Detroit Tigers

Let’s Dig In – Tiger’s Off-Season Free Agency

It is the first week of the offseason, which is the third greatest season in sports. What are the other two? 1. Baseball post-season

  1. Baseball regular season
  2. Baseball offseason
  3. I guess Hockey season

I have talked about the Tiger’s holes in the past so I will just do a quick run-down of explicit needs and then areas to upgrade.

Needs:

Outfielder. All three spots are open for grabs. The only known commodity is JD Martinez in one of the corners. Anthony Gose is around, and extremely cheap as he is still pre-arbitration, and he is pretty good. So he is probably the CF guy, but he could play left as well, or a bench role.

Starting Pitcher. Technically they don’t need one, since they have plenty of unproven guys around. But they have stated they are looking for two. Make no mistake, they want mid-rotation guys, cheap guys on short contracts. They expect Verlander to be the ace, and Anibal to be one of the best #2’s in the game, and they expect Norris to slide in 5th.

Closer. They have no closer. They only thing they have is Rondon, whom they sent home early this season. Tigers have traditionally liked to have a big name established (old) closer. But that was Dombrowski, who is no longer here. Avila has mentioned that he might sign someone we don’t think of as a closer.

LOOGY. Left-Handed One Out Guy. Krol is not this guy. Gorzelanny is not this guy, plus he is a free agent. Hardy is too good to be this guy. This is a position that five years ago everyone thought was incredibly necessary and is now kinda going away, but you still need a lefty that can get big outs against lefty hitters in big situations. If they are more versatile then that, awesome.

Relief Pitcher. They just need help here. Only Wilson and Hardy had good years (Soria too but he was traded). You could literally sign a completely new bullpen and no one would bat an eye.

Upgrades:

Outfield. They could upgrade at two positions, one corner and at CF. Gose could move to a platoon situation or a 4th outfield role where he would get a lot of playing time by also playing LF. I will look into what fits here the best but the Tiger’s shouldn’t be afraid to sign a CF if it fits their needs.

Infield. No question they could improve at 3B. Castellanos at some point is the hitter he is. Sure he is young, but I don’t see his defense improving with age. His bat could come around but he could easily be moved in a trade for an upgrade. That is the type of move a bold GM does.

Bench. These aren’t really upgrades, but they are dire needs either so I put them here. Davis is a free agent and possibly gone. He was a good bench player here and if he comes back, I don’t mind that. Gose might become the bench guy in my above scenario and I don’t mind that either. Tyler Collins will probably make the club and that gives you both another OF as well as  LH hitter with power. Avila is gone unless he is willing to take a huge paycut. They need a backup catcher. They are easy to come by, and maybe Bryan Holaday is already that guy. I’m fine with that. Andrew Romine will man the last bench spot and that is cool as well.

Possible targets: I’ll start with the biggest and best, and then talk more reasonable targets, and then breakdown a possible budget and try to make it work within the numbers.

Outfielders:

Cespedes

Alex Gordon

Justin Upton

Jason Heyward

All of those guys will get over 5 years and over $100M, so I don’t see any of that happening, but I would love to sign any of them. Be wary of Upton, he can straight up disappear for weeks on end. Gordon is the best of the mix and Cespedes has the most power. Gordon could lead off which is disgusting to put in front of Kinsler, Cabby, VMart, JD up top. I didn’t mention Chris Young who had a monster season and is probably in the top 20 of all free agents this winter. He struck out 208 times this season. The Tigers do not need more of that. I also didn’t mention Ben Zobrist, who I think would be a great addition to this team and plays both LF and RF extremely well (also 2B, 3B, 1B, SS) mostly because he is highly coveted and I doubt the Tigers see him as a fit since he plays 2B most often and they have Kinsler out there 155 times a year. But I would love it if they signed him.

More reasonable targets are probably guys like:

Gerardo Parra

Denard Span

Dexter Fowler

David Murphy

Dominic Brown

Matt Joyce

Drew Stubbs

Austin Jackson

Alex Rios

The Tigers have already been linked to Rios, Jackson, Joyce, Parra and Young so far this week. I don’t like a single one of this options, and I would rather see Tyler Collins proving himself everyday for next to no salary then to pay any of these guys.

Starting Pitchers:

Johnny Cueto

David Price

Zack Greinke

John Lackey

Jordan Zimmerman

None of these guys profile as a 3rd or 4th starter, and they all command big salaries and a lot of years (Lackey not a lot of years due to age and Samardzija not a high salary, maybe, due to a bad year last year). I don’t see these guys being a target, but if the Tiger’s do grab one of them I think it is Price or Samardzija.

These guys fit more into what the Tiger’s are looking for:

Wei-Yen Chen

Jeff Samardzija

Ian Kennedy

Doug Fister

Yovanni Gallardo

Hisashi Iwakuma

Scott Kazmir

The Tigers have been linked to Chen and Iwakuma this week. I like both of those moves, but I am not crazy about shuffling draft picks, plus Iwakuma wasn’t great last year. Maybe Avila wants to bring back an extremely popular player from an extremely unpopular trade in Fister (even though he was terrible last year, I still love this guy). Scott Kazmir is not far removed from a ton of success, big ballpark can only help his case. I don’t think the Tigers go wrong with anyone in this bunch. But they all scare me just a little bit.

Closer:  I won’t break this down into tiers, these are all the guys that could be targets.

Soria

Tyler Clippard

Casey Janssen

Ryan Madson

Jason Motte

Fernando Rodney

Tigers have already been heavily linked to Soria. I like everyone here except Rodney. Motte probably cannot close anymore, but could still be a good arm in the pen, of which they need several.

Lefties:

Antonio Bastardo

There is not really a good option here. Trade is the best way to fill this position.

Money:

This is where it gets sticky. Here are the current 2016 obligations:

Verlander: $28M              Net Change: 0

Cabrera: $28M                  Net Change: +$6M

Victor: $18M                      Net Change: +$4M

Anibal: $16.8M                  Net Change: 0

Kinsler: $14M                     Net Change: -$2M

Also, the Tigers will pay the Rangers $6M for Fielder’s salary.                      Net Change: +$6M

Also, the Tigers have a $1M buyout on Nathan’s option.                                                Net Change: +$1M

Running total is $111.8M with a $15M increase from last year’s commitments.

The Tigers have five players that are arbitration eligible, and I estimate their salaries as well:

Feliz Non-tender              Net Change: -$4.25M pro-rated -$2M

JD $7.5M                              Net Change: +$4.5M

Alburquerque $2.25M   Net Change: +$1.5M

Iglesias $2M                       Net Change: +$.5M

Romine $.75M                   Net Change: who cares

Running total: $124.3M                 Net Change: +$19M (it has gone up this much while actually losing one player)

The Tigers have 11 players making the league minimum: $.5M, 0 net change for any of them = $5.5M

Norris, Wilson, Rondon, Nesbitt, Hardy, Krol, Castellanos, Gose, Collins, McCann, Holaday

Running total: $129.8M                 Net Change: +$19M

Without signing a single free agent.

Here are the minimum amount of holes to fill if they kept all the above players:

2 starting pitchers

1 Closer

1 Outfielders

The Tigers went into last season with $173M in payroll. They paid less than that because of trades, but you have to assume they were willing to take on money if the season had gone better. So let’s try to fit a team into $175M payroll.

So, if they want the payroll they had last season, they have roughly $45M to spend.

Here are some of the top free agents that might be targets and their projected salaries: [year/total contract (AAV)]. Under both Randy Smith and Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers consistently spent 5-10% above projections. It isn’t about the team’s competitiveness either, they spent most of that money post-2006. I don’t know if players don’t want to come here, if Illitch likes to open the cash drawer to shorten negotiations or what, but it is probably that these numbers are all extremely low. It is also being projected that this winter will shatter previous spending records. We have already seen three players accept qualifying offers of $15.8M, all were very average 2 win players. There is also an injection of cash into the game from deals that are being struck for content. And I mean both in TV land and online. MLB.TV owns all streaming content on NHL.TV (oddly enough). And MLB.com, MLB At Bat, and the MLB channel on cable are becoming increasingly lucrative. Experts expect hundreds of millions of dollars to pour into the game from this online presence. So, these projections are probably garbage.

Chris Davis 1B/RF – 6/$144M (24)

Cespedes LF/RF – 6/$140M (23.3)

Gordon LF – 5/$105M (21)

Dexter Fowler CF – 4/$60M (15)

Zobrist LF/RF – 4/$76M (19)

Span CF – 3/$39M (13)

Gerardo Parra LF – 3/$27M (9)

Austin Jackson CF – 1/$12M (12)

Chris Young LF – 2/$12M (6)

 

Cueto SP – 5/$115M (23)

Samardzija SP – 5/$80M (16)

Wei-Yin Chen SP – 5/$80M (16)

Kazmir SP – 4/$52M (13)

Ian Kennedy SP – 4/$52M (13)

Yovani Gallardo SP – 4/$52M (13)

Iwakuma SP – 3/$45M (15)

Fister SP – 1/$10M (10)

 

Soria CL – 3/$18M (6)

Tyler Clippard RP – 3/$18M (6)

Antonio Bastardo RP – 3/$15M (5)

Ryan Madson RP – 3/$15M (5)

 

Sign em up! – Here is what I would like the Tigers to do if money wasn’t an issue and Free Agency was the only way to build a team:

Wei-Yin Chen

Salary increase per year: $16M

Kazmir

Ian Kennedy

Yovani Gallardo

Any one of these three pitchers

Salary increase per year: $13M

Soria

Salary increase per year: $6M

Tyler Clippard

Salary increase per year: $6M

Antonio Bastardo

Salary increase per year: $5M

Total increase just for pitchers: $46M

Gerardo Parra

Salary increase per year: $9M

Chris Young

Salary increase per year: $6M

Total increase just for position players: $15M

 

Total increase: $61M

That brings the total payroll up to $191M, which is not happening. But that is fixing every problem through free agency, which isn’t likely.

I think they will sign two pitchers for $30M, and a closer at $6, that’s $36M, leaving $9M.

That would slide Parra in and that would be all for the free agents. Payroll right at $175M. They can fill the extra outfield spot with Moya at league minimum.

The rest of the bullpen could be filled with terrible guys from last year, or a trade could be made, but it is tough to do this without increasing payroll by much.

There is only one player that is tradeable that makes “a lot” of money: Kinsler. They could move his $14M salary and bring back someone making half of that and drain another $6M into a bullpen arm. This is really the only option for a blockbuster move, and I don’t see it happening. Especially since his salary is below what teams are schilling out for an average 2-win player, and he was worth 6 wins last year and has consistently been worth more than 5 for most of his career. He is an elite player, easily worth $22M a year (And he just got robbed of yet another gold glove).

It will be really tough for the Tigers to field a highly competitive team in 2016 without drastically increasing payroll. For a team already committing a lot of money to a few players, it is getting more and more difficult to fill holes through free agency.

We will quickly see if Avila is different from his predecessor, and will sink money into a bullpen, or if he is like him and over pay for old talent. Will he be as adept at making trades? Will he overvalue mid-level talent or view this team as needed depth and balance? It should be fun!