By: Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder
Baseball still lives and breathes at Totally Tigers. We will keep grinding the pavement looking for answers to some of the team’s most compelling questions.
On this Tuesday, our writers will tackle questions regarding potential off-season trades. So, it will be interesting to see the range of perspectives, given Holly and Kurt haven’t shared their answers, per usual.
Of all the Tiger veterans who have been mentioned as potential trade pieces, who is most likely to be traded?
Let’s ignore the bullpen as it’s a transient piece, along with players like Pelfrey and Sanchez for obvious reasons, and focus on the players we’d hate to see leave.
First of all, the presumed new rotation of Verlander, Zimmermann, Fulmer, Norris and Boyd won’t be leaving if the Tigers want to compete in 2017. And despite certain journalists who try to raise readership levels with their outrageous theories, Miguel Cabrera ain’t goin’ anywhere either. Nothing kills attendance, revenue and upsets the fan base more than trading your franchise player and certain Hall-of-Famer.
If Al Avila is smart, he won’t trade the glue that holds this team together – Maybin and especially Ian Kinsler who is now an absolute bargain. And Nick Castellanos is staying as he develops into a promising top of the line slugger and is team-controlled for another 3 years. But Avila may try to trade Justin Upton in order to keep JD Martinez beyond next year.
Who actually gets traded is really going to depend upon who is ready to step into their shoes. Sadly, two of the most likely candidates are JD Martinez due to expected high salary demands in 1 year and Jose Iglesias, who will certainly leave in 2 years with Scott Boras peddling him to the highest bidder. Iglesias is currently at his highest trade value before he becomes a “rental” in less than a year.
Potentially, if Bruce Rondon is finally deemed ready to handle more responsibility, he and/or Joe Jimenez could replace KRod as the closer. The results from Winter Ball will be really telling in terms of where our GM will go.
Maybe we should start with the vets who won’t be traded; Verlander and Cabrera. These are mainstays on this team, still playing at a high level. Many who don’t have skin in the game might say, yeah right, that’s why they should be trade bait. But these are the pillars of the Tigers who mean a lot to the success of the organization and will continue to lead this team.
Frankly, this off-season could be more about who is not signed or who is let go, but if I am forced to answer and that’s really the point of this exercise, I will swallow hard and say J.D. Martinez.
The Tigers, who again are hinting at decreasing their payroll, would go a long way towards doing that by avoiding a Martinez contract extension. They have young outfielders in the minors, led by JaCoby Jones, and they may decide to go young at both remaining outfield positions, rightfield and centerfield, as Justin Upton is cemented in left.
In the end, it’s the Upton deal that is the real shame in all of this. Because having to consider trading JD is a real kick in the teeth.
What area of weakness should the Tigers strengthen if they were to trade a front line player?
A front line player, by definition, is a major piece and we shouldn’t expect him to fetch a reliever or two due to their typical unexpected performance and occasional use. No, any new player should be an essential cog and everyday player.
Starting pitching should be Avila’s primary goal. The Tigers have 5 starters of varying degrees of dependability – JV, Zimmermann, Fulmer, Boyd and Norris. Given that 3 of the 5 went on the DL in 2016, one more starter would give them depth when (not if) one of them goes down or has their innings limited.
Conceivably, either Boyd or Norris could go to the bullpen early in the year and step into the rotation later on. They could join Pelfrey or Sanchez there if the latter cannot be traded.
But if the Tigers can’t get that starting pitcher, then the outfield needs to be their focus. The Tigers’ outfield (not just the 3 starters) were one of the worst in MLB this past year with a -56 runs lost due to their defensive skills. And the Tigers are desperate for outfielders given that they switched JaCoby Jones from the infield to CF and signed 3 ageing MLB veterans to minor league contracts in order to fill in the gaps.
Although trading JD Martinez would be a huge blow to the Tigers offensively, it would be an opportunity to improve defensively, which was a real problem in the outfield in 2016.
Younger and speedier outfielders will always be an asset in the huge expanse of Comerica Park. Many still wonder why the Tigers haven’t really built their team for the park. But that horse has been beaten enough.
Depending on who we trade, the bullpen must also be part of the return package. And given the change in philosophy around the league, it wouldn’t hurt for the Tigers to follow suit in getting some more versatility down in the pen.
You can never have enough pitching, and we just don’t know if pitchers like Greene and Wilson will develop or decline. Same goes for Rondon and of course KRod, if he sticks around. Standing pat in the bullpen is never an option. You can continue to build from within, but must also keep an eye out for a difference maker via trade.