2 Detroit Tigers roster scenarios for 2018

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MLB: Cleveland Indians at Detroit Tigers
Sep 28, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers left fielder Justin Upton (8) waves to the crowd before the game against the Cleveland Indians at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

It is no secret that the 2018 Detroit Tigers may look a lot different than this year’s current club. With 2017 as disappointing as it has been the talk around town is that the team will be going through a much-needed rebuild. The stated goal of the organization going forward was to get younger and more athletic while staying under the luxury tax–something they haven’t been able to do over the last few years.

Oct 2, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Detroit Tigers left fielder Justin Upton (8) bats against the Atlanta Braves in the fifth inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers have some very interesting decisions to make this coming offseason and it seems that a lot of it hinges on the decision of Justin Upton. Upton can opt out of his contract which guarantees him $22.125 million until 2021, so this blue print is built in two ways: one with Upton opting out and the subsequent moves from that and with him choosing to stay and the options the Tigers have there as well.

Before we get started there are a few things readers should know. First, the luxury tax, according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement for 2017 is $197 million. Second, the minimum salary for MLB players next year will be $545,000. And lastly, eight players will be arbitration eligible, so we did the best we could to project their 2018 salary based on the MLB Trade Rumors arbitration model.

Moves that must be made this offseason

We’ll start our 2018 blueprint by ignoring Justin Upton altogether. I know, all that talk up there about him, and we’ll get there, but these three moves need to happen regardless of what J-Up does.

First, the Tigers need to save $11 million by not bringing Anibal Sanchez back. He is owed $16 million next season, but the Tigers can be free of that money by buying him out for $5 million. Given that Sanchez’s pitching performances could be featured at Cedar Point, it is a no brainer that he no longer remain a Tiger for 2018.

Second, and very unpopularly, the Tigers also need to buyout Ian Kinsler. As painful as that is to write, the club will save an additional $5 million by buying Kins out. There are two reasons really to by the aging All-Star out. First, Kinsler is on the wrong side of 34 and will be a free agent at the end of the 2018 season meaning his trade value (unless he has a ridiculous season) won’t be that high. Second, it helps the Tigers get younger by giving Dixon Machado a chance to play every day. Machado has never really had the opportunity and 2018 should be it.

Third, regardless of Upton’s opting out or not, the Tigers need to sign Howie Kendrick to a 1-year $8 million deal. Now you may say, “why in the hell would they sign someone the same age as Kinsler to a contract that was basically the same as Kinsler’s?” It’s a fair question, but the reasoning is this, Kendrick is 34-years-old, but his value as a trade piece–even a rental–would be higher than Kinsler’s. Kendrick is a career .291/.334/.419 hitter who plays everywhere on the field. He would add versatility to our lineup.

Sep 18, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Detroit Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez (41) against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. The Tigers won 9-5. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Lastly, the Tigers should part ways with Victor Martinez. Regardless of whether or not Martinez is in our lineup next year he is being paid $18 million. But, given his declining power numbers and molasses like speed, all that $18 million would buy us is a clogged up designated hitter, first base, and third base positions in our lineup–something we and our rebuild cannot afford. Thank you for your service to our team Victor, but it’s time.

This would bump their dead money up to $46,000,00 which is added into the team’s salary for the year.

If Justin Upton doesn’t opt out

Upton has said in recent weeks that he could opt out to play for a contender. At the beginning of the season, you would have thought it crazy for Upton to leave that much money on the table. But given the year he is having another big payday is not out of the question.

By Justin Upton staying, the Tigers could still field a relatively competitive team. 2018 should see JaCoby Jones in center field and they still would need a fourth outfielder and that could be a competition between Jason Krizan, Christian Stewart, and Mike Gerber. The rest of the roster would like similar with Jeimer Candelario being called up to play third base, and Nicholas Castellanos and Miguel Cabrera splitting time between first base and designated hitter.

Here’s what the roster could look like:

Starting Pitching: 

Player  Salary
Justin Verlander $28,000,000
Michael Fulmer $545,000
Jordan Zimmermann $24,000,000
Daniel Norris $545,000
Matthew Boyd $545,000

 

If Upton stays, there is no reason to trade Justin Verlander. The rotation would be a year older and guys like Norris and Boyd would be handed the keys and allowed to grow–this being the year to see if they develop or not. The only other option would be to move Norris to the bullpen, a la Danny Duffy, to hope that he figures some things out.

Relief Pitching:

Player Salary
Shane Greene* (Closer) $2,500,000
Bruce Rondon* $1,5000,000
Alex Wilson* $1,500,000
Warwick Saupold $545,000
Chad Bell $545,000
Daniel Stumpf $545,000
Joe Jimenez $545,000

*Arbitration Eligible

Assuming they don’t move Daniel Norris to the bullpen these seven guys could be what we’re looking at for the 2018 season. The only sure thing would be that Shane Greene gets the nod at the closer’s role and if the Tigers are sellers by the deadline, you flip him like they did Justin Wilson this season.

Here’s what these guys have done in the month of August:

 Collectively they have a 1.75 ERA in August, not bad for a team whose bullpen has always been their Achilles heel.

Infielders:

Player Position Salary
Miguel Cabrera DH / 1B $30,000,000
Nicholas Castellanos* DH / 1B / 3B $4,500,000
Dixon Machado 2B / SS / 3B $545,000
Jose Iglesias* SS $6,000,000
Howie Kendrick INF / OF $8,000,000
Andrew Romine* UTL $2,000,000
James McCann* C $1,500,000
John Hicks C / 1B $545,000
Jeimer Candelario 3B / 1B $545,000

*Arbitration Eligible

What you have with this group of guys is a nice mixture of guys who can play multiple positions and allows for rest whenever rest is needed for the older guys on the team. It also gives the Tigers the option of actually seeing what guys like Candelario and Machado have, allowing them to get full reps over the course of a season. This is what you need to know while going through a rebuild.

Outfielders: 

Player  Salary
Justin Upton $22,125,000
Mikie Mahtook $545,000
JaCoby Jones $545,000
Jason Krizan $545,000

 

If Upton were to stay our outfield would be a very athletic outfield capable of hunting down fly balls in the deepest parts of Comerica Park. With the revelation that Mahtook has been this season, he and Upton could be the mentors for a guy like Jones and whoever wins that fourth outfielder spot. Krizan is penciled in given that he’s performed well at Toledo and neither Stewart or Gerber have seen action above Double-A — give them some more development time and eventually we’ll see them in the Old English D.

Total Salary: $182,085,000 (including dead money)

Under the Luxury Tax: $14,915,000

If Justin Upton does opt out

By Justin Upton opting out, the Tigers have more incentive to move others players, namely Justin Verlander. Though Verlander is a legacy, should Justin Upton opt out the Tigers will be in a position to save a ton of money and set themselves up for a stacked 2018-19 free agent class.

The Tigers could easily flip Verlander in the offseason to a team that needs a durable front end starter, let’s use the Houston Astros for example. The Tigers would send Verlander and $20 million over 2018-19 to cover his contract making Verlander an $18mil/year ace, cheap by any measure you use. The Tigers, in turn, would receive OF Derek Fisher and RHP Elian Rodriguez, with Fisher slotting immediately into the starting outfield.

So what would the roster and money situation look like? Keep in mind that letting Kinsler and Martinez and Sanchez go has already been done.

Starting Pitching: 

Player  Salary
Jordan Zimmermann $24,000,000
Martin Perez $10,000,00
Michael Fulmer $545,000
Daniel Norris $545,000
Matt Boyd $545,000

 

Relief Pitching: 

Player Salary
Shane Greene* $2,500,000
Bruce Rondon* $1,500,000
Alex Wilson* $1,500,000
Warwick Saupold $545,000
Chad Bell $545,000
Daniel Stumpf $545,000
Joe Jimenez $545,000

*Arbitration Eligible

Infielders:

Player Position Slaray
Miguel Cabrera DH / 1B $30,000,000
Nicholas Castellanos* DH / 1B / 3B $4,500,000
Dixon Machado 2B / SS / 3B $545,000
Howie Kendrick IF / OF $8,000,000
Jose Iglesias* SS $6,000,000
Jeimer Candelario 3B / 1B $545,000
Andrew Romine* UTL $2,000,000
James McCann* C $1,500,000
John Hicks C / 1B $545,000

*Arbitration Eligible

Outfielders: 

Player Salary
Curtis Granderson $8,000,000
JaCoby Jones $545,000
Mikie Mahtook $545,000
Derek Fisher $545,000

 

Notice the familiar face? Signing Granderson to a one-year, $8 million salary makes sense on many different levels. First, The Grandy-man is a fan favorite who will put butts in the seats. Second, though he is older he will be a great veteran presence to mentor the young guys in Jones and even Stewart or Gerber if they were to make their debuts. Also, the left-handed bat in the lineup will be a nice addition.

Total Salary: $152,585,000 (including dead money)

Under the Luxury Tax: $44,415,000

Conclusion 

These are two options the Tigers have this offseason. They will be more competitive if they go with option number one, but the rebuild could be hastened if they take route number two, and become bigger threats in the free agent market of 2018. Either way, they can’t really go wrong, especially if they follow the advice laid out here.

Mr. Avila, I’ll send you my consulting bill.