The Tigers entered the 2017 campaign with the seemingly realistic goal of contending for a playoff spot, but their season has gone off the rails in recent weeks. Losers of eight straight, the Tigers own the American League’s worst record (32-42) and sit seven games out of a wild-card spot and 7.5 games behind AL Central-leading Cleveland. With the trade deadline approaching, Detroit looks like a seller in the making, which general manager Al Avila essentially admitted earlier this week when he indicated he’d listen to teams’ offers for his veteran players.
J.D. Martinez, RF | Salary: $11.75MM
As an impending free agent in the midst of his fourth straight excellent season at the plate, the 29-year-old Martinez stands out as the Tigers’ most obvious trade chip. A foot injury suffered in spring training kept Martinez out of action until May, but he has returned to slash a red-hot .288/.373/.626 with 12 home runs and a .338 ISO in 161 plate appearances. While those power numbers will regress (he slugged .540 and posted a .241 ISO from 2014-16), Martinez will remain a significant offensive threat when they do. Few major leaguers are hitting the ball harder than Martinez this year, per Statcast (via Baseball Savant), and he’s also running what’s easily a career-high walk rate (12.4 percent). Dating back to last season, Martinez has been rather weak in the field, where he registered minus-22 defensive runs saved and a minus-17.2 Ultimate Zone Rating in 2016 (and has already been worth minus-5 DRS this year). Despite that, teams in need of an offensive jolt will show pre-deadline interest in the reasonably priced slugger.
Alex Avila, C | Salary: $2MM
As impressive as Martinez’s batted-ball numbers are, Avila’s might be even better. The resurgent 30-year-old, who’s the son of Detroit’s GM, trails only Aaron Judge and Miguel Sano in average exit velocity (93.9 mph) and paces the majors in rate of balls hit at least 95 mph (62 percent). That has led to a ridiculous .320/.438/.588 line in 185 PAs for the lefty-swinging Avila, who has emerged as one of the newest poster boys in baseball’s fly ball revolution. Avila’s fly ball rate has nearly doubled since last season (from 22.8 percent to 41 percent), and he has cut down on strikeouts while managing an elite-level walk rate for the third straight year. As with Martinez, some regression is in order (Avila won’t sustain a .433 batting average on balls in play, for instance), and Avila’s pitch-framing numbers leave plenty to be desired on the defensive side. But the onetime All-Star’s offensive revival looks worthy of betting on, especially given his cheap salary. A contender like the Red Sox could clearly use more offensive production from behind the plate, and their president of baseball operations, Dave Dombrowski, is quite familiar with Avila after previously serving as the Tigers’ GM.
Controlled Through 2018
Ian Kinsler, 2B | Salary: $11MM in 2017; $10MM club option (or a $5MM buyout) in 2018
It would make sense for the Tigers to shop the 35-year-old Kinsler, who’s amid another solid season, but moving him won’t be easy. He can block deals to 10 teams, for one, and wasn’t interested in waiving his no-trade rights over the winter unless a contract extension came with it. Also, barring injuries, it doesn’t look as if second basemen will be in high demand prior to the deadline.
Justin Wilson, RP | Salary: $2.7MM in 2017; arbitration eligible in 2018
Teams might not line up for Kinsler should he land on the block, but given the ever-increasing importance of bullpens in today’s game, the same won’t be true for Wilson if the Tigers shop him. The 29-year-old left-hander took over for the just-released Francisco Rodriguez as Detroit’s closer earlier in the season, and while save opportunities have been scarce, Wilson has still offered quality production when the team has turned to him. After averaging more than a strikeout per inning in each season from 2014-16, Wilson’s K/9 has increased to a career-best 12.84, and he’s running a palatable 2.96 ERA/3.50 FIP/3.58 xFIP trio. There are some concerns here, including an elevated walk rate (3.95 per nine, up from 2.61 last season) and a career-low ground-ball percentage (35.0, down from 54.9 in 2016), but effective, low-priced relievers who throw hard are hot commodities.
Jose Iglesias, SS | Salary: $4.1MM in 2017; arbitration eligible in 2018
It’s unclear whether the Tigers will market Iglesias. If they do, though, the Marlins’ return for the on-the-block Adeiny Hechavarria will be worth watching for Detroit. Hechavarria is a similar player to Iglesias and comes with matching team control and a nearly identical salary (Hechavarria makes $4.35MM). Like Hechavarria, Iglesias is a defense-first shortstop, though the latter was once a league-average hitter. That has changed over the past two seasons, as the 27-year-old Iglesias has combined to bat just .255/.306/.366 with four homers across 513 PAs. To his credit, Iglesias has saved 12 runs (including nine already this year) and posted a 16.3 UZR over that time.
Of the three-high priced names on this list (Upton, Cabrera and Verlander), Upton is the only one with iffy team control status. At the end of the season, the left fielder will have the chance to opt out of the remaining four years and $88MM left on his contract, which won’t do his trade value any favors. The 29-year-old Upton has rebounded from a disappointing 2016, his first season in Detroit, to slash .268/.354/.496 with 14 long balls in 288 trips to the plate to perhaps make an opt-out a bit more realistic than it previously looked. The odds of a trade, on the other hand, appear remote.
Cabrera and Verlander are on even larger salaries than Upton over the next several years, and both have earned full no-trade rights. Those factors make potential trades complicated enough, but when you add in that both are 34 and now look downright mortal relative to their usual selves, in-season deals for either probably aren’t happening.
It’s debatable whether the Tigers should shop Greene or Wilson (or any other inexpensive assets), as they’ll need cheap contributors to step up in their forthcoming efforts to cut spending. Avila did listen to offers for Greene last winter, though, and he could continue to pique bullpen-needy teams’ interest as a hard thrower who’s making a near-minimum salary and comes with three arbitration-eligible years of control. Greene, 28, has pitched to a 3.57 ERA and posted 9.68 K/9 against 4.58 BB/9, with a 46.7 percent grounder rate, over 35 1/3 innings this season. Wilson also carries some appeal as a high-velocity righty with an affordable salary this season ($1.175MM) and two arb-eligible years. He doesn’t bring Greene’s bat-missing ability to the table, but the 30-year-old Wilson has survived a below-average K/9 (5.77) during his 230 2/3-inning career to post a 2.93 ERA (3.69 this season).