NOTE: The views expressed in this EDITORIAL do not necessarily reflect the views of Detroit Sports Nation or a majority of its writers and should not be misconstrued as such. The views contained within are the views of the author and the author alone.
It’s no secret over the next two weeks your news feeds will be packed full of notifications that reassure you what you already know: this Tigers team will look very different in August. As the team has continued to remain
mediocre, sub-par, cellar dwellers, the fire sale has been all but established. Banners, coupons, and advertising have all been taken out at Comerica Park, letting the rest of the league know: we’re open for business.
Ultimately, this leads the fan base in a precarious position wondering what the future actually looks like for a number of reasons. First, prospects always look great on paper but their actual value won’t be known until they hit the show. Second, we have a new owner in Chris Ilitch who, though he claims the “apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” has yet to prove that to us. Third, we also have a relatively green general manager in Al Avila whose ability to pull off the correct deals for the team is yet to be seen.
All of these factors go into the relative uncertainty of what a rebuilding process looks like for the Detroit Tigers. Could they be a team like the Philadelphia Phillies who were belabored with massive contracts on aging player and have been rebuilding for the better part of a decade? Or could there be a quick turnaround, a la the Texas Rangers of a few years back? My hunch tells me that if the Tigers make the correct deals this deadline, with enough young players in the system already — albeit the farm system still isn’t great — the Tigers could be competing again sooner rather than later.
The Tigers over the last decade have pushed the limits when it came to payroll in Major League Baseball, always near the top end of the list. Usually, this type of inflated payroll meant that teams would compete for World Series — think the “Steinbrenner” Yankees of years gone by. However, that hasn’t worked out too well for the Tigers, two World Series appearances (2006 and 2012) and a disappointing 2013 finish, when they had arguably the best team to win the World Series in recent years. Now, that payroll has become a sort of wild-west stock, imprisoning the Tigers with large contracts and aging players, some of which aren’t producing at a level we have come to expect.
However, after the 2017 season with the right type of deals the Tigers budget could be in a place where they can keep the contracts of Jordan Zimmermann, Miguel Cabrera and Justin Upton while still fielding a team that is competent enough to win.
In 2018 the MLB luxury tax threshold is set at $195 million and it goes up to $205 million in 2019. Hypothetically if the Tigers were to move Justin Verlander, as numerous reports are saying, that’s $28 million off the books for next year. That’s assuming they don’t’ have to eat any of the contract, which is unlikely, but go with it for the time being.
We’ll also assume that they move Ian Kinsler (I hate writing that) and don’t pick up the club option for Anibal Sanchez in 2018. That leaves the team with just four guaranteed contracts worth $94.125 million heading into next season. I understand that still doesn’t look great. But, if they set a hypothetical budget of $180 million, staying well beneath the luxury tax, that leaves $85.875 million dollars to spend.
Most of our guys coming back will still be young enough to be under team control for a few more years, guys like Mikie Mahtook, Daniel Norris, Michael Fulmer, Matthew Boyd, James McCann, Dixon Machado, along with a slew of bullpen arms. Jose Iglesias (assuming he’s still here as well) and Nicholas Castellanos will be in arbitration, along with Andrew Romine. So realistically, the team could afford to offer a long-term deal to Castellanos or Iglesias (each of which would help with the rebuild, and be a smart baseball move) and do it for rather cheap, think 3-4 years at 6 million a year.
This would give the Tigers a young and experienced core of players that could help the new prospects move into their new home and positions. Having the extra cash could also help the team shore up a bullpen that has been bad ever since I was able to walk, and thus get us on the right track to competing again quickly.
A rebuild is all but certain. But, it may not take as long as you think. A strong core of young starting pitching, a young catcher, and three-fourths of your infield already established with major league experience. Don’t fret just yet, the Tigers could be competing again sooner rather than later.