Tag: Detroit Tigers

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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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.

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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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Justin Verlander Defends Kate Upton’s Tweets Regarding MLB Cy Young Award Loss

Kate Upton, the fiancee of Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander, expressed her frustration with this year’s American League Cy Young voting Wednesday when it was announced Boston Red Sox pitcher Rick Porcello won the award despite receiving fewer first-place votes.  

In a series of NSFW tweets, Upton had some pointed words for baseball writers who failed to include Verlander on their ballots:

Hey @MLB I thought I was the only person allowed to f–k @JustinVerlander ?! What 2 writers didn’t have him on their ballot? He had the majority of 1st place votes and 2 writers didn’t have him on their ballots?!! can you pick more out of touch people to vote?@MLB. Sorry Rick but you didn’t get any 1st place votes? you didn’t win. #ByeFelicia@MLB keep up with the times and fire those writers

On Thursday, Verlander explained the reasons behind Upton’s outrage in a Twitter conversation with the New York Daily News‘ Mark Feinsand: 

Verlander finished the 2016 season 16-9 with a 3.04 ERA, league-best 1.001 WHIP and 10.0 strikeouts per nine innings. Porcello, meanwhile, went 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA, 1.009 WHIP, 7.6 strikeouts per nine innings and a league-best ratio of 5.91 strikeouts to one walk.

According to the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, the two voters who failed to include Verlander on their ballots were Fred Goodall of the Associated Press and Bill Chastain of MLB.com. 

Chastain admitted in a conversation with Feinsand that he sent his ballot in a week before the regular season ended, and he disclosed that his choice for first place was between Porcello and Baltimore Orioles closer Zach Britton.

Over the final week of the season, Verlander pitched 14.2 innings and allowed one earned run. In his lone start during that same stretch, Porcello allowed eight hits and three earned runs in a 5-3 Red Sox win over the Toronto Blue Jays

“I feel bad that people are upset about this; I did the best I could,” Chastain said. “I went around the clubhouse, I asked guys. I agonized over this. The biggest thing for me was between (Baltimore closer Zach) Britton and Porcello.”

Tampa Bay Times writer and chairman of the BBWAA’s Tampa Bay chapter Marc Topkin noted neither Chastain nor Goodall voted with malicious intent.

“Both Bill and Fred are longtime veteran, experienced baseball writers and certainly have the ability to make what they felt were the proper decisions,” he said, per Feinsand. 

While the 33-year-old Verlander may have come up short in the voting, his production throughout the second half of the season indicated he should remain effective well into his mid-30s. 

After he went 8-6 before the All-Star break, Verlander posted an 8-3 record, 1.96 ERA, 134 strikeouts and 24 walks in 110.1 innings after the break. 

Based on those stellar stats, Verlander should be in the Cy Young conversation for a couple of more seasons as he seeks to maintain his status as one of the AL’s premier pitchers. 


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless noted otherwise. 

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Kate Upton Comments on Fiance Justin Verlander Not Winning MLB Cy Young Award

Major League Baseball announced Boston Red Sox ace Rick Porcello won the 2016 American League Cy Young Award on Wednesday, which left Detroit Tigers hurler Justin Verlander in second place.

His fiancee, supermodel Kate Upton, was not pleased with the results (Warning: NSFW language):

As Upton mentioned, Verlander finished in second place despite garnering the most first-place votes. She was wrong, however, about Porcello’s failing to receive any first-place votes, as the Baseball Writers’ Association of America shared:

Upton wasn’t the only one upset with the results. Verlander’s younger brother, Ben, weighed in on the Cy Young voting:

Verlander has a case that extends beyond the first-place votes he received. He finished with a slightly better WHIP than Porcello (1.00 to 1.01) and threw more innings (227.2 to 223.0) in the process. He also posted a better ERA and comparable numbers to Porcello and fellow finalist Corey Kluber in other categories, per FanGraphs:

However, the numbers were close across the board, and Porcello enjoyed advantages in some of the statistics as well. His Red Sox also won the American League East at 93-69, while Verlander’s Tigers were left on the outside of the playoffs looking in at 86-75.

While team performance isn’t necessarily a final determinant of individual awards, that Porcello’s team made the playoffs likely helped his cause.

The Cy Young results were more personal to Upton given her relationship with Verlander, but this isn’t the first topic from the sports world she discussed on her Twitter page. For example, she was not pleased when Arian Foster and other NFL players knelt during the national anthem earlier this year, either:

Upton isn’t happy her fiance missed out on the Cy Young, but she can take solace in knowing he already has the award on his resume. Verlander won the 2011 Cy Young the same year he captured the AL MVP when he won the pitching version of the Triple Crown by leading the AL in wins (24), ERA (2.40) and strikeouts (250).

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Justin Verlander’s Cy Young-Level 2016 Gives Tigers Golden Trade Opportunity

There’s a one-in-three chance Justin Verlander will win the American League Cy Young Award on Wednesday. Two things will happen if he does.

One: A trophy case that already features a Cy Young alongside a Rookie of the Year Award and a Most Valuable Player Award will look even better. Two: His trade value, which skyrocketed in 2016, will inch even higher.

Thing No. 2 is relevant in light of current events in the Detroit Tigers front office. Following the Tigers’ second straight postseasonless campaign, ESPN.com’s Buster Olney warned in October that Detroit would be in a trading mood this winter.

In recent days, general manager Al Avila has been busy saying “Yup” to every news outlet within earshot.

“Our organization has been working well over its means for several years, for our market size, if you compare our payroll with the rest of baseball,” Avila told ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick, referencing a payroll that has ballooned from under $100 million in 2007 to $198.6 million on Opening Day in 2016.

“It’s gotten to the point, quite frankly, where it can’t continue to go up and up and up,” Avila continued. “At what point do you say, ‘Enough?’ We have to start making some adjustments. Whether they’re subtle or bigger depends on what teams out there are looking for and how some of our guys may fit them.”

The road ahead for the Tigers involves getting younger and cheaper. They can’t do this by waiting on young talent that’s already in place. The Tigers graduated AL Rookie of the Year finalist Michael Fulmer to the majors in 2016, but he was the lone standout in a farm system that Baseball America had ranked No. 26 in MLB going into the year.

Detroit’s first step forward must involve trimming some old and expensive fat. Hence why every big-money Tigers star is rumored to be available, though Verlander and Miguel Cabrera carry the most intrigue.

One is a two-time MVP and lifetime .321 hitter who still has a strong case for the Best Hitter in Baseball crown. The other is a decorated ace who put two injury-marred seasons in 2014 and 2015 in the rearview mirror with a return to form in 2016. Verlander put up a 3.04 ERA in 227.2 innings and led the AL in strikeouts (254) and WHIP (1.00).

When it comes to trade value, however, one of these things is not like the other.

Cabrera is awfully good, but he’s also 33 years old with seven years and $220 million remaining on his contract. In early November, Craig Edwards of FanGraphs found that Cabrera isn’t likely to offer any excess value beyond that. Detroit may therefore have to eat some of his contract in order to flip him for young talent.

Verlander is in a different boat. He’s owed a relatively reasonable $84 million over the next three seasons, and Edwards projected him to provide excess value on top of that. Hypothetically, the Tigers should be able to move his entire contract and get some young talent in return.

In a normal offseason, the availability of aces on the open market would be a threat to push back against Verlander’s trade value.

But this is no normal offseason. The best free-agent starting pitcher is Rich Hill, who is equal parts talented and fragile. After him, it’s a dark and decrepit landscape that, thanks to a surprise twist, doesn’t even include Jeremy Hellickson anymore, with the Philadelphia Phillies’ announcement he accepted their qualifying offer.

As such, the only force that could lower Verlander’s trade value is pessimism about whether he has more seasons like 2016 in him. He is also 33, after all. One great season at this point in his career arguably wasn’t enough to undo the disappointment of the prior two seasons, in which he had a 4.08 ERA in 52 starts.

Or, interested parties will be optimistic—as they should be in this case.

Verlander was successful in 2016 because he was overpowering. He went from striking out 7.2 batters per nine innings in 2014-15 to striking out 10.0 batters per nine innings in 2016.

What’s more, his average fastball was 93.5 mph—short of his 95.6 mph peak in 2009, sure, but better than his 92.3 mph average in 2014 and his 92.8 mph average in 2015.

And per Brooks Baseball, the revival of Verlander’s velocity started strong and got even better throughout the year:

After he struggled to get back to full strength in 2014 following offseason core muscle surgery and then battled an oblique injury at the outset of 2015, this was a good sign that Verlander’s previous issues had less to do with age and more to do with physical ailments that are now behind him.

“All of a sudden, it becomes fun again,” the 6’5″ right-hander told Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports in September. “I was allowed to compete with the other team as opposed to competing against myself.”

Of course, optimism about Verlander’s velocity can only be so ironclad. At his age, the possibility that it could decline again can’t be ignored.

But even if it does, two things could ensure his dominance doesn’t also diminish: spin and location.

According to Baseball Savant, Verlander threw a higher percentage of high fastballs in 2016 than he had since 2009. Batters hit just .145 against them. That’s related to how, in addition to improved velocity, his fastball had the highest spin rate of any four-seamer thrown by all pitchers with at least 2,000 pitches.

However, this was only Verlander doubling down on a trend he started with inferior velocity the previous year. He held hitters to a .146 average on high heat in 2015, with one factor being that there was little difference in the spin rates of Verlander’s 2016 fastball and his 2015 fastball:

  • 2016: 2,565 RPM
  • 2015: 2,500 RPM

In January, Mike Petriello of MLB.com noted that Verlander wasn’t the first pitcher to succeed with high-spin heaters up in the zone. That’s been Chris Young’s weapon of choice his whole career. And no matter how much Verlander’s velocity may decline over the next three years, it’s not likely to get to a point where it matches Young’s mid- to high 80s “heat.”

Thus, Verlander’s 2016 wasn’t just a return to form. It was a return to form with a good fail-safe in the event he can’t maintain that form going forward.

This is not to characterize him as the only Detroit star who’s worth monitoring as the rumor mill continues to go round and round. Cabrera shouldn’t be ignored, and Ian Kinsler and J.D. Martinez may be most likely to be moved.

But in Verlander, the Tigers have just the thing that can serve both their needs and the market’s needs: a big-name ace who’s worth a high asking price.

Let the bidding begin.


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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Ian Kinsler Trade Rumors: Latest News, Speculation on Tigers 2B

If the Detroit Tigers start to tear down their aging roster and build for the future, second baseman Ian Kinsler will be an attractive piece for an opposing team.

Continue for updates. 

Dodgers Look at Kinsler

Thursday, Nov. 10

Per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, the Los Angeles Dodgers believe Kinsler is a potential fit for their roster but did not have any substantial talks with the Tigers during the general manager meetings this past week. 

The Dodgers do have an opening at second base with Chase Utley entering free agency this offseason and Howie Kendrick being shopped as a potential trade candidate, per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. 

Tigers general manager Al Avila previously said the team would likely be taking a different approach this offseason by trying to add more young talent and create more financial flexibility, per Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press:

I can’t call it a rebuild, because we haven’t really broken anything down. I’m not comfortable with the word ‘rebuild.’ I don’t think that’s the right term. I’ve read ‘retool,’ but 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. I really don’t. If you guys can come up with a slogan, let me know, and we’ll go with it.

Per Evan Woodbery of MLive.com, Avila said Tuesday the Tigers were willing to hear offers for players like Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera but were not actively shopping them. 

The Tigers do have an aging and expensive nucleus heading into 2017. Cabrera, Verlander, Kinsler, Victor Martinez, Anibal Sanchez and Jordan Zimmermann are all 30 or older. 

Per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the Tigers currently have $179 million in payroll obligations for 2017 before factoring in players who are eligible for arbitration.

Kinsler has an affordable $11 million salary with a team option for 2018 at $10 million, per Spotrac. He did have a strong 2016 season with an .831 OPS, but at 34 years old, it’s fair to wonder how many more peak years he has left. 

Because Kinsler’s contract falls closer to team-friendly territory than the longer-term deals for Cabrera or Verlander, it would make sense for the Tigers to dangle him in a deal to see if it brings back any significant bites from a team. 


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J.D. Martinez Trade Rumors: Latest News and Speculation on Tigers OF

Detroit Tigers outfielder J.D. Martinez has become the subject of trade rumors this offseason.

Continue for updates.

Martinez Reportedly Most Likely Tiger to Be Dealt

Thursday, Nov. 10

A rival executive told Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports that outfielder J.D. Martinez is the Tigers star most likely to be dealt this offseason, citing his status as a free agent following the 2017 season and Detroit’s collection of right-handed power in the lineup. 

With Miguel Cabrera, Justin Upton, Ian Kinsler, Victor Martinez (switch-hitter) and Nick Castellanos, the Tigers are loaded from the right side of the plate.

Certainly, Martinez’s pending free agency makes him expendable. And Buster Olney of ESPN Insider reported in October that the Tigers would listen to offers on all of their players this offseason, even guys like Cabrera and Justin Verlander, franchise staples.

While Olney acknowledged that hardly meant the Tigers were about to embark on a fire sale, it was an indication that the front office was at least considering a mild makeover after the team failed to reach the postseason in 2016.

And general manager Al Avila already suggested the Tigers were interested in lowering their payroll and weren’t, at the time, interested in offering Martinez a long-term extension, per Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press:

I don’t foresee any talks of a long-term contract at this point. In saying that, we’re going to keep an open mind in what possibilities come across this winter, this coming summer. I’m not going to rule out that we wouldn’t consider a long-term deal, but sitting here today, we’re not thinking that way right now. Can’t say we wouldn’t be thinking about that down the road.

Martinez, 29, is an appealing trade chip.

He hit .307 with 22 home runs, 68 RBI and 69 runs scored in 2016. He was amazing in 2015, ripping 38 homers and 102 RBI. He’s sandwiched that breakout campaign with seasons where he hit at least 22 home runs but also played 123 games or fewer.

And based on Avila’s comments, it’s hard to imagine the Tigers won’t at least entertain the notion of dealing Martinez.


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Francisco Rodriguez Contract Option Picked Up by Tigers: Details, Reaction

The Detroit Tigers have picked up their $6 million contract option on pitcher Francisco Rodriguez, the team announced Thursday.

Rodriguez saved 44 games last year while posting a 3.24 ERA in his first season with the Tigers, who acquired him in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers in November 2015.

Although he had five blown saves and his strikeout rate reached a career low at 8.0 per nine innings, the closer found a way to help the team late in games throughout the 2016 campaign.

“We liked the job K-Rod did last season and the numbers show he was a reliable closer for us,” general manager Al Avila said, per Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press. “He stabilizes the back end of our bullpen and provides veteran leadership to our younger bullpen arms.”

Rodriguez is MLB‘s active leader with 430 saves in his career, good for fourth on the all-time list behind only Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman and Lee Smith. He has been selected to six All-Star Games and finished in the top five in Cy Young voting three times.

While he has lost some life on his fastball, Rodriguez remains one of the most consistent relievers in baseball. He is set to retain his role as the Tigers closer, with Alex Wilson and Justin Wilson remaining key cogs at the back end of the bullpen.

The 34-year-old had a $2 million buyout if the team had declined the option on the final year of his contract.


Salary information via Baseball-Reference.com.

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Cabrera, Verlander Add New Headliners to MLB Rumor Mill as Tigers Eye Rebuild

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 MLB.com:

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.”

ESPN.com’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.

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