By: Holly Horning
It’s been a strange off-season, hasn’t it? Not just for the Tigers but for most of the other 29 teams. And we need to consider the factors that may have influenced one of the coldest Hot Stove seasons in years.
Most trends in baseball form slowly, almost imperceptibly, but within a single year, we’ve now seen a massive shift by most organizations to stubbornly hang onto their top prospects. And the lesson learned by teams may just well rest with the last move Dave Dombrowski made as the Tigers’ GM – trading away talent for 3 top prospects who made an immediate impact. One even won Rookie of the Year.
But for those great moves comes an opposing energy. If teams aren’t trading away their top minor leaguers, just how are the Tigers supposed to get younger and leaner? Will they have to settle for trades that involve unproven A or AA players? If so, how many years will they be in rebuilding mode? And will they be forced to hang onto aging players with huge contracts like the Phillies?
While the Front Office, and most fans, are disappointed so far in the lack of action, the true test will come in July when teams in the hunt look to bolster their chances. This is when sellers have the clear advantage. If the Tigers aren’t in the hunt, or even if they are looking to shed some payroll, they have to trade some players. If they don’t, it may just be the start of a slow decline as their roster ages in place.
But the other factor, just as ominous, is one that the local papers haven’t been discussing. At least in terms of how detrimental it can potentially be to the Tigers. The new CBA agreement.
Under the new contract, every advantage Detroit received from trading players or making qualifying offers will disappear. They will no longer receive compensation of any significant means for players leaving. And many of the benefits will only apply to teams who are under the luxury tax threshold. Rut roh.
First round draft picks are gone and replaced by sandwich picks given to clubs who are under the $195 million ceiling and players who sign contracts elsewhere for over $50 million. And in the case of JD Martinez, who will undoubtedly sign for more than that, the Tigers will get a 4th round sandwich pick.
Which makes us believe that the Tigers will try very hard to trade him this year before his contract expires.
And for those of us hoping that Justin Upton opts out of his contract after 2017, think again. The new agreement will forbid the Tigers from making a qualifying offer to him as part of their strategy to gain a compensation pick. If JUp leaves, Detroit gets nada. Under the old agreement, they would have received a first round draft pick.
Yet another example is Jose Iglesias, a Boras client and undoubtedly destined for free agency after next year. His maximum trade value is this year before he becomes a rental. Avila will not offer him the $17.2 million qualifying offer and thus also lose him without compensation unless the team somehow manages to get under the luxury tax ceiling. Do they trade him this year at maximum value or do they wait and hope that next year sees a reduction in payroll? Do they risk allowing him to leave next year and potentially receive no compensation?
We should all be glad that none of us have the role of GM.
But now the Tigers are caught between a rock and hard place. They are being punished for their iceberg approach – their roster being the most visible but their farm system buried down below and invisible. The farm system that sustains teams and can squash years of competitiveness. Years of neglecting the system that feeds the organization is about to bite them in a big way.
If compensation is significantly diminished and if teams aren’t trading their youth, how will the Tigers feed talent into their roster?
The logical answer is through their now-barren farm system. The same system that just signed 25+ older players on the downside of their careers to play in AAA. And their system is only as good as their scouting program which has been filled by the same scouts and management for over a decade.
It may not be glamorous and we may not know the names, but some of this year’s best news about the team would be a revamping and accelerated alteration of everything related to the farm system.