By: Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder
Tuesday kicks off Game 1 of the 2015 World Series between the Royals and Mets. So what can the Tigers do to put themselves in the running for next year’s World Series?
Will they go on a spending spree and pick up every pitcher who’s got a pulse or will they turn over a new leaf and become more selective with what they add to their club for 2016?
We all know where our needs are, but let’s dig into it a little further and discuss what specifically will make this team competitive again.
1. What types of players will the Tigers realistically end up signing through FA or trading to get?
Holly – A complete shopping list will have 2 starters (or even possibly 3), a closer, at least 3 new bullpen arms, a left fielder and maybe even a centerfielder. That’s a tall order! But the restraints of a near tapped-out payroll along with a depleted farm system means a reality-check is in order.
Their top minor league players are the ones they got in trading away Price, Soria and Cespedes, so don’t expect them to become trade bait. They are going to be essential cogs in the rebuilding process.
So, the Tigers must focus on the absolute necessities which include 2 starters, a closer and 2 bullpen arms – pitching, pitching and more pitching.
For purposes of payroll and too many long-term expensive contracts, they won’t go for a premier pitcher like Price or Greinke. They are more likely to go after a Scott Kasmir-type who would sign, as estimated, for possibly 3 years at $12 million/year.
The same goes for closers – no one with a long past history like Nathan but someone on the way up and an absolute maximum of a couple million a year given that most of the top closers out there currently are making league minimum and are notoriously erratic from year to year.
Now that there is an analytics department, I would expect Al Avila to use it and go after some under-the-radar pitchers who are trending upwards.
Kurt – If there is one thing that Al Avila has demonstrated since he became GM is a refreshing willingness to be frank with the media and the fans. Al made it crystal clear that the Tigers will be hunting for pitching.
By the end of last season, outside of Justin Verlander, they did not have much pitching of any kind and the losses mounted giving them a well-deserved last place finish.
As much as I would like to say Daniel Norris can be counted on to be a starter for all of next season, I would be very careful with that expectation.
Assuming JV and Sanchez are your top 2 in the rotation, the Tigers will need at minimum 2 starters. Of course, I would hope, one of the rookies the Tigers received in the fire sale could step in and take that 5th spot, but there are no guarantees and like Avila said, we don’t want to pressure them.
The bullpen is a mess and they will need three pitchers and that includes a closer. Nice predicament isn’t it? Don’t expect the Tigers to grab closer candidate #1 like last time; it will be someone they feel can fill the closer’s role, whether they have been one before or not.
And if they can’t find that guy, or there isn’t a fit, Joakim Soria will be out there. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, but in a pinch it will do.
2. And from a reader (Gary M.):
How much will the Tigers be willing to increase the payroll for 2016 given the pitching holes that must be filled in order to compete?
Holly – Al Avila was quoted as saying Mr. I will be “competitive” but also indicated that the going near the $189 million luxury tax would be “pure insanity.”
As I wrote earlier, the Tigers have $111 million committed to 5 players. Contract raises and arbitration will take payroll to $130 million but one also has to consider that Miggy’s contract will continue to climb up to $32 million/year through 2023 which will impact how close the Tigers go to that luxury tax threshold.
This year, they started with $172 million and when all is said and done, final payroll for 2015 may hover around $178 million. Going on the pattern seen from past years, they could go up to a starting payroll for 2016 at $180 million – $8 million more than last year, giving them some wiggle room to avoid the luxury tax at the end of the year.
Avila may have $50 million to play with which could nab a #2 (free agent) pitcher who may run $18 million and another starter at $12 – $15 million.
With $17 – $20 million left, it gets more complicated. A closer and a bunch of new bullpen arms who could take half of it.
But there are two flies in the ointment: Will the Tigers try to extend JD Martinez and how many of their young pitchers (Greene, Norris, etc.) won’t be rotation-ready? A good chunk of available payroll may have to be re-allocated to those priorities.
Kurt – Are we tired yet of the “lose, so spend more” cycle? With a payroll sitting between $170 and $180 million dollars already, it is hard to fathom them spending much more. But they need so much to get back in the game that it will be very difficult not to; they just need to spend wisely.
And when considering the trade market, the same intelligence needs to be applied when determining who we give up. The trades the Tigers make this off-season cannot include any of the players we received in the deals for our big 3. The franchise must now start being very particular with who and how we add to our ballclub.
We don’t have to make big money splashes every time we make a move. They just need to be fits; guys who can be successful in Detroit. Teams have been successful under the radar; why can’t we?
Keep this in mind: Edinson Volquez and Chris Young are about to make World Series starts for the Royals. Let that sink in for a little bit.