All of these subjects are going to get individual attention after the World Series wraps up and the Hot Stove starts heating up, but I wanted to offer a few opening thoughts about what the Tigers should/need to do this offseason to put them in position to win in 2014 and beyond. These are idle thoughts at the beginning of a longer offseason agenda. Feel free to share your own.
1. Find a manager
This one is obvious because their last manager just retired, so the first step is to find his replacement. I’d love to see them modernize with someone like Dave Martinez from Tampa Bay, but the Tigers have a long history of grabbing people from the Dombrowski pipeline. They should either go with someone fresh and new or with someone already on the inside. Brookens or Lamont could keep things pretty stable, which could be useful, but if you’re going to shake things up, don’t sign someone who has been passed by like Dusty Baker.
2. Extend Rick Porcello
I’ve been banging this drum for a while now, but it’s time to pony up. You have a very good starting pitcher (2.9-3.2 WAR in each of the last three seasons) who hasn’t yet turned 25 years old. He’s never missed a start due to injury and showed tremendous signs of development this year. He’s a free agent after 2014 and should get a nice contract if he hits the open market, likely from a team who really understands what Porcello could do in front of a great defense. Porcello’s free agent deal would start at age 26 – which is generally considered the first year of a pitcher’s prime. That’s the guy you lock up. I think a 5 year extension buying out 2014 and then his first four free agent years would be smart. Given the rising salaries in baseball, I think something like 5 years and $60 million might work well for both sides. I might even consider something in the $70-80 million range if the free agent prices look big this year. I’m way more interested in a long term deal for Porcello than for Scherzer.
3. Figure out left field
Dirks and Tuiasosopo did a fine job platooning out there for most of the year and Peralta handled the position in the playoffs, but Nick Castellanos is coming and should be ready to go out there on opening day. This might be a spot where the Tigers could look for make a big free agent splash, but this is their primary hole going into the year and the sooner they make a decision the better. Give the job to Nick or don’t, but don’t leave everyone hanging.
4. Re-up with Omar
Infante has turned himself into a very nice regular over the last few seasons thanks to better defense, baserunning, and offense and remains in his early thirties. If he’ll go for it, a nice 2 year deal worth something like $20-$25 million seems reasonable. I don’t have a good sense about what the rest of the league thinks about Infante, but the crowdsourced project at FanGraphs offers a 3 year, $30 million deal as an expectation. He’ll get somewhere between $9-$12 million a year, it’s just about the years for most. Unless you’re thinking about using Peralta there, just sign Infante and don’t worry about it. I’m not against bringing Peralta back either at 2B or LF, but I think he’s worth more to other teams than he is to the Tigers.
5. Get Cabrera healthy.
6. Sign lots of relievers
Everyone’s reaction the Tigers bullpen is always to spend big money on magic relievers who are invincible. Well, relievers are really fragile and often fall apart very quickly. You shouldn’t buy brand names, you should buy a bunch of journeyman and count on one or two to offer you great seasons. You have Smyly, Rondon, and Veras set in the pen and have guys like Alburquerque, Coke, and Putkonen to handle the lower leverage spots. You need to find something like 100 good innings on the market. I’d advocated for 3 or 4 buy-low gambles rather than one or two huge deals. I think if you look at the good bullpens in baseball, most of them include relievers who are having unexpectedly good years. That’s the model.
7. Dance with the ones that brung ya
The Tigers came within two wins of the World Series with an injured Cabrera. Now isn’t the time to overreact. This is a team with a window. Scherzer, Porcello, Fister, Cabrera, Martinez, Hunter, and Infante all have deals up after 2015 or sooner. Now isn’t the time to think about retooling for the future. Now is the time to go all in to try to win with this team. Trying to get cute by trading Scherzer is idiotic given what teams are likely to offer. That said, if the Royals offer you WIl Myers, you jump at it and don’t get sentimental. The Tigers should focus on making small moves, not big ones. This is a great team that can’t stay together forever. It’s going to start getting very expensive in a year or two, so now is the time to strike.