Sox began the winter as a good team and got better after adding Chris Sale and Tyler Thornburg. The Houston Astros also began the winter as a good team and got better with Josh Reddick, Brian McCann and Charlie Morton. Both the Red Sox (93 wins) and the Astros (90 wins) were projected to win more games than Cleveland.

That’s changed. Encarnacion’s signing has boosted the Indians’ projection to 92 wins. They’re right there with the Red Sox and Astros on paper, and even that undersells their World Series aspirations.

This is a team that just won a division title without virtually any help from star outfielder Michael Brantley and only half a season of Andrew Miller’s dominance out of the bullpen. They also won a pennant without any help from Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar in the postseason.

They’ll all be back in 2017, and it’s certainly worth noting that guys like Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis, Corey Kluber and Cody Allen haven’t gone anywhere. Neither has Terry Francona, who just won his second Manager of the Year award in four seasons in Cleveland.

Signing Encarnacion was really the only big move the Indians needed to make. He obviously helps them on a macro level. On a micro level, he could be a weapon against Boston’s ace lefties (Sale and David Price) and a terror at the bandbox that is Minute Maid Park in any potential postseason matchups.

The catch, such as it is, is that he’s costing the Indians more money than they’ve ever spent on a free agent. He’s also costing them the No. 25 pick in the 2017 draft. This is a heavy price for the normally thrifty Indians to pay.

But if ever there were time for them to do so, it’s right now.

For one thing, the club’s financials are in better shape than they have been in some time. According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, executives estimate their trip to the World Series was worth “tens of millions” of extra dollars. Rosenthal also noted Cleveland “almost certainly” benefited from welcoming Kansas City entrepreneur John Sherman as a minority ownership partner. 

As for the lost draft pick, some consolation there is that No. 25 is a relatively low pick. Further consolation is that now is not the time for Cleveland to worry about stockpiling young talent.

Their goal is to win it all right now. They had enough to do that before signing Encarnacion. Now they have everything they need.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked. 

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Tigers Will Regret Pretending They’re a World Series Contender

Early in the offseason, the Detroit Tigers hung up a “For Sale” sign. Turns out when you flip it over it says “Just Kidding!”

OK, that’s an exaggeration.

First, the winter isn’t over. Detroit could still offload one or more of its tradeable veteran assets. Plus, the Tigers never committed to a full-scale fire sale.

“I’ve talked to all the guys—[Miguel] Cabrera and [Justin] Verlander and [Ian] Kinsler and guys like that—just to let them know, Hey this is just the way it is and it’s part of the business but not to worry about anything unless I call them,” Detroit general manager Al Avila said Nov. 8 on MLB Now (via MLB.com).

That’s not a promise to sell, sell, sell. It sure sounds like a GM who’s prepared to entertain offers, though.

Instead, it’s been silent as a Tesla in the Motor City. Yes, the Tigers sent center fielder Cameron Maybin to the Los Angeles Angels for minor league right-hander Victor Alcantara on Nov. 3.

All of their big pieces remain on the roster, however, and they seem increasingly likely to go for it in 2017.

That’s a mistake. There’s no other way to put it.

Sure, Detroit could sniff the playoffs. It won 86 games in 2016, good for second place in the American League Central. FanGraphs projects an 83-79 record for the Tigers in 2017 and another finish just outside the money.

The Central is winnable. The defending AL champion Cleveland Indians haven’t made any major offseason splashes. Neither have the Kansas City Royals, who could be sellers. The Chicago White Sox are definitely sellers, and the young Minnesota Twins took a big step back last season.

But with the Boston Red Sox stockpiling out East and the Houston Astros doing the same in the West, the Junior Circuit bar is being set.

Hanging around the fringe isn’t enough for Detroit. The Tigers aren’t some burgeoning up-and-comer; nor are they a franchise starved for a taste of the postseason.

Between 2011 and 2014, Detroit advanced to the playoffs four times, to the American League Championship Series three times and to the World Series once.

Add another unsuccessful trip to the Fall Classic in 2006, and Tigers fans have been treated to their share of October action in the past decade.

What they deserve now is either a full-bore run at the franchise’s first championship since 1984 or a strategic, unambiguous rebuild.

What they’re getting instead is the equivalent of treading water.

Detroit isn’t going to spend on any of this year’s first- or second-tier free-agents. That much is obvious.

To truly contend, the club needs to upgrade a bullpen that finished 24th in baseball with a 4.22 ERA. Yet the Tigers weren’t even an also-ran on top free-agent closers such as Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon, and they haven’t made any impact relief additions.

They could also stand to fortify their rotation. Verlander is fresh off a superlative season that should have netted him the AL Cy Young Award, and reigning AL Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer is an exciting building block.

Right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, whom the Tigers signed for five years and $110 million last November, started strong but battled groin and neck injuries and finished with a 4.87 ERA.

Mike Pelfrey (5.07 ERA) and Anibal Sanchez (5.87 ERA) are likewise questionable. Daniel Norris went 4-2 with a 3.38 ERA, but the 23-year-old left-hander also dealt with injuries and has yet to prove himself over a full season.

Detroit ranked fourth in the majors in OPS last season, but its offensive core is aging. Cabrera will turn 34 in April, and Victor Martinez will be 38 on Friday. Each played more than 150 games last season, but at some point, injuries and decline will hit.

Maybe it won’t be next year. Maybe the Tigers could make one more run if they bolstered their bullpen and rotation. They don’t have the monetary flexibility, though, as ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick noted:

When you can’t pony up for a backup catcher, it’s safe to say the budget’s busted.

Instead, Detroit should look to the White Sox and New York Yankees, who have unloaded veteran assets to shed payroll and restock their farm systems.

The Tigers’ farm, which Bleacher Report’s Joel Reuter ranked No. 25 in the game in September, could use an infusion of talent.

Right fielder J.D. Martinez will be a free agent after this season. Kinsler is signed through 2017 with a team option for 2018. Their stock will likely never be higher.

Moving Verlander would be a trickier proposition. Given the paucity of pitching available this winter, though, it’s worth wondering what the Tigers could have gotten for their ace and whether they’ll regret not exploring it further.

Again, the offseason isn’t over. There’s time for Detroit to swing a swap or two. If the club is floundering at the trade deadline, the pressure to deal will increase.

Verlander, or Cabrera, might have as much value then as they do now. On the other hand, they might not. The same, and then some, goes for Kinsler and J.D. Martinez.

What the Tigers don’t want, and can’t afford, is to delay the inevitable until it’s too late. Painful as it is, when you hang up that “For Sale” sign, at a certain point you’ve got to keep it there.


All statistics and contract information courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and MLB.com unless otherwise noted.

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Jose Abreu, White Sox Agree to New Contract: Latest Details, Comments, Reaction

The Chicago White Sox and first baseman Jose Abreu reached an agreement Saturday on a one-year contract extension to avoid arbitration.

Chicago announced the new deal on its official Twitter account. Scott Merkin of MLB.com reported the power-hitting infielder will earn $10.825 million in 2017.

Abreu has made a massive impact across his first three years in the majors. He’s cranked 91 home runs to go along with a .299 batting average and a .360 on-base percentage. In addition, he’s also tallied at least 100 runs batted in every year.

The Cuba native’s success quickly eliminated any concerns about his transition as a 27-year-old rookie after a successful career in the Cuban National Series. He’s proved himself as one of the most impactful offensive contributors in the American League.

In September, Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times noted the first baseman lamented the fact that his individual numbers haven’t translated into team success, stating, “In this sport nobody likes to lose.”

He expressed an interest in sticking with the organization for the long haul, though:

I’m going to forever be grateful to this organization because of everything they’ve done for me. I would like to play my whole career in the U.S., with this team, because it’s like my family. They were the ones who gave me the opportunity, they were the ones who helped me through the whole process to come here and to become a U.S. resident. They have been very supportive of me, and my family, too. I want to be with this team, to be an important part of this team and to win a championship with this team.

The latest contract is a small step toward that goal. It also represents a minor pay raise after he made $10 million in 2016 before exercising an opt-out clause in his prior deal, per Spotrac.

He’s been the subject of some trade rumors this offseason as well. Thomas Harding of MLB.com reported in early December the White Sox and Colorado Rockies engaged in “preliminary talks” about a potential deal. It’s unclear whether those discussions ever advanced beyond the exploratory stage.

For now, he’s slated to hit in the middle of the Chicago order. It’s a lineup featuring some strength from the No. 2 through No. 5 spots with Abreu, Tim Anderson, Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera. But the rest is patchwork as the club enters a rebuilding phase.

Ultimately, the White Sox’s decision to revamp the system could lead to an Abreu trade. It will be difficult to find another player or prospect capable of replacing his pop, though.


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Derek Holland to White Sox: Latest Contract Details, Comments, Reaction

Derek Holland will get a much-needed fresh start in 2017, as he signed a one-year deal with the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday.

The White Sox announced the signing after MLB.com’s TR Sullivan was the first to report Holland’s decision, and Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News shared the length of the contract. 

Grant also reported the deal could be worth up to $8 million and provided some further context to the move:

Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported slightly different terms, tweeting that the contract is worth a base of $6 million with as much as $1 million in incentives.

The Texas Rangers declined their $11 million contract option on Holland in November, which made him a free agent and freed him up to sign with any team.

It wasn’t a surprise to see the Rangers move on from Holland after his struggles over the previous two seasons and inability to stay on the field since 2013. 

Holland has appeared in just 38 games over the previous three seasons, and his performance on the mound has been less than stellar with a 4.30 ERA in just 203 innings during that span. 

Grant wrote about some of the other issues that have plagued Holland during his injury-riddled run since 2014:

His average fastball velocity dropped to 91.7 mph in 2016 from 93.6 in 2013. The difference in speed between his secondary pitches is now just 5 mph where it once was 7.5 mph. It adds up to a recipe for guys being better able to identify pitches and being able to wait for mistakes with more assurance they will come. The Rangers wanted him to throw his changeup more in 2016 and the usage did grow, but at a microscopic level: Less than one percent.

Holland completed just 107.1 innings in 2016, going 7-9 with a 4.95 ERA and 1.41 WHIP.

At just 30 years old, Holland will have a chance to reinvent himself as a member of the White Sox. His career ERA of 4.35 ERA leaves something to be desired, but the veteran southpaw did manage to go 10-9 with a 3.42 ERA in 2013.

Given how much of a struggle it has been for Holland to take the mound every fifth day, he has a lot to prove next season if he hopes to continue his MLB career as a starting pitcher. He does get a clean slate and will have ample opportunity to prove there is more in the tank than he’s been able to show lately. 

Holland could provide great value as part of a weak free-agent class, and he will have a chance to become an important part of Chicago’s rotation after the team dealt Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox.

Although Holland figures to slot behind the likes of Jose Quintana, Carlos Rodon and James Shields, he gives the White Sox a veteran presence and depth at the back end of their pitching staff until youngsters Lucas Giolito (22) and Reynaldo Lopez (22) are ready to step up.

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Jose Quintana Is Most Underappreciated Star on MLB Offseason Market

It’s hyperbole to call Jose Quintana the offseason’s invisible ace.

At the very least, however, rumormongers and prospective suitors are treating Quintana as if he’s blurry around the edges.

Recall the fanfare that surrounded Quintana’s former Chicago White Sox teammate and fellow left-hander Chris Sale. More to the point, recall the glistening package of prospects the Boston Red Sox sent to Chicago to secure Sale’s services.

Sale was worth it. He’s 27 years old, has elite numbers and is locked into an eminently affordable contract.

All of those things can be said—accuratelyabout Quintana, yet he isn’t generating as much buzz.

Oh, there have been rumblings, as we’ll get to shortly. Quintana, though, is the type of player who should consistently reside in the hot-stove headlines, especially with such a weak free-agent pitching class and other options falling off the board.

Here’s a stat to chew on: Between 2013 and 2016, Quintana’s 18.1 WAR ranked seventh among pitchers by FanGraphs’ measure. He’s sandwiched between Jon Lester (18.4) and Madison Bumgarner (18.0), a couple of southpaws you may have heard of.

Quintana has eclipsed 200 innings in each of the past four seasons. Last season, he posted a career-low 3.20 ERA and finished 10th in American League Cy Young Award balloting.

As for his contract, it’s a budget-conscious general manager’s fantasy: He’ll make $7 million in 2017 and $8.85 million in 2018, followed by $10.5 million team options in 2019 and 2020.

A club that acquired Quintana this winter could have him for four years and $36.85 million. Next season alone, the Arizona Diamondbacks will pay Zack Greinke $34 million. Pause a moment and let that sink in.

Quintana comes with huge upside and little financial risk. The only cost will be in talent, and it will be steep.

The Houston Astros are interested, but they balked at the White Sox’s asking price of Francis Martes, Kyle Tucker and Joe Musgrove, per baseball reporter Peter Gammons

Martes and Tucker are the Astros’ top two prospects, per MLB.com, and Musgrove is a 24-year-old right-hander who showed solid flashes in 62 big league innings last season.

Two blue-chip minor leaguers and an MLB-ready arm is a lot to ask. Quintana, however, is a lot to get.

To land Sale, the Red Sox surrendered Yoan Moncada, the game’s No. 1 prospect, per MLB.com. They tossed in right-hander Michael Kopech (MLB.com’s No. 30 prospect), outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe (now the White Sox’s No. 9 prospect) and 22-year-old right-hander Victor Diaz, who averaged 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings last season at Single-A.

In that light, the cost for Quintana doesn’t seem so unreasonable.

In addition to the Astros, ESPN.com’s David Schoenfield lists the Seattle Mariners, Baltimore Orioles, Pittsburgh Pirates, Atlanta Braves, Colorado Rockies, Texas Rangers, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs as prospective suitors. 

That’s a third of the league. Some, like the Cubs, almost certainly aren’t happening. The point, though, is there are many squads with a need in the rotation and a handful with the ability to at least theoretically meet the White Sox’s sky-high demands. 

“It comes down to needs and wants,” Braves general manager John Coppolella said of a possible Quintana pursuit, per David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We don’t have needs in starting pitching. Do we want a No. 1 starter, is Chris Sale a No. 1 starter? Yes. Do we want Jose Quintana? I don’t think Jose Quintana is Chris Sale.”

So we get back to the blurry around the edges. The underrating and underappreciating. 

Quintana isn’t Sale by definition. He doesn’t boast his ex-rotation mate’s gaudy strikeout totals and has played the Robin to Sale’s Batman. That doesn’t diminish Quintana’s worth, as FanGraphs’ Craig Edwards spelled out:

Quintana might have been playing second fiddle to Sale the past few years, but the team trading for Quintana isn’t getting just a run-of-the-mill good starter. Jose Quintana is excellent, and there are plenty of reasons to think he’s going to keep pitching well for a while.

The price for Sale was always going to be higher than the price for Quintana. That said, there’s a credible argument that Quintana and his bargain contract should be nearly as attractive to teams looking for high-end pitching as Sale was.

Here’s the bottom line: Quintana is a durable ace entering his prime who is signed for way under market rate for the next four seasons.

Hyperbole aside, those don’t come around every day.


All statistics and contract information courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Twins Prospect Yorman Landa Dies in Car Accident at Age 22

Minnesota Twins minor league pitcher Yorman Landa died early Saturday morning following an automobile accident in his native Venezuela. He was 22.

Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com passed along the news, including a statement from the Twins via chief baseball officer Derek Falvey:

The Minnesota Twins are deeply saddened by the heartbreaking loss of Yorman Landa early this morning in Venezuela. On behalf of the entire baseball community, we send our sincerest condolences to the Landa family as well as Yorman’s many friends, coaches and teammates.

Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press provided details about the accident from Daniel Szew, Landa’s agent, who stated the pitcher was the only person killed. He was riding in the passenger seat of a car driven by his father, and there were four or five people in the vehicle, which struck a fallen tree.

“The ambulance took quite a while to get there,” Szew said. “He was literally the nicest kid. He was my little brother.”

Landa joined the Twins organization as a 16-year-old prospect in 2010. He started his journey through the club’s minor league system in the 2011 Dominican Summer League and reached the Florida State League at the Class A Advanced level this past season.

The right-handed reliever made 31 appearances out of the Fort Myers Miracle bullpen in 2016 and finished with a 3.24 ERA, 1.46 WHIP and 39 strikeouts in 41.2 innings.

He earned a spot in the league’s All-Star Game in June, and David Dorsey of the News-Press noted at the time the pitcher was thrilled.

“It’s good to play with them, because they’re the best in the league,” Landa said.

Landa made 130 appearances, including 26 starts, between the Twins organization and the Venezuelan Winter League from 2011 to 2016. He posted a 2.97 ERA and 1.33 WHIP while striking out 241 batters in 257.2 innings.

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Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander Facing Uncertain Tigers Futures for 1st Time

They were two of the biggest stars in baseball, and the Detroit Tigers ensured they didn’t get away.

“I want to finish my career here,” Miguel Cabrera told reporters when he signed an eight-year, $248 million deal in the spring of 2014.

“Once we started contract talks, I wanted to stay in Detroit, and I wasn’t shy about saying that,” Justin Verlander told reporters after signing a seven-year, $180 million deal a year earlier. “I think it all worked out.”

Or did it?

The Tigers spent a decade winning around Cabrera and Verlander, teaming one of the game’s most feared hitters with one of the most dominant pitchers. But in the three years since Cabrera re-signed, they haven’t won a single postseason game. They’re now determined to reduce a payroll that approached $200 million in 2016 and to renew a talent base that had aged to the point they’ve been considered a franchise in decline.

During general manager Al Avila’s end-of-season press conference in October, he acknowledged changes were coming, telling reporters, “I can’t call it a rebuild because we haven’t broken anything down. So, no, I’m not comfortable with the word rebuild. I’ve read retool, I don’t know if that’s the right term. I don’t know if there’s a term for what I want to do here.”

And now the question of the winter, in Detroit and elsewhere, is whether the Tigers would trade one or both of their biggest stars.

“I think they would,” said one American League executive who has talked with the Tigers. “There’s a big difference between them and the White Sox. The White Sox would have to get a ton to trade [Chris] Sale, and even then, their owner might not really want to do it. The Tigers are looking for value, but I think they would like to make a trade.”

Before you start panicking (Tigers fans) or plotting ways to put Verlander in your rotation and Cabrera in your lineup (everyone else), understand that a willingness to make a deal won’t necessarily lead to one. Even a desire to make a deal wouldn’t mean Cabrera and Verlander are done in Detroit.

ESPN.com‘s Jim Bowden recently put the chances of a Verlander deal at 20 percent and the chances of a Cabrera trade at 10 percent.

“I’d say 20 percent might be about right for Verlander,” said an American League executive who has spoken with Tigers decision-makers. “But it’s probably 5 percent at best for Miguel.”

Verlander would be easier to trade, partly because everyone needs pitching and partly because just three years and $84 million remain guaranteed on his contract. Cabrera likely could only go to an American League team that can eventually use him as a designated hitter, and only to a team that can absorb the guaranteed seven years and $220 million he has left.

Even at those long odds, it’s a bit of a shock to see the Tigers reach this point.

They’ve been pushing for a World Series title since 2006, Jim Leyland’s first season with the club and the year Verlander was the American League Rookie of the Year. Cabrera arrived after 2007 in a blockbuster trade with the Florida Marlins, and the Tigers won four straight American League Central titles from 2011 to 2014, advancing to the ALCS three straight years and to the World Series in 2012.

Verlander was the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 2011. Cabrera won the same award the next two years.

The Tigers were big spenders and big winners, and if they had to go over budget to get or keep a star, there was always a decent chance owner Mike Ilitch would OK it (or even push to make the deal himself). Ilitch was super competitive—everyone knew—and he was also aging and running out of time to win the World Series he craved.

He’s 87 now, and he still hasn’t added a World Series title to the four Stanley Cups he won with the Detroit Red Wings. But rather than chase this winter’s free-agent stars, as Ilitch did when the Tigers signed Justin Upton in an ill-advised deal last January, he and the Tigers have chosen a different path.

The payroll, they say, is going down. They say it doesn’t need to drop too much, at least not right away. They definitely want to drop below the threshold for paying luxury tax, whatever that turns out to be once Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association agree on a new collective bargaining agreement.

They don’t want to tear it all down and start over, as the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs did successfully and as other teams have copied. They want to keep competing as they build for the future, as the New York Yankees are trying to do.

The Tigers have already traded outfielder Cameron Maybin, who had a $9 million option for 2017. They’ve discussed deals for second baseman Ian Kinsler ($11 million in 2017), outfielder J.D. Martinez ($11.75 million) and designated hitter Victor Martinez ($18 million), officials say.

But none of those would be the franchise-altering trade that a Cabrera or Verlander deal would be.

None of them would change the Tigers’ future, short term and long term, the way moving one or both superstars could.

No other players could bring as much back in return. No other players could open up future budgets as much.

Cabrera’s contract pays him $28 million in 2017, $30 million a year for the four years after that, and $32 million in 2022 and 2023, when he’ll turn 40 (with two options and an $8 million buyout). Verlander also makes $28 million next year, with two more years at $28 million and a vesting-option year at $22 million after that.

The big money limits the potential suitors, but baseball officials surveyed by Bleacher Report agreed both players remain tradable this winter. That might not be true if the Tigers wait another year, with Cabrera (34 in April) and Verlander (34 in February) getting older at a time baseball as a whole is trending younger.

For teams looking for immediate help, age is less of an issue than performance. Verlander finished a close second to ex-teammate Rick Porcello in the AL Cy Young vote, his fifth top-five finish. Cabrera finished ninth in Most Valuable Player voting, the seventh time in the last eight years he has been in the top 10.

Still, only a few teams can afford to add a player making $28 million. The officials agreed a Cabrera trade would be tougher than one for Verlander, because it’s hard to see a National League team trading for someone who will likely need to become a designated hitter before his contract runs out.

Beyond that, both Verlander and Cabrera have full no-trade protection, so either would need to sign off on any possible move. That may not be the biggest obstacle, though, given that any team which could afford one of them would likely have a real chance of winning a World Series.

The other question rival officials ask is whether the Tigers would be better off keeping both of their stars. The long-term financial impact could be bad, but the Tigers might have a better chance of winning in 2017 with both of them than they would anytime in the next five to six years if they trade them.

“That [American League Central] division is winnable,” said one National League scout who follows it closely.

A Central Division team has played in the World Series each of the last three years and four of the last five, but none of the teams have the financial firepower present in baseball’s other five divisions. The Tigers have had the division’s highest payroll eight of the last nine years (2011 is the exception, with both the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins spending more).

Without all of that money to spend, the Tigers would have had to trade Cabrera and Verlander long before this or watch them leave as free agents. As it was, they kept both stars, giving them deals that seemed to make them Tigers for life.

It still could turn out that way. Cabrera and/or Verlander could enforce their no-trade rights and decide to stay. The Tigers could decide the offers they get aren’t strong enough to justify making a trade.

But keeping both stars now could well mean living with both of those big contracts all the way to the end. As it stands now, the Tigers have five players signed for $122.125 million in 2018 (Cabrera, Verlander, Martinez, Upton and Jordan Zimmermann) and four players signed for $105.125 million in 2019 (all but Martinez).

Even if those players all perform at high levels, it will be increasingly tough to build a winner around them if the overall payroll is going to drop.

“It’s going to collapse on itself,” the National League scout said.

The Tigers’ hope is they can keep that from happening by acting now. The hope is they haven’t waited too long already.

Most teams want to keep their stars right to the end, but few actually do. Of the 34 players on the Hall of Fame ballot announced last week, just two (Jorge Posada and Edgar Martinez) played their entire careers for the teams that originally signed them.

Verlander twice gave up a chance at free agency with the idea he would someday be able to say the same thing. Cabrera, traded from the Marlins to the Tigers when he was 24, twice gave up a chance at free agency with the idea he wouldn’t go anywhere else.

They committed to the Tigers, and the Tigers committed to them.

Whether they end up moving or not, this is the winter when commitment gets tested.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Top Potential Ian Kinsler Suitors, Trade Packages

The hot-stove rumor mill has made it clear that the Detroit Tigers have all their star players on the table. Miguel Cabrera. Justin Verlander. J.D. and Victor Martinez.

And then there’s arguably their most attractive trade chip: Ian Kinsler.

Kinsler, 34, has racked up more wins above replacement over the last three seasons than every second baseman except Jose Altuve. And counting his 2018 option, he’s owed just $21 million over the next two seasons.

There is one string attached to Kinsler’s trade value. As Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported, he has a 10-team no-trade clause that he wouldn’t waive unless his new team agreed to extend him.

“If one of the 10 teams happens to call and wants to talk about it, we’re open to talking about it,” said his agent, Jay Franklin. “(But) they’re going to have to extend him for us to waive the no-trade.”

Further complicating matters is how, as Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors noted, there’s a “relative dearth of demand” for second basemen right now. Second base was one of the most star-studded positions in the majors in 2016, after all.

However, none of this can stop the more imaginative among us from speculating about possible suitors and trade packages for Kinsler. So let’s get to it.


Los Angeles Dodgers

You knew this was coming, for you also saw that one report from Jon Morosi of MLB Network: 

After posting an .823 OPS with 28 homers and playing Gold Glove defense in 2016, Kinsler would be a considerable upgrade for a second base spot in Los Angeles that produced just a .723 OPS without great defense. With Chase Utley and Howie Kendrick out of the picture, said position is also wide-open.

We don’t have to speculate too hard about what the Tigers would take in a trade. Morosi claims they have their eye on a particular Dodgers prospect:

Cody Bellinger is just the kind of blue-chipper the Tigers need to be targeting as they seek to satisfy general manager Al Avila’s vision (via MLB.com’s Jason Beck) for a “younger” and “leaner” team. 

Bellinger put himself on the map with an .873 OPS and 30 homers at High-A in 2015, and he kept it up with an .872 OPS and 26 homers at Double-A and Triple-A in 2016. Baseball America ranked him as the Dodgers’ No. 1 prospect midway through 2016 and as the No. 24 prospect overall.

Per numbers crunched by Kevin Creagh and Steve DiMiceli at The Point of Pittsburgh, that kind of ranking equates to $62 million in surplus value, defined as the “amount of value that a team places on that asset when discussing him in potential trades.”

That comes close to matching up with Kinsler’s value. In light of his strong track record and cheap contract, Rob Rogacki of SB Nation’s Bless You Boys put the “conservative” estimate for Kinsler’s surplus value at $50 million. A straight-up Kinsler-for-Bellinger swap may be a fair enough deal.

But since the Dodgers are one of the 10 teams on Kinsler’s no-trade list, a trade between the two sides would more likely involve Kinsler and cash going to Los Angeles to offset any difference in surplus value and help pay for his new extension.

Or, the Tigers could do business with the…


Pittsburgh Pirates

I’m not aware of any rumors linking the Pirates to Kinsler, but Mike Axisa of CBSSports.com has the right idea in seeing them as a suitor. Kinsler would provide an upgrade at second base and free up Josh Harrison to go back to a super-utility role.

Several of the Pirates’ best young players would probably be untouchable in trade talks. Their lack of starting pitching depth behooves them to hold on to Tyler Glasnow. Andrew McCutchen’s fading star power puts them in the same boat with Austin Meadows. Josh Bell is already penciled in as their everyday first baseman.

Instead, the Pirates and Tigers would have to center a deal around Kevin Newman.

Newman’s a 23-year-old infielder who hit .320 across Single-A and Double-A in 2016. And while he’s a shortstop now, the popular wisdom appears to be that he’s ticketed for a job at second base.

The one problem: Newman landed at No. 51 in Baseball America‘s midseason top 100. That equates to $22.4 million in prospect value. Give him the benefit of the doubt and put him in the top 50, and it only improves to $38.2 million. Still not enough for Kinsler.

Ke’Bryan Hayes would do the trick of evening things out. He landed at No. 72 for Baseball America, giving him $22.4 million in prospect value. But since he’s a 19-year-old third baseman who hasn’t quite put it together yet, he also strikes a balance between an expendable piece for Pittsburgh and an upside play for Detroit.

Or, the Tigers could set their sights on a deal with the…


Atlanta Braves

The Braves have been linked to big-name starting pitchers this winter, most notably Chris Sale. That could just be them throwing a bone to fans who have had to abide two straight terrible seasons.

Or, they could be serious about getting better in 2017 and beyond.

If so, second base would be another good position to upgrade. Jace Peterson, who hit .254 with a .350 on-base percentage in 2016, isn’t bad. But without standout power or defense, he’s not great, either.

Even if Dansby Swanson, now Atlanta’s everyday shortstop, is taken off the table, the Braves still have prospects galore. But there’s one in particular who would stand out to the Tigers in trade talks: Ozzie Albies.

Albies is still only 19, but he owns a .310 average in a minor league career that’s already advanced as far as Triple-A. And while the Braves have him on a path to play second base, MLB.com posits he’s an above-average defensive shortstop.

Albies showed up at No. 17 in Baseball America‘s midseason top 100. That gives him the same prospect value as Bellinger, so a straight-up Kinsler-for-Albies swap could do the trick. If not, the balance could be evened by Detroit sending some money to Atlanta.

Since the Braves may indeed be bluffing about their desire to win now, deals with the Pirates and the Dodgers are more likely. The Dodgers, in particular, loom as the team that needs Kinsler the most and also as one of the best trading partners Detroit could ask for.

However, there could also be some mystery teams out there…


Mystery Teams

The Los Angeles Angels would no doubt love to have Kinsler to fill their black hole at second base. Cliff Pennington as a starting second baseman is…well, not ideal.

The absence of top-100 prospects in the Angels’ decrepit farm system means they’re incapable of matching the quality of other trade packages. But if they were to start a deal with toolsy outfielder Jahmai Jones and pile on, they might offer the Tigers too much quantity to refuse.

The Kansas City Royals are another American League team that needs a second baseman. Of course, there are real barriers between them and Kinsler. They and the Tigers share a division, and adding him doesn’t mesh with their desire to cut payrollRustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star has more on that.

Still, never say never. The Royals could make shortstop Raul A. MondesiBaseball America‘s No. 55 midseason prospect, the centerpiece of an offer and go from there.

The Philadelphia Phillies could also be lying in the weeds. Cesar Hernandez is a good second baseman, but not a franchise cornerstone. The Phillies may want to do better with the end of their rebuild nearing.

A deal between the Phillies and Tigers could involve Hernandez going to Detroit alongside one of Philly’s better prospects. Outfielder Nick Williams, who landed at No. 40 for Baseball America, would work.

There could be other mystery teams out there that are too mysterious to show up on radar. Perhaps Kinsler will end up with a team we haven’t named.

Or, he could end up with one of his most obvious suitors. Let’s go with that until we learn of his fate in real life.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked. Payroll and contract info courtesy of Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

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