It appears that the Tigers offseason has taken some shape: Al Avila is looking to trim payroll, and it seems that everyone... yes, everyone, is up for grabs.
Naturally, if payroll is a problem, then Detroit's resident dinosaur Mike Ilitch is likely not factoring in to the inner decisions of the ball club, but rather his son Chris is now pulling the strings. And if that's the case, the team is looking to save money now rather than spend it.
Which is fine, no one really wants to spend a bunch of money, they just want to keep it for themselves.
The problem is, after years of obscurity and poor baseball product of the field, the fans who remember the days prior to 2006 don't really want to venture back to that fold. It's not fun, and a championship-hungry fan base really doesn't want to see that all go down.
That said, this already bumpy offseason has already seen one fan-favorite dealt away in the name of saving money. Cameron Maybin, who was great in his return to the ball club (unlucky injuries aside), was traded to the Angels, in a deal that pretty much said 'we don't want to pick up your $9MM option or buy you out for $1MM'. The Tigers found a team willing to spend the money on that option and got someone in return for him.
Sure, that sounds good. The team actually got something in return rather than spending money to send Maybin adrift. At the time, we found it hard to believe that casting him aside, the current crop of candidates to fill that new hold in center field would be viable for the upcoming 2017 season... that being the likes of Tyler Collins, Anthony Gose, or JaCoby Jones, just to name a few.
At the moment, none of those names reek of excellence, so the Tigers might just upgrade, right?
Think better, dummy. This is a payroll dump, and not anything else.
With that thought in mind, this offseason will likely be awful in terms of putting a truly competitive product out there while saving money for this suddenly frugal franchise.
Avila has allegedly warned his players... all of them, that their names may/will come up in trade talks/discussions/rumors as we meander our way through the fall. Though with certain players making certain money, trading these folks away won't be easy - in terms of getting remotely equal value back for them - and that's where this offseason will get frustrating for fans. The fan base is used to having things resolved in break-neck speed, but it's the other way around when it comes to finding a suitor for players who may have some heavy baggage (contract or otherwise) to haul around.
The two players who will be impossible to find equal compensation for (never mind that both have 10/5 rights and can veto any or all trades) are Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander.
Starting with Miggy:
He's owed $28MM next season, $30MM/yr for the next four seasons, and $32MM/yr for the two following that. The last 2 years of his contract, 2024-25, are club options that are guaranteed for top-10 finishes in the MVP voting. Even if you find someone who wants Miggy - and let's face it, there's 29 other teams who want him - you will never get full value back for him. Teams who want to trade for him aren't going to want to pay the full brunt of that contract, which means the Tigers would likely have to figure out how to not only continue to pay for a portion of the contract, they'd also have to have a hell of a return for such a trade, and that's not even remotely possible.
Next up, Justin Verlander:
Trying to trade JV isn't entirely out of the realm of possibility, but again... getting equal value for him in return is highly unlikely. His contract is a little more friendly (in terms of time only, because it's still steep in price), and he could probably be coaxed into being dealt somewhere to a team who could take on the $28MM/yr he's still owed for the next 3 seasons ($20MM vesting option in 2020). JV had a bit of a bounce-back year in 2016 and for the most part, returned to form and has himself back in everyone's Cy Young candidate talk (he's a finalist for 2016). At the right price, he and the future Mrs Verlander could be hobnobbing in somewhere that's not Detroit very soon.
What about the newly minted Gold Glover?
Ian Kinsler made $14MM last season, and is only due $11MM next season with the Tigers and has a $10MM club option for 2018. Sweet deal, if you ask me. Of course, it's the Texas Rangers who made this deal... it just so happens that the Tigers picked up the rest of this when they traded Prince Fielder to the Rangers for Ian. Yeah, that's the 2nd best Dave Dombrowski deal ever, considering Prince was often injured and was subsequently forced to retire because of that, but hey, gotta get lucky once in a while, right? Except that those cheap Ian numbers collide with the fact that Prince is still getting Tigers money from that trade. Kinsler had a solid year at the plate in 2016, and he and Jose Iglesias are great together up the middle.
It would be hard for this fan to trade (or even try to trade) these guys away, even in the scope of payroll slashing. In large part, it'll be hard to just trade away all the money that's owed to certain players, because teams don't necessarily want the burden that the Tigers have put themselves in. Now, if you want to try and trade the contracts of folks like Anibal Sanchez, Mike Pelfrey, or Mark Lowe, then by all means... go for it. That will also be difficult thanks to their terrible 2016 campaigns and their hefty salaries.
The trade that would make the most sense for the Tigers this offseason is that of JD Martinez. When healthy, his bat is pure. But after a breakout 2015 defensively, his on-field presence and prowess took a few steps backwards and was proven to be a bit of a liability in 2016. The pop in his bat though should be enough to help trade away the $11.75MM he'll make next season. After that, JD is a free agent and would certainly be an unlikely candidate for an extension from the ball club thanks to the sudden penny-pinching. For the Tigers, there's no reason to assume they couldn't offload him for a prospect or two to begin this fire sale... err... rebuilding process.
The Tigers can trim up the payroll a bit, but should do it cautiously. I'm not too sure the fan base is confident in Al Avila after his lackluster first full season as the team's GM, and just because you want to trim payroll doesn't mean you should want to be not-competitive. Because if you unload all of the heavy contracts in the name of saving a bunch of money, the next thing that gets trimmed will be ticket sales.
No one wants to see the Tigers dip back into the dark ages, but the fans assume that could happen with the little chatter that has happened thus far. And that will make for a dangerous offseason, and an unbearable 2017 campaign.