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.
When all 30 Major League Baseball clubs get together for the annual Winter Meetings, it’s a good opportunity for teams to wheel and deal and make transactions at a frantic rate, whether it be via trades or free agency. It’s the ideal week for teams to speed up the process of bettering their teams for 2017, or ramp up the tear-down and begin a rebuild of the organization.
The Detroit Tigers put themselves at the forefront of being open for business this off-season when word came out about the willingness to shed payroll while also fielding a division-competing team from general manager Al Avila. But after all the speculation leading up to this week and who were the players for Detroit that could end up being shipped out, it turned out that Avila and his associates are going to leave National Harbor, Maryland having made not a single transaction whatsoever.
And to be frank, that’s perfectly fine for the Tigers.
While it was never clear on the ‘level’ of payroll shedding that Detroit was ever considering, they were absolutely fielding any and all calls on virtually anyone on the big league roster, with the exception of a select handful. The majority of Tigers-related rumors so far this off-season revolved around either one of two players, second baseman Ian Kinsler and outfielder J.D. Martinez, largely if not entirely due their relatively team-friendly contracts (Kinsler: $11MM in ’17, $10MM club option for ’18; Martinez: $11.75MM in ’17). Even players like Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander who are more expensive and long-term investments were drawing interest in the month leading up to the Winter Meetings.
So was Detroit just blowing smoke this entire time? Or do they have more tricks up their sleeve?
Well here’s the biggest takeaway for me this week at the Winter Meetings. Sure, the fact that the only notable move the Tigers made this week was Thursday morning when they poached a left-handed reliever in Daniel Stumpf from division rival Kansas City, is a concern to some. But they can also walk away with an empty invoice of transactions, knowing they can enter spring training comfortable confident in their ability to make a run back to the postseason. And all they need to do is look around the American League Central division.
Let’s not forget that the Tigers’ playoff hopes were mathematically dashed away from them on the final day of the regular season. They’re pretty much right there and we see countless pockets of them looking like a team that can win a championship. Had that not gone a preposterous 11-26 against eventual AL champion Cleveland and the aforementioned Royals, they’re in the playoffs with no concern and having to way until Game 162. The roster for 2017 is virtually intact and similar to 2016, with the exception of center field and some questions in the rotation. But how about the rest of the division?
Let’s start with the cellar-dweller Twins. They’re coming off a 100-loss campaign and have the No. 1 overall pick in the June 2017 MLB Draft. I think it’s safe to say they’re not serious contenders. How about the White Sox? Well they just traded two of the biggest names on the roster in Chris Sale (to Boston) and Adam Eaton (to Washington) for huge hauls of prospects. If that isn’t a sign of tearing down and rebuilding, I don’t know what is and they’re cheating themselves if they think they’re still serious threats. Then there’s the Royals, who just traded one of the top closers in the games in Wade Davis, and it could lead to a domino effect of sorts with questions in the once-impenetrable bullpen and the always-suspect rotation. So we can’t write them off just yet.
Then we have the defending division and AL champion Indians – As it stands now, this seems to be the Tigers’ biggest threat heading in 2017. Yes, Kansas City will still give them fits because of how competitive that series has been in recent years. But back to the Tribe, they were also one of the teams that went completely off the grid at the Winter Meetings. They didn’t sign anybody, trade for anybody, and they were virtually not linked to any notable free agents. And given how stingy they are already with spending money, it’s safe to wonder how they answer some questions on the roster, most notably how they replace Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis.
So while Detroit was not active themselves at this year’s Winter Meetings, it was not a complete waste of time, especially when you consider what happened around them in the American League and more specifically the Central division. While no deals were made, they got a good idea on what sort of offers were made for their expendable assets. And come next July at the non-waiver trade deadline, if the Tigers consider themselves a pretender as opposed to a contender, then they can trade-off guys like Kinsler and J.D. Martinez. And closer Francisco Rodriguez would instantly become a hot commodity given teams are always looking for bullpen depth nowadays. Even veteran designated hitter Victor Martinez would have some value if he himself is putting together a good year and is healthy.
So don’t get frazzled, Tigers fans. Yes, they were completely inactive this week. But due to the big activity around them in the division, they should feel okay about their team given how they finished a year ago and looking to 2017. And if s*** hits the fan, then they can re-visit this matter at a future date.