As if you haven’t figured out by now, things aren’t going well for the Tigers at the present time. It was a very strange 8-game losing streak in that every game except one seems to have hinged on a single moment (the one exception being the finale against the Rays), but it is a losing streak nonetheless (and that’s a story for another post). It’s only natural that the word “sell” starts to creep into writers’ minds. Al Avila has gone on record saying that they are “open for discussions,” which is about as vague a comment as you can get. Seriously, is there any point in time (other than possibly October) when a team is NOT open for discussion? Still, it raises an important question: What do they mean when they say “sell?” If you’ve been reading much of the local sports media, they’ll have you believe it’s nothing short of full rebuild. I can’t say for sure what’s in the front office’s mind, but I find this approach to be ill-advised and unnecessary (and I’ll get into some of the reasons shortly). Rather, if they don’t get things turned around, I think a much better approach would be to do something akin to what they did in 2015, which was to trade away impending free agents, and I’ll even include guys whose contracts are up at the end of next season. I call this the mini-sell, and I have very specific criteria for how to go about doing it. Now, I have not thrown in the towel yet on this season. I am much too obstinate and stubborn to give up with this much time left until the trade deadline, so for now, think of this as a contingency plan if things continue to go south. And without further ado, I bring you my rules for the mini-sell:
1. Don’t pull the trigger too early.
This is not a surprising rule, given that I just said I’m not committing to sell just yet, but even if I were, it’s not smart baseball to start a selloff in June. You will not get maximum value for the players. With as many teams as bunched up as they are, it’s going to take a while for the buyers and sellers to sort themselves out, and teams aren’t desperate enough to overpay for rentals yet. In fact, if the Tigers declared themselves sellers this early, it would reek of desperation on their part and diminish their bargaining ability.
2. Don’t trade away the franchise.
I’m talking about Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, of course. This is the one area where things are more ambiguous than people think. In the offseason, I noticed a lot of news reports that either took Al Avila out of context or would report another talking head’s speculation as a legitimate rumor (This actually happened to me a couple days ago. I got a news alert on my phone saying “Verlander unlikely to be traded unless Tigers retain salary,” and it turns out that wasn’t a breaking news alert so much as it was an opinion JP Morosi shared on MLB Network). If people weren’t talking about this at all, I would find it highly unlikely that they’d trade either of them unless someone gave up their entire farm system and took on their entire contracts, but I feel like sometimes GMs or owners give in to what the media (or loud fans on Twitter) is telling them to do. No one is completely immune to peer pressure, after all. Either way, this would not be a smart move. Even if there was a rebuild, fans need long-time standing members of the franchise to draw them to games and young players would benefit from the leadership. Also, Cabrera has a chance to give the team milestones it has never had, such as a 500 home run player. Furthermore, the era of the elite player who stays with the same team their entire career is at an end, and I believe Verlander is the last chance at fans getting a lifetime Tiger (certainly my last chance). And to those who are pushing a rebuild, they put Verlander and Cabrera at the forefront of guys they want to trade but they declare the younger pitchers like Fulmer and Norris to be untouchable. I hate to say it, but if you trade Verlander and Cabrera, you may as well trade Fulmer and Norris right along with them, because the Tigers will not be competitive again before those two hit free agency. Even if you remove all feelings of sentimentality from the equation, trading them away is just bad business. With someone like JD Martinez, the Tigers could absolutely get someone back who will match his level of production eventually. Verlander and Cabrera are players who are on the verge of being Hall of Famers. The odds of acquiring prospects who will match that are so slim, they may as well be nonexistent. Also, I don’t think the return on either of them would be what a lot of writers and certain fans are dreaming of, simply because the market has trended away from pricey veterans. In addition to that, teams aren’t likely to pick up the full contract of either player, meaning that the Tigers would be paying them to play for someone else. I certainly don’t want that to happen. The bottom line is that they bring far more value wearing the Olde English D than not. Also, Al Avila mentioned in the offseason that he’d like for the team to remain competitive during whatever this transition phase is. My instinct is to be skeptical of GMs when they say such things, but retaining Verlander and Cabrera would go a long way towards demonstrating sincerity in that statement.
3. Don’t settle.
I do not understand fans who beg for a fire sale. Why on Earth would you want to give up all your best players for very little return? It’s not even about payroll. The Tigers will be under the luxury tax after this season, and after 2018, they’ll even have a little bit of flexibility with the contracts of Victor Martinez and Ian Kinsler expiring (assuming Kinsler is still with the team at that time). This means that any move should be about the prospect return and not salary dumps (though at the same time, I do not want the Tigers to retain salary of anyone they trade away). What I’m saying is that if a strong market does not develop for a player, they shouldn’t force the issue and trade him for whatever warm body they can get. And sometimes a market does not develop, especially since the game is trending toward younger talent on cheap contracts with several years of control left as opposed to veteran rentals. Remember, Cameron Maybin had one of the best seasons of his career and they still could only net a AA reliever from a team with one of the worst farm systems in baseball (no disrespect to Victor Alcantara). After that, the Tigers reportedly had high asking prices for all their players and did not lower their demands. And they should continue taking that approach.
So what would my plan be? Well, assuming the Tigers’ goose is indeed cooked for this season (and setting aside the disclaimer that you never know when a GM is going to do something incredibly stupid), I would plan to trade JD Martinez, possibly Alex Avila, and at least one member of the late inning crew in the bullpen (Justin Wilson, Alex Wilson, or Shane Greene). I would also be willing to part with Ian Kinsler or Jose Iglesias if a team were to blow me away with an offer (though in their cases, I might save them for the offseason). Those players should net a nice mix of prospects, some of whom could hopefully contribute right away. Beyond that, I’m keeping everyone else together, because I think they still have a lot of fight left in them.