Tigers GM Al Avila suggested today that his eyes are still fixed well into the future, as Detroit’s WXYZ.com covers. That was largely safe to assume anyway, of course, but his discussion of the team’s financial planning is still important to note.
Avila did not just focus on the club’s expected arrival of new talent at the MLB level. As he put it, instead: “After 2020, our payroll will be in a lot better place for us to be aggressive going into 2021.” That focus on MLB spending is interesting for a few reasons.
For one thing, the difference between the 2020 and 2021 balance sheets isn’t hard to suss out. Both include $30MM for Miguel Cabrera; only the former comes with $25MM for Jordan Zimmermann and the final $6MM owed to Prince Fielder. Of course, those are the club’s only future commitments, so it still seems a bit curious to suggest that the long-term payroll trajectory is the driving force here.
Relatedly, it seems the organization has already largely decided that next winter won’t be an opportune time to push some cash onto the table. The Tigers have spent a decent bit of coin on one-year free agent deals since launching their rebuild, but mostly have targeted veteran gap-fillers who might turn into summer trade chips. It has long seemed interesting to wonder whether the club might consider putting its once-lofty payroll to use by chasing down some reasonably spendy players on the open market, even if it means taking a bit of risk. But it appears that will not be the case this winter or next.
So, when will the Tigers open things up? Avila didn’t make any promises, saying “we will have some money by 2021 to start going out there” but suggesting that hasn’t been pre-determined to be a breaking point. “Whether it be 2021 or 2022, at that point, we will be in a place, from a payroll perspective where I want to be at,” he said. Needless to say, it’s plenty understandable that the club has not yet decided how it’ll act at that point. And it’s also fair to avoid the setting of overly specific expectations. Still, the fuzzy future picture is no doubt less than inspiring for fans who may be looking ahead to two or three more clear rebuilding seasons.
While the Tigers have managed to draw down their spending over the past two years from its $200MM-ish heights in 2016-17, the club has never had a clear path to a quick rebuild. There was over $125MM on the books to open the 2018 season and there’ll be over $112MM to pay this year, due in no small part to ongoing obligations that are vestiges of the team’s last effort to contend. It has also taken a while to get the farm system producing again, too, as the club doesn’t seem to have come away from its post-contention veteran swaps with many significant assets and has only just begun reaping the rewards of top draft position. There are certainly some bright spots in the organization, especially with an intriguing mix of pitching talent building in the minors, but it seems the Detroit organization has no intentions of rushing the process.