We’re bringing back our “Three Needs” series, in which we take a look at the chief issues to be addressed for clubs that have fallen out of contention. We started with the Mariners and will now turn to a Tigers club that is finishing out a brutal season …
1. Work The Wire Aggressively
We’re focused here on reasonably attainable goals in a given offseason, not just identifying the very worst parts of a bad roster. And truth be told, it’s a bit of a fool’s errand to look too closely at specific areas of need. The reality of the situation in Detroit is that the organization is about as devoid of present MLB talent as any in recent memory. When a team is this bad, it’s not hard to identify areas to get better. Rather than focusing primarily on filling gaps, the approach this winter should be to accumulate as much talent as possible.
With the worst record in baseball, the Tigers not only have the first pick in next year’s draft (and in the upcoming Rule 5 draft), but top waiver priority from now until thirty days have elapsed in the 2020 campaign. That represents the first bite at the apple on any player who’s sent onto the wire. It’s a nifty benefit — if you’re willing and able to do the 40-man roster maneuvering needed to make it work.
Any front office must take care to protect their own prospects and manage the 40-man. The Tigers are no different. But a willingness to be aggressive with marginal veterans can help create additional openings. Having already sunken this far, the club can’t worry too much about holding open roster spots for lower-ceiling talent.
While GM Al Avila certainly has placed some claims since taking the helm — including a few quite recently — he’s nowhere near as apt to utilize that mechanism as, say, Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi. There are conceivable benefits to avoiding too much churn, particularly during the season. But working the waiver wire — both by claiming and in some cases attempting to outright previously claimed players — offers an intriguing path to securing the rights to interesting players and obtaining a first-hand look.
2. Don’t Shy Away From Trading Matthew Boyd
Hanging onto Matthew Boyd at the trade deadline may or may not have been wise. It’s impossible to pass judgment from the outside without knowing what was actually available in trade talks. Though it stinks for the Detroit organization that the 28-year-old has gone on to post a suboptimal second half, that doesn’t mean we should re-litigate the trade deadline call without further information.
So, what now? It’s easy to presume that the Tigers have no choice but to hang onto Boyd and hope he shows better in the first half of 2019, creating a new deadline opportunity. And that may be the likeliest outcome. But the possibility of a deal shouldn’t be foreclosed in advance.
It’s true, Boyd did take a step back over his past dozen starts. But he didn’t collapse. He has still averaged better than eleven strikeouts per nine in that span. While the walks and homers are up significantly, his physical skills don’t appear to have eroded. There’s no reason to believe he’s hurt. Most of the same things that made him so suddenly interesting remain in place, such as a 14.0% swinging-strike rate, 3.56 SIERA, and three years of affordable arbitration control.
When contenders scan the free agent market for options, they’re not going to see that kind of upside — at least, for anything less than a whopping financial investment. Boyd won’t require that kind of commitment. The Detroit club shouldn’t settle for just anything, but ought to be shopping a talented pitcher who is rather unlikely to be in his prime and in a Tigers uniform when the team is next competitive.
3. Consider A Multi-Year Free Agent Signing
Wait, what?! Yeah, I’m advocating for selling off the team’s best remaining MLB asset and generally abandoning any thought of near-term contention. But that doesn’t mean the Tigers should be in pure tank mode. The point is that they ought to be looking for ways to maximize opportunities to add value to the organization. And that can include adding MLB players.
The Tigers are three winters removed from a multi-year free-agent signing. You have to go way back to that 2015-16 offseason to find any big spending. There’s good reason for that, to be sure. But there are also reasons to consider the potential upside in exploring larger deals again.
No, I’m not saying the Tigers should be signing the next Justin Upton or Jordan Zimmermann deal. But continuing to ink one-year, fill-in veterans makes for limited upside. After committing $15.5MM, the club wasn’t able to cash in any of its most recent one-year signings (Tyson Ross, Jordy Mercer, Matt Moore, Josh Harrison) because all of these veterans ended up being hurt. And I need not remind Tigers fans of the disappointing outcomes of the rental sales of J.D. Martinez and Nicholas Castellanos.
The Tigers’ payroll obligations are falling off a cliff, with nothing committed from this point forward aside from the sunk costs of Zimmermann and Miguel Cabrera (along with one more payout to Prince Fielder). With many organizations showing a reduced willingness to give the extra year, there could be some opportunity to draw interesting free agents to Detroit. That could open the door to a class of players the Tigers wouldn’t otherwise have access to while also increasing the potential return that could be realized in a trade if things go well. Plus, spreading the risk of injuries over multiple seasons isn’t without its merit. With free payroll to work with, the Tigers should have greater risk appetite and at least pursue some bold strategies.