MLB Hot Stove: Here are the best trade fits for rebuilding Tigers' top players
But will they actually move guys like Verlander and Cabrera?
Based on comments made by GM Al Avila earlier this offseason, the Detroit Tigers are now heading in a new direction. After years of spending big and flipping prospects for proven big leaguers, the club is going to take a step back and focus on getting younger and creating more payroll flexibility. A rebuild, basically, or something close to it.
"Changes are coming," Avila said in mid October. "We want to get younger. We want to get leaner. We want to run the organization without having to go over our means. We want to stay competitive, but at the same time, this organization has been working way above its means for some time."
So far this appears to be more than just talk. The Tigers traded Cameron Maybin, who had a very nice year, to the Angels for a pitching prospect the day after the end of the World Series. Many of the team's other veterans have popped up in trade rumors as well. Where there's smoke, there's usually fire.
The Tigers won 86 games in 2016 and they have plenty of productive players, productive players who figure to generate lots of trade interest. Moving some figures to be easier than moving others for various reasons, as always. Contracts, no trade clauses, thing like that.
So, with all that in mind, let's take a look at the best fits for Detroit's notable veterans. These are the teams that could use these players the most.
Even at age 33, Miguel Cabrera remains one of the baseball's most devastating hitters. There are some indications he's started to slip with age, yet his 2016 season (.316/.393/.563 with 38 HR) is a career year for almost all other players. The big obstacle is his contract. Cabrera is owed $212 million (!) through 2023. Not many teams can absorb that.
AL teams are the only realistic fits here because Cabrera is almost certainly going to end his career as a full-time DH. The Astros have an immediate need for an impact bat -- even after adding Brian McCann and Josh Reddick -- preferably at first base or DH. Cabrera would provide that. The Astros have the prospects to get a deal done and they're in the fourth largest city in the country. The money is there to make this happen.
Best fit: Mariners
Other fits: Padres
Fewer teams need a great defensive shortstop than I would have guessed. The Mariners are the obvious fit here. Giving Ketel Marte a chance in 2016 was a smart move that didn't work out. He was erratic in the field, and his plate discipline deteriorated so much in the second half that he was useless at the plate. Jose Iglesias is not going to provide a ton of offense, but he's an upgrade both at the plate and in the field over Marte, and he's under control through 2018 as an arbitration-eligible player.
Ian Kinsler remains one of the most productive second basemen in baseball and is such an obviously great fit for the Dodgers, who recently traded Howie Kendrick because he was unhappy about his role. Kinsler plugs their hole at second base and adds the lefty mashing bat they desperately lacked this season. Can they figure out a way to work around his no-trade clause? That remains to be seen. The fit is so obvious -- the Dodgers have the need and the prospects to give up -- that I think this one will happen eventually.
Best fit: Blue Jays
Other fits: Orioles, Red Sox, Yankees, Mariners, Dodgers, Giants
What team couldn't use a guy who's hit .299/.357/.540 over the last three years while averaging 34 homers per 162 games? Contending teams -- or teams that fancy themselves contenders, anyway -- are the most logical destinations for J.D. Martinez because he's going to be a free agent next offseason. He's a rental, so if you trade for him, you need to be ready to win with him right now.
The Blue Jays strike me as the best fit because they stand to lose both Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista to free agency. They've already signed Kendrys Morales to take over as DH, and Martinez could step in to replace Bautista in the outfield. Toronto would avoid the scary long-term commitment and still get a big power bat to keep their lineup dangerous.
Best fit: Red Sox
Other fits: Orioles, Yankees, Astros, Rangers, Mariners, Indians
Considering what Morales received and what Encarnacion is likely to receive as a free agent, two years and $36 million for Victor Martinez doesn't look so bad right now. Although he's limited to DH, Martinez is still very productive (.289/.351/.476 with 27 HR in 2016) and a switch-hitting middle of the order thumper. He's the kind of professional, high contact hitter teams crave these days.
The Red Sox have to replace David Ortiz this offseason and Martinez would fill that lineup hole capably. He spent a year and a half in Boston earlier in this career, so he knows the ropes and there's some familiarity there. It figures to be a seamless transition. Pretty much any AL club with an open DH spot and a chance at the postseason in 2017 -- there are a lot of them -- should have some interest in Martinez.
Let's be frank, Mike Pelfrey is not very good at this point of his career. The guy had a 5.07 ERA and a 1.73 WHIP in 119 innings this past season. Over the last six years it's a 4.83 ERA and 1.55 WHIP in 673 1/3 innings. He's essentially a sixth starter/swingman type, but given the free agent class, you could probably do worse for $8 million in 2017. It's a relatively cheap one-year commitment.
The Marlins are in desperate need of rotation help. That was true before Jose Fernandez's tragic death. The free agent market doesn't have much to offer and Miami's farm system is light on trade chips. Pelfrey could be acquired for basically nothing -- cash or a player to be named later should do it -- and he'd give them another rotation option. Moving into a pitcher's park in the NL figures to help his performance too.
A quality veteran closer is a good fit for basically every team. The Giants probably have the biggest need among projected 2017 contenders. There are plenty of top notch free agent closers on the market (Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, Mark Melancon) and I expect San Francisco to nab one, but they'd still be able to add Francisco Rodriguez as well. As we saw last year, their bullpen problems extend beyond the ninth inning. They need setup help too. K-Rod has worked as a setup man before and he's got one-year left on his contract at $6 million. Low risk pickup that adds much needed bullpen depth.
Best fit: Marlins
Other fits: Padres, Reds, Phillies, Yankees, Orioles, Royals, Pirates
The last few years have not been kind to Anibal Sanchez, who is still somehow only 32. He's got one year and $21.8 million left on his contract -- that includes the buyout of his 2018 option -- and figures to be moved as a salary dump. That means the Tigers are likely to eat a little cash to facilitate a trade and not take much in return. They just want to save as much money as possible.
The Marlins, as I said earlier, are in desperate need of rotation help despite not having many assets to trade. They have a history with Sanchez -- he played for them from 2006-12, so there's some familiarity -- and again, the move into a pitcher friendly park in the NL only figures to help him. The Marlins are going to have to be a little creative to add arms. Anibal (and Pelfrey) is likely to come at an extremely low cost.
Best fit: Phillies
Other fits: Orioles, Yankees, Giants
It was really difficult to come up with a good fit for Upton. He had a disappointing 2016 season (.246/.310/.465 with 31 HR) and there's more than $110 million left on his contract over the next five years. Guys like that tend to be hard to move. It's no surprise the Tigers haven't received much interest despite putting Upton on the market at the trade deadline and again this offseason.
The rebuilding Phillies are in the best position to take Upton, I think. They have so little money on the books long-term -- the Phillies have literally $0 in guaranteed contracts in 2018 -- that they can afford Upton, plus he's only 29, which means he won't be over the hill when they're ready to contend again. Philadelphia would be buying low on a potential big bat in what should be the prime of his career.
Best fit: Dodgers
Other fits: The other 28 teams
Every team in the league wants a pitcher of Justin Verlander's caliber. He rebounded very well from down 2014-15 seasons to lead the AL in strikeouts and WHIP, and very nearly win the Cy Young in 2016. And you know what? The three years and $84 million left on his contract doesn't look so bad at all right now. It's not a super long-term commitment, and it's below the $30 million annual average value free agent aces are getting these days.
The Dodgers make the most sense for Verlander for a few reasons. One, they have the prospects to get a deal done. Two, they have the financial wherewithal to absorb his contract and not think twice about it. And three, they have the motivation to improve. Their window to win is right now, while Clayton Kershaw is in his prime. They have a nice mix of veterans (Adrian Gonzalez, Yasmani Grandal) and youngsters (Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, Julio Urias) on the roster too.
I can't help but think a massive Kinsler/Verlander to the Dodgers blockbuster makes so much sense for both sides. The Dodgers get two great players at positions of need while Detroit sheds two big contracts and recoups significant prospects. That said, trading Verlander will be a tough pill for the Tigers to swallow. He's the face of their franchise and I'm sure they envisioned him ending his career in Detroit.
Best fit: Rangers
Other fits: Yankees, Orioles, Dodgers, Marlins
Remember back in April when Jordan Zimmermann had a few great starts and everyone was like, "see I told you [insert favorite team] should have signed him, best contract of the offseason!" Good times. Zimmermann was hurt and ineffective the rest of the way, so much so that he had to be demoted to the bullpen at one point. The 30-year-old had a 4.87 ERA in 2016 and is owed $92 million over the next four years.
The Rangers are in the unique position of having two ace caliber starters (Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish) and needing rotation help. They wouldn't have to ask Zimmermann to be The Man. He could blend right in as their No. 3 starter. I'm not quite sure what the Tigers would want in return, but the Rangers have prospects of all shapes and sizes. Remember, these two teams connected on a trade involving a seemingly unmovable contract not too long ago (Prince Fielder). It's doable.
To me, the biggest question this offseason is whether the Tigers will actually go through with some tough to swallow trades for the sake of improving their future. It's one thing to deal Upton or Zimmermann. It's another to move Cabrera or Verlander. If they're truly willing to trade players like that, and eat some money to maximize their return, Detroit figures to be at the center of the offseason. They have lots to offer.
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