Last week, we rolled out the official New English D endorsed plan for the Tigers offseason and it was a plan predicated on the fact that the Tigers want to contend again in 2015 without completely mortgaging hope for some success later in the decade. It wasn’t the sexiest plan, but I think it made the team better and was a realistic path to a quality roster that cost a reasonable sum of cash. But the assumption that they should try to contend in 2015 is debatable in the first place, so let’s try something else.
Let’s consider the alternative. What if the Tigers sat down, looked at the payroll, and decided there’s no room to go up and there’s no way to make it work at the current level for this year? There’s an opportunity to think about 2016 rather than 2015. What might that look like?
There are few obvious steps. First, you extend a qualifying offer to Victor Martinez and let him walk for anything more than a steal. Then you offer up Rick Porcello and David Price to the highest bidder. Price nabbed the Rays a solid return on July 31 and while there’s two fewer months of him to trade, the Tigers can also shop him to 20 clubs instead of 5. Porcello remains young and cheap as far as available starters go and it wouldn’t be that hard for a team to trade for him with the plan to extend him. He wouldn’t fetch Byron Buxton or anything, but a good team would deal a player with a quality MLB projection to pick up a mid rotation starter making ~$12 million at age 26.
Right there, you’re talking about a draft pick and three to four useful prospects that would arrive for the simple cost of punting on 2015. The Tigers could still sign Price or Porcello after next year if they really wanted to and they’d restock their system in a meaningful way. Again, we’re not expecting elite prospects, but getting 75% of Smyly-Franklin-Adames for Price would go a long way toward helping the future of the club.
Next, the Tigers should pick up Joakim Soria’s option and flip him to a team in need of relief help. Soria wasn’t great for the Tigers down the stretch but he has a good track record and it’s hard to find potentially ace relievers on one year deals. He won’t bring back a Thompson-Knebel combo, but if the Tigers ate a few million, he might get them half that.
While Joe Nathan didn’t really enhance his value in 2014, if the Tigers sit on the 2015 salary, they’ll find someone who will part with a talented prospect who needs a lot of work. Rajai Davis comes next. He’s not a star, but for $5 million he’s worth having and the Tigers could get something useful in return.
There aren’t any obvious pieces to sell off beyond those, but JD Martinez would present an interesting case. Certainly he won’t hit like Miguel Cabrera for the next three years, but if you can find a buyer who thinks he’ll be more like a .360 wOBA guy than a .340 wOBA guy, you might decide it’s a deal worth making. People are obsessed with right handed power and he has that in spades. It’s not a market I can read very well, but it’s one you have to explore.
So combine the unmentioned QO to Scherzer, QO to VMart, trade of Price, Porcello, Soria, Nathan, Davis, and JD Martinez and you could wind up with 5-6 actual prospects and a couple of potentially useful spare pieces. The Tigers could afford to eat some salary in exchange for better players and might wind up revamping their system in the span of a year. You aren’t going to net great players in any trades, but it only takes one or two good gambles to turn things around.
If given the choice, I’d prefer the smart approach to improving for 2015, but the team could be an interesting position to sell on 2015 if they wanted to take things in that direction. The fans would be upset, but Dombrowski (Fister aside) typically makes good trades and the team needs to start thinking about the long term at some point in the next couple of seasons.
This won’t happen, I suspect, because the owner won’t go for it and the fans wouldn’t like it. But there’s a decent case to be made that the Tigers could rebuild pretty quickly if they wanted to. It would hurt for a season, but it might also make sense in the long run.