8:29pm: The Tigers are in discussions with free agent outfielder Justin Upton, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (on Twitter). Things have been relatively quiet on the Upton front as of late, with more focus being placed on fellow corner outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, but Detroit does stand out as a logical landing spot for a top-tier outfielder.
As it stands, the Tigers figure to use a combination of Anthony Gose and Cameron Maybin in left field and center field, though the addition of Upton could theoretically push those two into a platoon or shift Gose into fourth outfielder territory. Detroit general manager Al Avila has said previously that he considers his heavy lifting this winter to be complete and finds a significant outfield addition unlikely, but owner Mike Ilitch could potentially go over his GM’s head in order to bring in a high-profile outfield addition. Upton, who has slashed .262/.344/.470 and averaged 27 homers per year across the past three seasons would certainly fit the bill.
It remains unclear how serious talks between the two sides are at present, and adding another hefty contract to the books with Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander and Jordan Zimmermann all signed through 2019, plus Victor Martinez through 2018 and Ian Kinsler and Anibal Sanchez through 2017 would be risky. However, Ilitch has long been one of the most aggressive owners in terms of free-agent spending and candidly stated earlier this offseason (after the Zimmermann signing) that he “didn’t care” about spending money.
Signing Upton, who rejected a qualifying offer from the Padres in November, would cost the Tigers a draft pick. However, Detroit’s No. 9 overall selection is protected under the collective bargaining agreement, and the team already forfeited its second-round pick to sign Zimmermann, meaning that the cost to sign Upton for Detroit would be “only” a third-round pick — a considerably lighter cost than many other potential Upton suitors would face.