By: Holly Horning
We didn’t plan it this way. Kurt and I rarely coordinate our topics and we never read each other’s blogs in advance of publishing jointly. But on Saturday, I decided to write about concerns in the outfield for my Monday piece. And on Sunday, Kurt addressed Justin Upton. Two bloggers, two days and the same topic.
It’s just that clear there is a big concern that the Tigers need to address.
While Kurt wrote about the immediate, it’s the future that keeps me up at night. Because if Justin Upton doesn’t start to turn things around this year, there will be a trickle down effect impacting the entire outfield.
The Tigers actually are in a position many teams wished they were in. Namely, as they put it, they have a “glut” of outfielders in Toledo. But when you have 7 guys in contention for 3 positions, more than half of them are not gonna make it. And if you think the most talented will be the ones to survive, it just may not be the case.
The current outfield consists of Upton, Maybin and JD. In Toledo, the Tigers have Collins, Gose and Moya – and now JaCoby Jones. Moving Jones from his expected infield position into CF tells us what Detroit’s outfield may look like in the near future.
But expect Toledo’s ranks to thin out shortly. Putting Jones into CF, combined with Brad’s statements about not needing to call up another outfielder, and using Upton in CF when necessary, tells us that Gose’s time in Detroit has run its course. No surprise as his reputation from Toronto followed him into the US. A guy who has struggled mightily at the plate yet refuses to step it up by taking on-field batting practice or listening to the pleas of Wally Joyner. The only player who takes BP in the indoor batting cages.
On the other hand, the stories of Collins and Moya remain unclear for the moment.
In Detroit, the outfield looks even more uncertain beyond 2017. A year in which Justin Upton can “upt-out” and both Maybin’s and JD’s contracts conclude. Who will stay? Who will leave?
The key to this equation is Upton. If he performs really well, he may just use his clause and leave, which would make life so much simpler for the Tigers. But if he doesn’t, then the Front Office will have to make some hard choices. Choices that fans may not like.
Justin is one of MLB’s most highly paid outfielders, earning $22 million per year for each of the next 6 years. The fact that his opt-out clause kicks in after 2017, and that JD’s contract also expires at the same time, isn’t lost on any of us. The Tigers were most probably hoping Upton would give the team a short-term needed boost and then leave, paving the way for JD to become the outfield star.
But if Justin turns out to be a monumental bust, will the Tigers decide to add another huge mega-salary? If Justin is making $22 million for his performance, won’t JD insist on being paid much more? He’s earning a paltry $7 million this year and $12 million in 2017.
Don’t be surprised if the Tigers, especially if Chris Ilitch takes over, have to allow JD to leave Detroit.
Maybin, on the other hand, is a steal this year with part of his salary being paid by his former team. The Tigers have a $9 million option on him for next year with a $1 million buyout. Unless he has real issues with staying healthy, expect the team to keep him.
But the fast-tracking of Jones, also a dedicated centerfielder, poses some real issues. Both Maybin and Jones are RH hitters. And it appears that the Front Office is intent on keeping Jones and unlikely to keep him in Toledo for 2 long years.
Could the Tigers have erred in their vision of how the outfield would shake out? Could they have thought that Upton would surely leave, giving way to an outfield of Maybin, Jones and JD? It’s logical.
But maybe they didn’t seriously consider a worse-case scenario. One in which 2018’s outfield would consist of Upton, Jones and Moya.
Yet just one more reason why we all need to hope that Justin Upton figures things out and has a minimum of one outstanding year.