As is tradition this time of year, this post will lay out my plan for the 2017 Tigers. It’s entirely possible that by the time you read this, the entire premise will have been undercut. I say that because I’m going to lay out a strategy of modest improvement, but the club is presently considering a strategy of total rebuilding. And because Mike Ilitich is still at the helm, it’s totally plausible they pull a 180 and wind up as big buyers. We won’t know until it happens.
At the present moment, the Tigers have a starting lineup featuring McCann, Cabrera, Kinsler, Castellanos, Iglesias, Upton, Collins, Martinez, and Martinez. They have Verlander, Zimmermann, Fulmer, Norris, Boyd, and Sanchez for the rotation. They have K-Rod, Wilson(s), Lowe, Rondon, Greene, Ryan, Hardy, et all for the pen. Assuming average health, that roster is probably an 82-84 win team. The kind of team that would be within 5-6 games of the division lead all year and may or may not have a chance down the stretch. If that sounds familiar it’s because they are returning almost exactly the same team as they had in 2016, save for Maybin and some bench stuff. The Tigers came within two games of making the postseason and will have the same roster again.
I understand the reasons to rebuild, but as I noted here, I don’t think the Tigers should do it unless the offers are particularly favorable. With arbitration salaries factored in, they’re going to spend around $190 million in 2017 if they do nothing.
I would do two small things and then one maybe larger thing. The first thing would be to acquire another mid-level reliever. There are a lot of names, but someone like Travis Wood/Brad Ziegler/Trevor Cahill/JP Howell. A trade would also be fine, the way they nabbed Justin Wilson last year. The Jansen/Melancon/Blanton tier is probably out of reach financially. Really, just get another arm or two who you can feed into the system so that you don’t have to rely on the farm quite as much.
The second small thing is backup catcher. It’s not a thrilling group, but I’d be more than happy to bring Avila back or add someone like Dioner Navarro. Granted, the Tigers might need to improve at catcher above McCann/backup, but that isn’t happening this year unless they get super creative.
The larger thing I would do relates to center field. Collins/Jones/Gose is not a good option for a team that isn’t otherwise great. You can carry that tandem if you’re a likely playoff team and maxing out your payroll, but the Tigers don’t have that luxury. The Tigers could buy low on Carlos Gomez and hope he’s healthy, or make a play for someone like Dexter Fowler, although the cost of that mixed with the draft pick probably won’t fly.
So if I’m the Tigers and I’ve decided to go for it, I would look toward Ender Inciarte in Atlanta. Inciarte is a solid hitter with good on-base ability, speed, and great defense. He’d be a huge upgrade on defense and could potentially slot in at the top of the order with Kinsler. Depending on what the Braves are after, the Tigers could dangle one of their young pitchers, either a Boyd-caliber arm or one with less polish and more flash like Burrows or Manning. Inciarte is only 26, so while he doesn’t have the prospect status, he’s definitely the kind of player who could contribute for several more years and potentially on a good Tigers team in 2019 or beyond.
I recognize this isn’t the exciting type of plan I normally pitch, but there just isn’t much out there on the market and the Tigers aren’t that far from reasonable contention. Something like this where they add a couple small pieces and one good center fielder is probably the best way to go unless they want to rebuild. If they want to rebuild, there are all sorts of ways to go, it just depends on how long they’re willing to let it hurt.