You'll recall this past offseason that the Detroit Tigers were pondering a rebuild. After years of contending and running high payrolls, the organization perhaps needed a reset.
Well, that never came to pass, and the Tigers, roster intact, went into the 2017 season with reasonable designs on contention yet again. On that point, please regard the AL Central standings prior to Friday night's action ...
|Chi. White Sox||20||25||.444||6||204||189||15||3-7||L 3|
|Kansas City||19||27||.413||7½||153||199||-46||4-6||L 1|
The Tigers certainly aren't buried, but they're in third place, presently on a 77-win pace, and running a poor run differential. As well, the reigning AL champion Indians project much better moving forward. As for the AL wild card fray, it's again going to be a crowded one, and the Tigers don't profile as leading candidates to secure one of those two "backdoor" playoff berths.
That lackluster start plus the competitive realities bring us to this scoop from MLB Network's Jon Morosi:
If #Tigers are still under .500 by end of June, sources say they'll revert to stance from November: All veterans will be available in trade.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) May 26, 2017
Really, their proximity to playoff position should be the guide rather than their proximity to the .500 mark, but you get the general point. As Morosi states, all veterans are going to be available barring improvement, but it still seems unlikely that franchise icons Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander would be moved (in related matters, each of those icons is still owed a lot of money).
Elsewhere, the Tigers would no doubt love to take advantage of the always overheated market for starting pitchers, but vets Jordan Zimmermann and Anibal Sanchez have struggled badly in 2017 -- Sanchez even accepted a recent demotion to Triple-A. Similarly, DH Victor Martinez has little to offer a contender at this stage of his career.
So which Tigers might be on the move leading up to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline? Here's a sampling ...
Justin Upton, OF
Upton's got an opt-out in his contract after this season, which means he's a potential free agent. While it looked unlikely he'd use that opt-out after last season, he's rebounded nicely in 2017: .242/.351/.477 (126 OPS+) with nine homers and four stolen bases in 43 games. Still just 29, Upton's fully capable of continuing to produce at such a level for the near- to mid-term. If he doesn't opt out, then his new team will be on the hook for more than $90 million through the 2021 season, so the Tigers might need to include some cash, at least on a contingent basis, in any deal that's going to bring them back some interesting young talent. Whatever the case, Upton's right-handed power should drum up interest on the market.
J.D. Martinez, OF
Martinez revamped his swing to focus on driving the ball in the air, and the results have been fairly astounding. Prior to arriving in Detroit, Martinez owned a career slugging percentage of .387. Since joining the Tigers and drastically adjusting his approach, he's slugged a whopping .551 across parts of four seasons. When healthy, Martinez has been one of the most reliable power hitters in baseball throughout recent history. He'll be a free agent this coming offseason, so the Tigers would certainly do well to get some value for him while they can. Martinez's power and modest financial commitment (he's owed the balance of an $11.75 million salary for 2017) should fetch a nifty return. Yes, he's on an expiring contract, but the team that acquires him will get that exclusive negotiating window, should they choose to use it.
Ian Kinsler, 2B
Kinsler's 35 and isn't enjoying his strongest season at the plate. That said, he put up strong numbers in 2016, and even in offensive decline he still figures to add some value in the field and on the bases (he's long been one of the best at taking the extra base). Also, his hitting in 2017 has been adequate by the standards of middle infielder, and there's hope for improvement given his track record. A contender in need of stability at the keystone could use a guy like Kinsler, even given his advanced baseball age. As for his contract, it provides some flexibility, as Kinsler has a $12 million club option with a $5 million buyout for 2018.
Alex Avila, C/1B
Avila may not be capable of handling full-time catching duties any longer, but he's still an option at the position. As well, he can play first base. Really, though, it's his step forward with the bat that makes Avila a compelling target. Like a lot of hitters these days, he's adjusted his swing to allow more hard contact in the air, and it's paid off in a big way thus far. No, Avila probably isn't going to maintain that lofty 205 OPS+ he boasts at the moment, but even with some regression this new approach figures to yield results that outstrip his career norms (this season, he's drastically increased his fly-ball percentage, line drive rate, and hard-hit rate). Avila may be a useful lineup regular who's owed the MLB equivalent of pennies for the remainder of the season. That kind of profile will have takers.
Elsewhere, GM Al Avila -- yes, father of Alex -- may be able to flip one or of more of his useful relievers (Shane Greene, Justin Wilson, and Alex Wilson have all been excellent this season, and lefty Blaine Hardy has been at least good for his entire career). So there are some moveable parts in place, and some of those could net the Tigers some interesting young talent in return.
If June is unkind to the Tigers insofar as the 2017 standings are concerned, then they may be one of July's most active teams.