So if you’re ignoring the baseball postseason and only focusing on the Detroit Tigers offseason thus far, you’re probably trapped in a glass case of emotions right about now.
Al Avila has disclosed some offseason plans, which include not chasing players via the free agent market and announcing that he’s not planning on extending the contract of JD Martinez, among other things.
The nervous twitching you might see amongst your Tigers brethren is that this team wasn’t good enough to win despite having one of the highest payrolls in baseball so we gotta get better right just now, damn it…
Except that’s the thing: the Tigers aren’t going to improve via free agency because there isn’t anything that will help this team right now. And yes, the payroll is high, and chasing what is a really shallow pool of talent and adding to the bloated payroll won’t help. Which means only one viable solution exists:
If you want to get better now or for the future, you must trade a player. Or players. It’s going to happen and we might as well get used to that idea.
The current way of Detroit Tigers life as we know it isn’t working, and it hasn’t worked for some time now. Last offseason, we all praised Al Avila for a job well done (we did, and continue to scratch our heads over the Pelfrey deal) over the patching job of some of the holes in the Tigers roster: he brought in bullpen help and eventually filled that gaping hole in left field with a late addition which at the time was viewed as a viable replacement for the departed Yoenis Cespedes.
That addition was Justin Upton, who’s $22MM/season tag was high, and with his early production, was extremely laughable. The guy was striking out hard core, and until 3 days off in mid-August, was a complete failure as an addition to this ball club. After that 3-day break, Upton was knocking the cover off the ball and becoming a useful cog in the lineup.
So, maybe he should have taken those 3 days off in April, eh?
Perhaps, yes. Moving along…
The Tigers traded for Justin Wilson and signed Mark Lowe to help shore up the back end of the bullpen. Wilson started the season off promising and Lowe was a disaster from day 1. Lowe is on the books for another season, so that probably doesn’t sit too well with the fan base. Francisco Rodriguez was brought in the close games and with a few adventures or so, was rather successful at that.
With only 2 standouts in the rotation this season (Verlander/Fulmer), the bullpen was a necessary evil. But it was only evil at times, and that’s part of what doomed the Tigers in 2016.
Jordan Zimmermann had an awesome April and fizzled with injuries and inconsistency, so that wasn't fun either. Nick Castellanos was hit by a pitch that broke his hand. JD Martinez ran into the wall in KC and broke his elbow.
Imagine if the Tigers were healthy and performing up to par and not losing 13 or 14 times to the Cleveland Indians, they'd be in the thick of things...
But they weren't healthy. And they kept losing to Cleveland. And here we are watching them play on.
I dare say: if this club stays healthy and plays up to their actual potential, the Tigers won't need to do any major retooling. Yes, those are big "ifs", and that's the same line of reasoning for every baseball team in the league. However...
The trade bait debate will start.... 3, 2, 1,....
Let's start with JD Martinez. The most logical person to trade away now or at the deadline in July... He's been nothing short of amazing (in regards to his actual value; the Tigers got him for free), and his mini-extension with the club expires after the 2017 season. When he's not running into walls and breaking limbs, he's been a great power presence at the plate. His defense took a dive in 2016 vs his play in 2015, but if he's hitting dingers and such no one will care about that, especially a team that wants a really cheap rental to "win now".
Ian Kinsler is another name that pops up. A man who's aging, but his production at the plate at in the field is still extremely relevant for the Tigers. A man who was acquired for another man who was forced to retire due to neck issues (Prince Fielder), he's been a guy who easily helped the team "win a trade".
Then there's talk of trading guys like Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera. The only thoughts here are: they will be hard to trade because of 10/5 rights, contract numbers, age, etc.
At the end of the day, the "trade bait" brought up to ultimately help improve the team in some way are all popular players within the fanbase and the organization. While it's a necessary evil to make sure the Detroit Tigers are competitive with their large payroll, it's important to figure their future with their present. And that's not easy.
In reality, they could take one more shot, or they could take a couple of steps backwards and try and retool the organization - something they could do if they didn't think they could compete for a playoff spot. But consider this: they have a number of expiring contracts this upcoming season: Pelfrey, Sanchez, JD, Cam, Lowe... And Upton has an opt-out campaign... All of which are usually great motivators in performing well so that the next big pay-day comes. And that's a hell of a risk to take, but when you're looking to shed payroll and rebuild, maybe that patient one-last-season approach should be the one taken here.
The free agent market is dry, and the Tigers don't have much to spend. But that doesn't mean they won't be any good in 2017 without any major upgrades. And there's no real need to freak out over the lack of activity this offseason, because there's not much to banter over. The Tigers could stand pat and they wouldn't be any better or worse than they are now. Fans want to have the next big thing on the roster, but it's just not there. And the bad news is, the big things that are already there might be dangling out there for other teams.
Do or die in 2017... And from one of the most impatient people in human history, I say, just relax and watch the offseason play out. If Avila decides to retool, then so be it. But if he retools while there's a hair of a chance to win, then maybe we should call for Avila's head, and not the roster he's in control of.