It’s hard to imagine given the amount of success the team has had in the last decade, but the Detroit Tigers are indeed entering a rebuild.
That realization came to fruition this past Thursday when the team decided to trade both Justin Upton to the Angels and Justin Verlander to the Astros, two veterans who were perhaps the most productive players for Detroit all season long.
It also presents an uncertain future for a number of guys on the roster. Perhaps none more so than veteran second baseman Ian Kinsler, who could become a free agent at season’s end if the team does not pick up his club option for 2018.
Kinsler, admittingly not having one of his better seasons, has expressed his interest to be a part of a rebuild moving forward but also understands not knowing if he fits into the team’s plans.
“I have no problem being part of a rebuilding team if that’s what the Tigers wish. I don’t know what they wish,” he said. “I don’t know if they want me a part of it or if they don’t want me a part of it right now. If they do want me a part of it, I’m fine with that. I have no problem trying to pass my experience along as best I can to the younger players and help anyway that I can.”
“I’m obviously not having a great year and I think this last month I want to prove that I can continue to play baseball at a high level,” he said.
Kinsler, 35, is having by and far his worst season offensively of his major league career. The .239 batting average, .703 OPS, and 39 runs batted in are all career-lows through 115 games played this season. He simply has not been the spark plug he was through the first three seasons in a Tigers uniform and he’d be the first one to tell you that.
One would be hard-pressed to find a player on the Tigers these days more respected and appreciated than Kinsler, solely based on the way he carries himself as a professional on and off the field and for the way he plays the game. Those reasons, along with his strong veteran presence for an increasingly young team would be very beneficial for the Tigers moving forward.
And for a veteran who has never won a World Series to be open and willing to accept such a role is something the Tigers need to strongly consider beyond 2017.
It’s no secret that Detroit general manager Al Avila is going to have to address his middle infield logjam for next season. Young infielder Dixon Machado has proven this season that he can play every day, and he’s effectively forced the hand of Avila to push either Kinsler or Jose Iglesias out the door, likely via trade. Machado is one of many young players that Detroit is likely going to play more down the stretch as means of auditioning for a spot on the team heading into 2018.
One scenario that will surely be explored this offseason, and should be strongly considered, is trading Iglesias, thus presenting a spot for Machado to be the everyday shortstop for the Tigers.
Like Kinsler, Iglesias is under contract through more year before becoming a free agent; it is his final stage of arbitration this winter. The 27-year-old defensive wizard is putting together another solid year offensively down in the bottom of the order, the five home runs and 50 RBI are both career-highs for Iglesias.
Defensively, it could be his best year in the field. In fact, only Andrelton Simmons of the Angels has more defensive runs saved (26) in all of Major League Baseball than does Iglesias (10) this season.
Iglesias is making $4.1 million this season and figures to get a reasonable uptick in salary for the 2018 season. But at a younger age and cheaper price, and coming off a better season than Kinsler, the Tigers may be more inclined to part ways with Iglesias given his higher value to other teams.
By the way, contractually speaking, Machado is under the Tigers’ control for five more seasons. He has two more years beyond this season of team control before he enters his first of three arbitration years. That’s another huge incentive to find a home for him.
Having to part ways with either Iglesias or Kinsler would be tough. As fans, it’s been very enjoyable to watch the two of them anchor down the middle infield and turn silky smooth double plays. But from a strictly business standpoint, it’d be best to explore trading Iglesias first before simply letting Kinsler go, because Iglesias would bring back something of value.
Should the Tigers opt to pick up Kinsler’s option, he’d earn a base salary of $10M. Now a few months ago, that may not have been the case. Hell, the team has openly put him out on the trade market since last winter, including being placed on waivers just last month. But given that the team is no longer severely financially-strained moving forward — especially after dumping all of Upton’s contract and nearly all of Verlander’s contract in a span of 12 hours on Thursday — money is no longer a critical issue when it comes to considering what to do with a player like Kinsler.
Declining Kinsler’s club option would mean having to pay him $5M to become a free agent. Me personally, I’d rather pay him the extra $5M to keep him around and be a very serviceable veteran and mentor to others, than paying him to effectively play for free elsewhere.
Let’s lock in on the financials for a second. Detroit entered with a top-5 payroll in the sport, just short of $200M. That’s since then dipped to well below $100M after all of the trades they have made this season. It’s also important to remember that the team is getting close to $20M in additional free space with the contracts of former pitchers Mark Lowe, Mike Pelfrey, and Francisco Rodriguez coming off the books at season’s end.
The team is no longer severely pressed with having to part ways with players solely for financial reasons. Which means keeping Ian Kinsler would not be so damaging to the club. And with a youth movement in effect, Kinsler appears ready and willing to take on a role that very few veterans at his age of his team would do: mortgaging the chance to win a World Series and being a leader to a wave of young talent.
The Tigers have made its decision, the rebuild is happening. Al Avila has made it clear and has openly made it aware to fans that this September and even next year “may not be pretty.”
And when assessing what to do with the roster moving forward, there’s definitely an incentive to keeping a guy like Ian Kinsler for the long haul. Avila and his brass need to give it some strong consideration.