As the Tigers finish up the final week of their season — The first purely mediocre season they’ve had in recent memory (This is their first time finishing in third place since 2000 and the first time they’ve won at least 80 games but less than 85 since 1991….or at least it will be if the White Sox don’t collapse and the Tigers don’t win at least five of their final six games) — I’d like to take my first shot at talking about their off-season before the playoffs happen and capture my attention, and before the off-season actually happens and more rumors and actual actions fly.
Prior to last season I was of the impression that the 2009-10 off-season would be one of the most exciting in recent memory, and to some extent I was correct. The hugely successful three way deal which sent Curtis Granderson to New York and Edwin Jackson to Arizona in exchange for Austin Jackson, Max Scherzer, Phil Coke, and Daniel Schlereth was the biggest move, but the signings of Johnny Damon and Jose Valverde both made waves in reshaping the roster for 2010 and beyond (except in the case of Damon with regard to the “beyond”).
Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski did a great job of trying to retool the team on the fly, swapping out older players like Placido Polanco, Marcus Thames and to a lesser extent Curtis Granderson (I would not classify Granderson as an “older player”, but he was replaced by someone six years his younger) and inserting younger replacements on the roster while signing Damon to a one-year deal, he accomplished making the roster much younger and avoiding the pitfall that besieged the Tigers (and Pistons, to use another sport) of the early 90s who held on too long to their aging stars and watched the team disintegrate, while still fielding a competitive product that stood a puncher’s chance at winning what appeared to be a weak division. Indeed, it seemed like they may have had the “punch” that gave them the chance when they held a division lead as late as the week of the All-Star game, but ultimately injuries and the lack of depth of a team that really wasn’t built for a full-blown “win now” championship run caused them to fall woefully out of the race by the end of July.
In spite of what appeared to be an exciting off-season before us in 2009/10, it appears that the 2010/11 off-season will trump it considerably. The Tigers have ALOT of money coming off of their payroll for 2011, and owner Mike Ilitch has already come out in the media and pledged to put it all back into the team, something that was a concern for those people like myself who felt that the Tigers were taking such a loss on the team that they may scale back on the payroll while they rebuild. Suddenly, there is a real possibility that in the span of one off-season, a team with arguably more money to spend than any other (including the Yankees) can build a lasting contender. There is a World of opportunity for a shrewd General Manager to make a major impact, both with signings from a generally mediocre free agent class that has a few big names, and with trades where they can extract players who have become too expensive with their current teams or have fallen out of favor. Of course, nobody except the guys in the Tigers war room know what is going to happen, but it’s my intent here to analyze what position they’re in and offer up some suggestions and observations about how they may go about building a contender in 2011. As of this instant I’m highly confident in their ability to build a team that can be championship class as soon as next year (2011), though that confidence can be subject to waning with a few ill-timed moves here and there.
One key to future success is to continue to infuse the team with younger players. The age and/or injury-prone nature of the team has been a constant problem in the years following their pennant run, as they’ve been plagued by severely ill-timed injuries (Bonderman/Sheffield/Guillen, 2007) and players having their careers fall off of a cliff (Sheffield/Renteria/Jones 2008, Guillen/Ordonez 2009, Damon 2010). Fortunately with their many free agents this year they have a prime opportunity to get a youth movement going, as their only 30+ players under contract next year are Carlos Guillen (35), Jose Valverde (33), Brad Thomas (33), and Ramon Santiago (31). Of course as wholly veteran teams generally fall to injuries and declining performance, wholly youthful teams tend to fall to erratic performance, thus making it important to have a generous mix of veterans, prime-aged players and younger players, with a particular emphasis on having prime-aged players. To that end, the Tigers are fairly well positioned, as many of their better players are prime-aged, and on the lower-to-middle ends of their prime age to boot: Miguel Cabrera (28), Justin Verlander (28), Max Scherzer (26), Joel Zumaya (26, though his health is never guaranteed), and Phil Coke (28). Austin Jackson, who has played well this season but whose improvement next year shouldn’t necessarily be assumed as a given, will be 24. Intriguing prospect Casper Wells will be 26. In terms of the players that are already under contract for next year, the skeleton is in place for the Tigers to be able to nimbly mix and match players of varying ages and levels of experience to provide a good mix, not just for 2011, but for the seasons to follow.
The following players are due to be free agents after this year (2010 salary in parentheses):
OF Magglio Ordonez ($18m)
SP Jeremy Bonderman ($12.5m)
SP Dontrelle Willis ($11.7m)
SP Nate Robertson ($9.6m)
OF Johnny Damon ($8m)
3B Brandon Inge ($6.6m)
3B/SS Jhonny Peralta ($4.6m Plus a $250k buyout if his 2011 option is declined: $4.85m)
C Gerald Laird ($3.95m)
RP Bobby Seay ($2.475m)
SS Adam Everett ($1.5m)
SP Kenny Rogers ($750k)
Gross Salary Savings: $79.925m
The following players are under contract and due relatively significant raises. (Amount of raise in 2011 salary in parentheses). Because I have no idea of how contract negotiations may work out or arbitration decisions, I’ve taken semi-educated guesses as to how much each player would get in arbitration raises in reaching the “salary raises” figure. It could be wildly off-base, but I’m also trying to use the least conservative number possible, a number that would leave the Tigers paying the most. This would create the “worst case scenario” effect, if my guesses are in the neighborhood of correct.
SP Justin Verlander ($6m)
SP Rick Porcello ($511k)
UT Ryan Raburn (arbitration from $438k)
SP Armando Galarraga (arbitration from $435k)
RP Brad Thomas (arbitration from $1m. Could be non-tendered.)
RP Zach Miner (arbitration from $950k. Could be non-tendered, but unlikely.)
RP Joel Zumaya (arbitration from $915k)
Salary Raises: $14.561m
Net Salary Savings: $65.364m
So give or take one or two million dollars, the Tigers will have approximately 65 million dollars to spend on new players in the coming off-season. Of the players coming “off of the books”, six had significant roster spots on the 2010 team: Magglio Ordonez, Jeremy Bonderman, Brandon Inge, Jhonny Peralta, Gerald Laird and Johnny Damon. Add to those spots their pre-existing needs for a shortstop and potentially another starting pitcher, and you have eight roster spots to fill with that $65m either from within your organization or otherwise. At an average of $8.1m available per open 25-man roster spot, in theory a decent-to-good player could be acquired for each and every one of those spots. Of course, things don’t always play out in reality as they do theoretically, and the nature of the market along with the fact that the Tigers are not the only team looking to improve will certainly hamper their quest to fill each of those eight spots with a quality player.
Ignoring the players that the Tigers have already released and also ignoring Bobby Seay, whose career is in doubt and if retained would almost certainly be paid the league minimum or near it and signed to a minor league deal, the Tigers have six free agents that they will have to make decisions on.
.375 wOBA, 135 wRC+, 2.5 WAR (Fangraphs)
303/378/474, 12 HR, 3.1 UZR/150
Ordonez signed a five year deal with two vesting options for the Tigers in 2005 and has provided value roughly in line with his overall contract over the course of it, even if said value has been provided unevenly (relatively poor years in 2005, 2006, 2009; Very good year in 2008 and 2010 pre-injury; excellent year in 2007). The second of his vesting options failed to vest when he went out for the season with an ankle injury in July, thus freeing the Tigers from having to overpay him to the tune of $15m for the 2011 season.
While Ordonez — Who will be 37 next year and was the oldest member of the 2010 Tigers team — Is clearly no longer a $15m player, he still does things well at the plate. He hits for average, has a good batting eye to take walks when needed, and has some power even if much of it has diminished over the years (.171 ISO in 2010 is nothing to do cartwheels over, but it is nothing to shake a stick at either). His UZR of 2010 smells of a mirage, but I think it is fair to say that he plays a passable defense relative to his level of offensive production. Word has trickled out via Miguel Cabrera that Ordonez would be interested in returning to the Tigers for 2011, and the Tigers ought to be interested in retaining him — On their terms. Ordonez was paid handsomely by the Tigers for six years and while one would hardly blame him for seeking out the best market for his services, the Tigers should not allow him and his status as a fairly popular player to hold them hostage to making sound financial decisions for this team and its payroll. A deal similar to the one offered Johnny Damon last off-season seems fair. 1 year, $8m. No doubt there will be many suitors for Ordonez’s services. The market for aging outfielders has been limited in recent years, as Damon found out last off-season and Bobby Abreu discovered before him. However, it is hard to see where teams would consistently pass up on a player who can post a .378 OBP with moderate pop. Should the Tigers find their backs to the wall, adding an option year with some form of performance based vesting option shouldn’t necessarily be off the table, so long as that option year (2012) carry a low dollar value. They absolutely should avoid an all-out bidding war, and if some team is willing to give him two guaranteed years or a crazy dollar amount, it would be in their best interest to bid Ordonez adieu and seek out replacements in the trade or free agent (read: Jayson Werth) market.
29 G, 28 GS, 166 2/3 IP, 111 K (6.0), 56 BB (3.0), 5.18 ERA, 1.42 WHIP
4.87 FIP, 4.66 xFIP, .303 BABIP, 1.0 WAR
Bonderman is one of the sadder stories floating around the Major Leagues at this time, to the point that I find it interesting that his story isn’t recounted more often, in the way that it has been for similar pitchers who have had their careers robbed or severely crippled by injury. In the final two years of his long-term deal Bonderman’s contract has appeared as a white elephant, but at the time the ink dried on it, it seemed to be an incredibly shrewd move of a committed organization. Bonderman was a 6 win starter as a 24-year old in 2006 (read: By far the best starter on one of the best staffs in baseball) and signed his extension that off-season. As a young pitcher with high potential, he went into 2007 and was even more dominant than he had been in 2006. By the Summer he’d clearly established himself as one of the premier young pitchers in Major League Baseball. Around that time, I often argued that he was already better than Justin Verlander would ever become (oops). He walked nobody. He struck out many. And he was fearless on the mound, relentless attacking hitters with that devastating slider. And shortly thereafter, came the horrible pitching. And soon after that, the revelation that he was pitching with injuries. And the injuries persisted for two and a half years until we were left with this: A 2010 season in which he bested 150 innings for the first time since 2007, and for it all was a one win pitcher, the worst performance of any full season in his career. During this year he’s talked about retirement if he isn’t resigned by the Tigers or doesn’t sign to a team nearer to his roots on the West Coast (he’s from Washington State), and to me there is a certain sadness about a player who seemed so clearly destined for greatness being close to cooked at age 28. Certainly the many millions he made will help him get over it, but it isn’t good to see. For the Tigers part, he could still be a decent end-of-the-rotation pitcher on a good team and still has a K/BB of 2. But it just seems like it may be time for the organization and its once budding superstar to call it quits with one another. Bonderman has already said that he doesn’t expect to be re-signed. He may turn up on another team and I hope he gets his stuff back, but it seems likely that Bonderman’s days as a Tiger are over. If he could be signed to a low-cost and/or incentive laden deal, it might be worthwhile to bring him back.
.341 wOBA, 113 wRC+, 1.8 WAR
272/357/403, 8 HR, 4.8 UZR/150
Damon was the second-oldest player on the 2010 Tigers and performed admirably. Other players seemed to like him as did the management, and as a fan he was a fun player to watch and to have as part of the team and organization that I root for. I was sure to give him a personal standing ovation in his final home at-bat of the 2010 season. He was essentially what we thought he was. An above average hitter who no longer is a great one. A guy who works deep into counts. A guy who plays the Outfield decently but is hampered by a ridiculously weak arm. A player whose overall power isn’t so great but is fairly decent for a guy who hits early in the lineup as he tends to. I would not like the Tigers to retain both Damon *AND* Ordonez, but if they fail to retain Ordonez I could see a spot for Damon on next year’s team if he is willing to take a similar deal to return. I would make Ordonez a priority because at this stage in his career he is a better player, but Damon could be useful, particularly if the Tigers make bigger free agent and/or trade splashes that give them a real contender. Still, Damon shouldn’t be a priority and really should only return to the Tigers if better options don’t reveal themselves.
.312 wOBA, 93 wRC+, 2.0 WAR
248/322/392, 11 HR, 4.3 UZR/150
Midway through the last decade, Inge managed to take advantage of Chris Osgood’s tour of other non-Detroit hockey teams to seize the mantle of “Most polarizing player in Detroit sports.” Beloved by many and reviled by equally as many, the impending conclusion of his contract is sure to cause tears in some circles and alcohol-infused binges of euphoria in others. His supporters will tell of his great play at third base and his critics will tell of his maddening check-swing strikeouts. Both are correct. What is true is that Inge has provided mostly surplus value over the course of his contract with Detroit and has been a roughly league average third baseman whose biggest attribute has been his strong defensive player. He has also offered power at the bottom of the lineup with relative consistency, having posting an ISO of .160 or better in three of the last five years (and four of the last seven). Of course, one of the years that he has failed to do so is this year, which also happens to coincide with his worst defensive season since the Tigers moved him to full-time third base, and to coincide with his age 33 season.
While his wRC+ of 93 is the best he’s achieved since 2006, it is still below average and would be difficult to carry in a starting role if his glove were to continue to decline. Betting on a bounce-back year with the glove at age 34 would be a very poor bet indeed. Inge has always been a versatile player, capable of playing both corner infield positions, catcher, and all of the Outfield positions. While his catching days are assuredly just about all over, he could be useful to the Tigers as a roving utility player. When he last played outfield his fielding numbers were comparably impressive as his performance at Third Base. If he’s willing to accept such a role, there is certainly room for a player who fits that description in 2011. He could essentially be the new Don Kelly, only much, much better at playing baseball. He is currently the longest tenured Tiger and in spite of his many detractors he is more popular than he is unpopular and may be the most popular member of the team among fans. The organization would do well to do what they can to create a situation where he can come back, but it would require flexibility on Brandon’s behalf as well. Performance such as that which he provided in 2010 is simply not the Third Base performance that a championship team should get. If his pride is such that he believes he should be a starter, the Tigers ought to wish him well as he seeks a contract with a team that believes the same. If he is willing to accept a roving utility role, the Tigers ought to welcome him back with open arms, even providing a two year deal if necessary to get the job done. He hits well enough and has enough power to be a highly valuable backup player, but his time as a valuable starting player has either run out or is at the witching hour, and the Tigers should be sure that he isn’t their starting Third Baseman when the clock strikes twelve and he becomes a pumpkin, which really could be as soon as next season.
.313 wOBA, 95 wRC+, 1.7 WAR
252/314/401, 15 HR, -5.8 (3B) 6.5 (SS) UZR/150
It would be better to re-sign Inge for $4-6m and run the risk of him turning into a pumpkin on their watch than to pick up Jhonny Peralta’s option. Repeat: It would be better to see a Pumpkin with an Inge jersey manning third base next year, than a $7.5m player with a Peralta jersey.
This isn’t to say that there’s no room for Peralta to return to Detroit. There is a hole at Shortstop and he could be a useful reserve player. There is no room for both Peralta *AND* Inge to return, however. The organization, if it is serious about building a winner, would have to choose between them. And it may very well choose neither, but it cannot choose both. Peralta has only had two seasons in his career that have been as good as an average Brandon Inge season, and Inge was a roughly league average player. Peralta’s an inferior fielder and a roughly equal hitter. He’s younger, but being less talented overall and not necessarily “young” (he’ll be 29 next year) makes age irrelevant. Then again, the lack of legitimate options in free agency at shortstop could back them into a corner and force them to pick up his option. A tough pill to swallow that would be. They’d be best served seeking out the trade market to try and make an improvement here.
.255 wOBA, 54 wRC+, -0.3 WAR
207/263/301, 5 HR, -2 DRS
There were reasons to believe that with a reduction in playing time that was sure to come in 2010, Laird could improve on his light hitting performance from 2009 to boost his 2010 output into the range of “acceptable”. Unfortunately, the opposite happened, as he spun out of control from terrible to atrocious. Literally being just over half as good as the *average* MLB hitter, he also saw a decline in the way he played behind the plate as well, a combination that led to him being a negative wins player in 2010. As a fan, I still like Laird. Drunken family brawls over NBA player’s wives aside, he comes off as an affable guy, and he plays noticeably hard. He runs well for a catcher and seems to always give it his best shot. No one who watches the games regularly can accuse Gerald Laird of being a quitter or loafer. No one who pays their money to go to games can say that Gerald Laird didn’t go all out to make sure they got what they paid for. Unfortunately, his best shot is really, really, really bad, relative to other Major League players. He’ll be 31 next season, and while the catcher free agent ranks are awfully thin and the Tigers don’t really have much in their farm system behind him, they’d be better taking a gamble on any number of random free agent catchers than bringing back Laird. By dumb luck it seems likely that an improvement on a .255 wOBA can be found.
Summary: And those are the six free agents. For my druthers, in a situation where all goes both well and realistically, the Tigers would retain Ordonez and Bonderman; Shedding Damon, Inge, Laird, and Peralta. I’d really like to see Inge return in that utility role, but he’s a highly prideful player who as far as I know (and I don’t know the man personally, nor am I privy to speaking to him) based on his behavior while in Detroit, would be loathe to accept a demotion from the starting role without seeing if he could start for another team. With that in mind, I lean towards saying he probably shouldn’t be back if we’re being realistic. It also is the case that they may *have* to keep Peralta due to the lack of available options at Shortstop.
Free Agents on the Market
3B Adrian Beltre
.393 wOBA, 145 wRC+, 7.1 WAR
323/368/558, 28 HR, 15.1 UZR/150
Those who know me personally know that I’ve been on the stump for Beltre for a long time. In fact, I advocated for the Tigers to pursue Beltre during last off-season. I am such a believer in his talents, that I was fine with him supplanting Brandon Inge at third base while Inge was still under contract, though I understood why the Tigers wouldn’t do such a thing. This year, Inge is not under contact, so there is no true impediment for the Tigers in pursuing Beltre. To be sure, the season he is having this year would not likely be replicated in Detroit and should the Tigers sign him, no Tiger fan should expect a year like this from him. However, his oft-cited struggles in Seattle were very much overblown on account of the depressing effect that SafeCo Field had on his numbers. Indeed, Beltre is a career 253/307/409 hitter in 1,524 PAs in SafeCo, rates that are well, well below his career numbers. As a Mariner, he consistently posted road numbers that were superior to his home numbers.
Beltre’s Road wRC+ with the Mariners:
It’s worth noting that Beltre suffered through various maladies in 2009. It’s also worth noting that Brandon Inge — The incumbent Tigers third baseman — Posted a wRC+ of 110 in 2004, and that was a career high. The second best was 101 in 2005. Even if you look at Beltre’s hitting performance as a whole, he’s topped 108 in four of the last six years. When you excise the “SafeCo factor”, you suddenly have a player who has been better at hitting than Inge in every single year since 2006. So even the “disappointing hitting” Beltre is better than the incumbent. Beltre is also a better fielder than the incumbent. For as much value as Inge has brought to the Tigers with his glove, Beltre has been consistently better year after year. As Inge’s glove has continued to decline, it only has made the gap between their fielding talents wider. To boot, Beltre is younger. 2011 will be his age 32 season.
While it would be foolhardy to expect Beltre to repeat his hitting performance of this year — The second best of his career — It would be more than reasonable to expect ~110 wRC+ performance out of him, which would be a dramatic improvement over what the Tigers have been getting from Inge in the last five years. He would also be an improvement in the field, which would help out Tiger pitching. This would do alot to shore up what has been consistently a black hole in the batting lineup without making a defensive sacrifice. In analyzing what was wrong with the 2009 Tigers, I cited that one of the organization’s problems is that they had too many one-dimensional players (defense only or offense only) and not enough two-way players. Beltre is a true two-way player. He is getting older but is younger than the best freely available option and dramatically better. He is worth overpaying for. Give him a contract for four years (and perhaps some form of vesting option(s)) and leave the dollar amount blank. Let him sign it. Shore up your third base. Use your monetary advantage (and the fact that the team with the biggest alternative monetary advantage, the Yankees, don’t have a need at third base) to outbid all suitors. Give him the “dumb money”. Get Beltre. This should be their top priority. Between the dearth of third basemen in the farm system, the general lack of availability of talented third basemen at any time — Be it the present market or future markets — And the Tigers pointed need to improve the offense, Beltre fits all of their needs perfectly.
RF Jayson Werth
.395 wOBA, 146 wRC+, 4.9 WAR
294/387/527, 26 HR, -5.5 UZR/150
There is no doubt, that Werth gains by playing half of his games in Citizen’s Bank Park. However, he is a devastating middle-of-the-order presence currently in his mid-30s who would add some much needed punch to a Tigers lineup that is lacking in that department. While his offensive numbers would likely take a step down in Detroit, he ought to be an upgrade over what is currently at the position and would allow for Magglio to slide into a DH role if he is retained (although it would appear that Magglio is a better defender than Werth, it seems unlikely that the younger player signing his first big free agent contract would do so to become a DH while the older player plays the field). In tandem with Beltre, the Tigers offense becomes considerably more dangerous with Jayson Werth in it.
C Ramon Hernandez
.354 wOBA, 118 wRC+, 2.6 WAR
300/367/436, 7 HR, 0 DRS
Hernandez has a vesting option for the 2011 season, but will fail to reach it. It required that he play in 125 games and he has only played in 93 with a week remaining in the season. He is coming off of one of the best seasons of his career, and there is no way he repeats a .354 wOBA in Detroit if he were to sign. However, he’ll be 35 next season and is the kind of veteran catcher that organizations like to have aboard. He’s an adequate defender and even if his hitting returns to what for him is “normal” (From 2007-09 he was remarkably consistent, putting up a line of 258/324/387 during that time. In the three seasons that comprised that time span, his numbers didn’t vary from that line much from year to year.) it would represent a dramatic improvement over Gerald Laird. His age and ability would allow him to split time with Alex Avila and allow the latter to develop while still being available to provide quality play behind the plate. The Reds are going to the playoffs this year and he was a part of the Oakland championship-less juggernaut of the early 2000s, so by the time he hits free agency he’ll also have the overrated-but-valuable-to-organizations “playoff experience”, both recent and extensive. Not including what may happen this year, he’s already played in 22 playoff games and gotten 79 plate appearances. Hernandez would be a solid, relatively low-cost option for the Tigers to boost their catching position.
C John Buck
.339 wOBA, 112 wRC+, 2.5 WAR
274/307/482, 19 HR, -3 DRS
Buck was famously one of the key players that Kansas City acquired in the Carlos Beltran deal, and then famously reviled as he failed to live up to his promise — Only to put up a career year in Toronto this year after Kansas City finally gave up on him. There are as many reasons to believe that Buck turned a corner in 2009 and built on it in 2010 as there are to believe that 2010 is a mirage, but it seems fairly reasonable that Buck could provide a level of performance much better than that which the Tigers received from Gerald Laird over the past two seasons. Next year is his age 30 season and unlike Hernandez (and this is the main reason why I listed Hernandez above Buck as being a more desirable player to pursue) may require a lengthier and more expensive contract in order to acquire. It’s also possible that there will be more teams in line for his services. While he has been in the league as long as Hernandez nor does he have the playoff experience, he has now played 70 or more games in six seasons and 100 or more games in five and has 697 games in the big leagues, which would qualify him as a legitimate veteran. If they cannot acquire Hernandez, they would be best served by then turning their eyes to Buck.
SP Ted Lilly
29 G, 29 GS, 186 2/3 IP, 157 K (7.6), 42 BB (2.0), 3.71 ERA, 1.09 WHIP
4.40 FIP, 4.22 xFIP, .259 BABIP, 1.9 WAR
The Tigers have not had a true left-handed pitching threat since Kenny Rogers retired, and Lilly would be a perfect signing for them given the needs of their team and the construction of their payroll. Lilly is certainly on the back half of his career, but he’s not necessarily “old” and hasn’t shown that he’s due to fall off of a cliff. Unlike Cliff Lee, he likely can be signed for a shorter term, which would minimize things such as injury risk and decline in performance. He also would allow the Tigers to reliably organize their payroll long term. Signing (or attempting to sign) someone like Lee to an expensive long term deal could hamstring their payroll for many years to come, especially if things go wrong. Lilly could likely be signed to a contract that would expire before players deemed integral to the Tigers’ future who play the same position — Like Porcello, Scherzer, and perhaps even Andy Oliver — Begin to get prohibitively expensive. A two or three year deal for Lilly gets him off the books in time to pay those guys, who will by that time be in their mid to late 20s (depending on who the conversation centers on) and will likely be better players to spend money on. In the meantime, Lilly would give the Tigers a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter. He has not walked many since moving to the National League, but in his last tour of the duty in the AL this was not the case. Still, he strikes out a respectable number of hitters and doesn’t give up an inordinate amount of hits. It would give the Tigers a legitimate lefty in the rotation and could keep them from pushing Oliver along too quickly — Or allow the two to team up in the rotation should Oliver be deemed ready next Spring. A two or three year deal in the low double digit million dollar range would not be out-of-line.
CF Coco Crisp
.360 wOBA, 129 wRC+, 3.2 WAR
279/342/438, 8 HR, 20.2 UZR/150
Crisp has a team option for 2011 and the Athletics would be foolhardy not to exercise it, but it’s possible that they may not based on Crisp’s injuries this season and their own slew of strong Outfield prospects, as well as his price tag ($5.75m) and their own payroll constraints. If they don’t, the Tigers should be first in line. Crisp is a very injury prone player and it is likely that he will not play a full season. Keeping that in mind, the Tigers have Outfield prospects (like Ryan Streiby and Casper Wells) who may be able to step in should an injury befall Crisp. In the meantime, Detroit can use whatever Crisp can give them. Such a signing would likely be predicated upon getting him to agree to move to either Left Field or Right Field (which could be a deal breaker) in order to not displace Austin Jackson, but when healthy Crisp is an elite caliber fielder with decent pop who can hit from both sides of plate. Signing him would give them a left-handed bat with power (though not BIG power) to put in the middle of what would be a greatly right-handed hitting lineup. Crisp will be 31 next season and would likely not require more than a two year deal to sign due to his perpetual injury issues. So long as the expectation is kept low — That he will only get into roughly half of the team’s games — He could still be a useful piece for a contending team, and the Tigers ought not let injury concerns scare them away.
RP Jason Frasor
67 G, 61 1/3 IP, 64 K (9.4), 27 BB (4.0), 3.67 ERA, 1.37 WHIP
3.16 FIP, 3.88 xFIP, .331 BABIP, -0.11 WPA, 1.0 WAR
Frasor is a former Tigers farmhand who was traded to Los Angeles in the deal to acquire Hiram Bocachica, and then later traded to Toronto for Werth. Since then he’s spent the last six and a half years as a solid reliever/sometimes-closer for the Blue Jays with periodic control problems and a strong ability to strike out the opposition. He lost a bit of velocity this year and along with it effectiveness on his fastball, though he was also the victim of misfortune on batted balls. With Joel Zumaya’s health forever in question, Frasor would give the Tigers a legitimate right handed back-of-the-bullpen threat to set up for Valverde should injury strike again. And if it doesn’t, it only makes the bullpen stronger as a whole. Frasor will be in his age 33 season next year.
RP Grant Balfour
55 G, 53 1/3 IP, 54 K (9.1), 17 BB (2.9), 2.36 ERA, 1.11 WHIP
2.76 FIP, 3.82 xFIP, .288 BABIP, 2.16 WPA, 1.1 WAR
The hierarchy in Tampa has already indicated that they may make drastic payroll cuts, and that would definitely mean that there’s no room for relief pitchers that could make upwards of $3-5m/yr., such as Balfour. There’s room for him in Detroit. Like Frasor, he’s 33, and he also has big time strikeout ability that has been demonstrated consistently over the years. A bullpen that adds he and Frasor to the mix suddenly becomes one of the scariest — Especially for RHB — To face in the American League.
Summary: Obviously the above also ignores the possibility of the trade market, which is so dynamic that it is difficult to dissect with any degree of realistic accuracy. Three names that could be available for any number of reasons include CF Colby Rasmus, 3B Mark Reynolds, and SS Stephen Drew. Should Rasmus become available, he automatically ought to be the Tigers first priority (ahead of Beltre and in place of Crisp), and the Tigers ought to essentially be willing to trade everything short of Porcello for him. Dealing Oliver *AND* Turner for Rasmus should not be off the table. Rasmus is a young, cost-controlled player who is already very good and left-handed. He would be a perfect fit for the Tigers in both the short and long-term. It is more likely that the Cardinals will recognize that Rasmus is too valuable to trade and will smooth out their differences with him during the off-season. Even if he does become available, it seems that virtually every team would be looking to deal for him and the Tigers don’t have as much to offer as many other teams would, so it seems rather unlikely that Rasmus would be in Detroit next year under any circumstance.
Reynolds should only be an option if they cannot acquire Beltre. He is a boom or bust player offensively who is fairly young (28 next season), slightly below average defensively, and overall average offensively. There are reasons to believe that he will improve this year and reasons to believe that he will trend downwards. He is not getting paid all that much and would certainly be cheaper to pay than Beltre, though also a far lesser player.
Drew’s came up frequently at the deadline. Acquiring him would allow them to jettison Peralta. Drew is younger and has been thus far roughly equal in production. Drew would also be cheaper than Peralta, though he could potentially be expensive to acquire in trade.
Beyond those three names, it is difficult to speculate about the trade market, but it is imperative for the Tigers to be creative and dynamic. In the theoretical World where they followed my general outline, their opening day 25 man roster could look like this:
RP Miner or Thomas
Players such as Brennan Boesch, Scott Sizemore, Will Rhymes, Ryan Strieby, Charlie Furbush, Andy Oliver and Armando Galarraga could all be on standby in Toledo in the event of an injury or injuries. Perhaps some arms could be signed to minor league deals in order to safeguard against bullpen injuries as well. This is not a team without holes — In particular it seems that defense/range at the middle of the infield could be a severe problem and there still isn’t enough left-handed offense — But it is a very strong team with a good offense, decent defense, good rotation (that is especially good at the top) and downright scary bullpen. Ordonez, Lilly, Hernandez, and Guillen would be the only excessively old players. It’s entirely within the realm of imagination that even after all of those moves they could still have money left over to pursue someone at the trade deadline if needed. This is a Tigers team that could compete with any other for a division title and more.
It is likely wishful thinking to believe that one team is even willing to shake up the roster enough to make seven free agent signings of 6-year free agents in one Winter. Or able to. Free agency is not like the general store, where you pick a player off of a shelf. Other teams are making offers and players have preferences and minds of their own. But it certainly can be afforded if they truly intend to spend all or most of the money coming off of the books, and they could strongly upgrade the team without getting too old or even hamstringing themselves on too many players. What they actually do is yet to be seen, but what has been laid bare here, is my vision of what a successful off-season might look like.