The Tigers introduced Jordan Zimmermann to fans with an press conference yesterday, but it was owner Mike Ilitch and, to a lesser extent, GM Al Avila who garnered most of the attention, per a pair of reports from MLB.com’s Jason Beck and from CBS Detroit (includes video of Ilitch interview). As Beck writes, the 86-year-old Ilitch made his steadfast desire to see a winning team in Detroit abundantly clear just four months after now-former GM Dave Dombrowski sent the club on a mini-rebuild by trading David Price, Yoenis Cespedes and Joakim Soria.
“I’ve been in baseball for a lot of years, and I don’t care about spending money,” Ilitch told the Detroit media. “They get the players, and I spend and I don’t worry about it, because they have good judgment. We’ve had good teams over the years, and it’s a lot of fun for me.” Ilitch added that winning is “all I think about” and that he badly wants a championship in Detroit.
Avila told reporters that Zimmermann was the club’s top target from day one this offseason, and Ilitch was aware of that. “It’s very rare when you say to the owner, ’This is the guy we’re trying to get,’ and then you end up getting him,” said Avila, who drew strong praise from the team’s owner.
Ilitch was candid not only in his praise for Avila but in his description of how the relationship between Dombrowski and the Tigers came to a close. “He knew he wasn’t getting a contract,” Ilitch told reporters. “That’s all there was to it, because I didn’t win with him. We were close. He’s a great guy. But you know, there’s times you’ve got to change. If you’re not winning, you’ve got to change. So I made up my mind: I’ve got to change. So I called him and I told him like a gentleman.” Ilitch did note in the above-linked video that he and Dombrowski spoke “like old friends” and certainly didn’t seem to harbor anything but respect for his longtime but now former general manager.
The frank comments from Ilitch also entailed his recounting of some frustration with Max Scherzer and Scherzer’s agent, Scott Boras. Per CBS Detroit, Ilitch recalled: “We made him an offer and it looked like he was going to take it, then all of the sudden he wanted a little bit more and it was a great number. It irked me a little bit. I figured, ‘how much do you want? I just asked you what you wanted.’ Then he tells me he wants more.”
The offer referenced by Ilitch, of course, is the six-year, $144MM offer which Scherzer rejected prior to the 2014 season. Many expressed disbelief at the time reports leaked out about Scherzer passing on the deal, but the decision proved shrewd in the long run, as Scherzer landed a seven-year, $210MM contract with the Nationals which, even with heavy deferrals, is valued at an estimated $189MM in present-day terms.
Back to Beck’s column, Ilitch indicated that he’s comfortable exceeding the luxury tax threshold of $189MM if necessary, if it’s necessary to land the players they want. Avila noted that the team would still limit its spending somewhat, though the plan is to pursue another starter and a relief arm, albeit more of a back-end rotation type, per Beck.
That would figure to eliminate the Tigers from the market for pitchers like Jeff Samardzija, Mike Leake, Wei-Yin Chen and Kenta Maeda (if he is indeed posted), each of whom could pull in significant commitments that match Zimmermann’s in terms of contract length (though probably not annual value). Even mid-rotation arms such as Ian Kennedy and Yovani Gallardo could command three- and four-year deals. If the aim is more for a lower-cost option, the Tigers could look to buy low on a reunion with Doug Fister or perhaps ink a lower-cost fifth starter like Mike Pelfrey (both names are my own speculation).
The relief market offers a number of non-closing setup types, though it’d seem there’s room for at least two more relievers — one left-handed and one right-handed. Detroit’s lefty options on the 40-man roster at this time include Blaine Hardy, Kyle Ryan and Kyle Lobstein (assuming Matt Boyd continues to work as a starter in the minors), so one names like Tony Sipp and Antonio Bastardo make for reasonable speculative targets. Right-handed names that fit the team’s typical affinity for high-strikeout arms include Shawn Kelley, Mark Lowe and Ryan Madson, while Tommy Hunter’s velocity stands out among free-agent relievers (though he doesn’t generate a huge number of strikeouts despite his 96.2 mph average fastball).
Ultimately, as one would expect based on the Tigers’ history, the team looks poised to continue to spend despite having already reeled in a pair of high-profile acquisitions in the form of Zimmermann and Francisco Rodriguez.