The Major League Baseball offseason is barely underway and a surprise seller has already emerged. The Detroit Tigers are reportedly listening to offers on every player, according to Jon Paul Morosi. Yes, that includes both Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera.
Tigers general manager Al Avila admitted that, after years of adding payroll and trying to contend, the team will be taking a different approach this winter.
“At the very beginning, I said this may be a process that takes three winters, not just one winter,” Avila told MLB.com’s Brittany Ghiroli on Tuesday. “Now people are like, ‘Oh, they are going to trade everyone.’ No. I don’t know who we are going to trade yet. We want to trade the right guys and certain things might take until next winter. …
“The goal is to shed payroll and get better. Now, how do you do that? It may not all be accomplished in one shot. It’s a process. I’m going to keep on saying that. It’s not a process you do in three months. It’s one you do by changing the philosophy and way you go about it moving forward — as opposed to every year going out and signing big-time free agents and trading away your prospects.”
There’s quite a bit to unpack there. Avila doesn’t guarantee everyone will go, but his comments do seem to signal a big change in Detroit’s philosophy moving forward.
Over the past couple seasons, the Tigers have continued to add payroll to try and keep the team competitive. The Tigers haven’t had a strong farm system recently, so the club has had to bring in big-ticket free agents like Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Upton to try and compete. Combine that with the massive contracts given to Verlander and Cabrera, and suddenly you have a team with a giant payroll.
That payroll hasn’t led to success lately. Detroit finished in last place in the American League Central in 2015. The club rebounded and won 86 games in 2016, but that wasn’t enough to make the playoffs.
While Verlander and Cabrera remain the biggest names thought to be available, moving either of them could prove to be difficult. Both players have full no-trade clauses, and would need to approve any potential deal. On top of that, both are owed a significant amount of money going forward. Cabrera still has $220 million left on his deal over the next seven years. He’s already 34. The 33-year-old Verlander is owed $84 million over the next three seasons.
With that said, both players are still producing at elite levels. Cabrera hit .316/.393/.563 over 679 plate appearances last season. He remains one of the best hitters in the game, and a sure-fire Hall of Famer, but his age is becoming a major concern.
Verlander returned to his old form this season, posting a 3.04 ERA over 227 2/3 innings. That performance made him a finalist for the AL Cy Young award. Despite his success, Verlander falls into the same category as Cabrera. He’s a tremendous player with an exceptional track record, but his age is worrisome. He’s also a pitcher who underwent surgery as recently as 2015.
It should prove much easier for Detroit to sell off other players. Outfielder J.D. Martinez is in the final year of his contract, and should draw interest after hitting .307/.373/.535 over 517 plate appearances. Ian Kinsler also turned in another strong year, and is under team control through 2018, depending on options.
For years now, Detroit has fought to avoid an inevitable tear down. That strategy is no longer viable. The Tigers may not follow through and deal every single player of value on their roster this winter, but it’s clear the team’s philosophy has changed. Whether Cabrera or Verlander are dealt remains to be seen, but simply hearing their names as possible trade targets is jarring.
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