The Tigers found their low point in 2019 … or so they hope. It’s far too soon to envision this organization contending, but the Detroit front office has some payroll space to work with.
- Miguel Cabrera: $132MM through 2023 (includes buyout of 2024-25 options)
- Jordan Zimmermann: $25MM through 2020
- Prince Fielder: $6MM (final payment owed as part of trade with Rangers)
Arbitration-Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz)
- Daniel Norris (4.073) – $2.9MM projected salary
- Michael Fulmer (3.157) – $2.8MM
- Matthew Boyd (3.136) – $6.4MM
- Buck Farmer (3.083) – $1.1MM
- Drew VerHagen (3.126) – $900K
- JaCoby Jones (2.125) – $1.4MM
- Non-tender candidates: VerHagen
- Gordon Beckham, Blaine Hardy (elected FA after outright), John Hicks (elected FA after outright), Edwin Jackson, Jordy Mercer, Matt Moore, Tyson Ross, Daniel Stumpf (elected FA after outright)
[Detroit Tigers depth chart | Detroit Tigers payroll outlook]
How rough was the 2019 campaign for the Tigers? They ran away with the rights to next year’s top overall draft pick by a whopping seven games, matching the ’18 Orioles with a 47-win effort. Not so hot, particularly given that the organization still opened the campaign with $115MM of payroll. Then again, it’ll be handy to have the 1-1 selection for the second time in three campaigns; no doubt the Tigers wish they had managed to secure the intervening top choice as well.
Last year’s hot stove session was more or less a complete bust. GM Al Avila and his charges spent $15.5MM on veteran additions but got little in contributions and nothing back via trade for that spend. Some of the specific moves were defensible on their own, but it’s nevertheless a disappointing outcome. Otherwise, the club did little to take chances on potentially interesting young talent. The Tigers picked up only a few marginal players in waiver claims and minor-league signings, not one of whom appears to be part of a contending future.
That’s not to cast a pall over the entire organization. It’s in large part a reflection of a typical rebuilding effort after an extended effort at contention. And there’s some legitimately interesting talent on the rise in the Detroit farm, some of it beginning to press toward the MLB level. But that fact only increases the urgency of making strides now, to install some pieces that complement the good young talent as it reaches the majors — thus helping the Tigers open a new window for winning as soon as possible, while Casey Mize and co. are at their most cost-efficient.
So, the Tigers organization needs to make greater progress this time around. How to do it? Frankly, there really aren’t many limitations on Avila and his charges. Having already scraped along the bottom of the league for the past several seasons, the pain of poor outcomes is by now familiar and accepted. The present roster is free of impediments; Cabrera will DH and play first and the front office can pretty much otherwise use its roster spots in whatever way it wishes.
Plus, there ought to be some money to work with — even if we don’t yet know quite what payroll levels this organization will operate at now that ownership has passed from Mike to Christopher Ilitch. The Tigers have largely unwound the remnant obligations of their last contending stretch, though the misguided Miguel Cabrera extension will blot the books for a while longer. Jordan Zimmermann and Prince Fielder will be settled up fully after the coming season. The Tigers have yet to promise a dime to anyone else, so they’ll start their 2020 roster with $61MM in obligations and a modestly priced slate of remaining arbitration-eligible players (after parting with three such players after the end of the season).
Looking over the existing roster for needs feels somewhat beside the point. But there are some areas with greater opportunity available than others.
The pitching staff is relatively stable, particularly the rotation (as far as rebuilding clubs go). There were ups and downs last year for Matthew Boyd, Spencer Turnbull, and Daniel Norris, but all threw well enough to warrant jobs in 2020. (Norris was particularly effective when transitioned to a three-inning “opener” role, so perhaps he’s best deployed with a piggyback option.) Tyler Alexander could also factor, with Zimmermann of course still on board if he’s healthy. Speaking of notable injury situations, this is shaping up to be a big season for Michael Fulmer, who’ll be working back from Tommy John surgery. He’s now about seven months out from the procedure, which took place just before the start of the ’19 season. Odds are the club will target a return early next summer.
There’s room for another veteran signing in the mold of last year’s additions of Tyson Ross and Matt Moore. Those didn’t pan out, but they were a sensible tandem to try out in hopes of unearthing an eventual July trade chip. Youthful, reasonably high-upside hurlers such as Michael Wacha or Alex Wood could be targets this time around if the Tigers want to try that same approach. There are loads of possibilities for veteran depth and wisdom, which would be nice to have on hand as the top prospects arrive.
The rotation need will increase dramatically if the Tigers gain traction on talks involving Boyd, who faded down the stretch after an eye-opening early showing last year. Yeah, he ended up with a middling earned run average and allowed a stunning 39 home runs. But Boyd is a durable, youthful, high-K starter who comes with three years of cost controlled campaigns. The trade market for starters doesn’t look to have much else of interest, so it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see analytically minded contenders poking around for a bargain. The Tigers shouldn’t accept just anything, but ought to explore the possibilities. If something gets done, the open rotation spot and salary capacity can be given to a bounceback target that could be utilized as a trade chip.
It doesn’t seem as if the Tigers need to go wild in the bullpen, either. No, this was not a top-tier unit — far from it. The Tigers relief corps landed in the bottom third of baseball last year by most measures and doesn’t seem especially likely to be much better in 2020. But that’s just not a core area to focus on for a team in this situation. The Detroit organization can afford to allow in-house such as Buck Farmer, Joe Jimenez and David McKay to continue to learn on the fly, even in higher-leverage spots, with some starting pitching depth perhaps also spilling into the relief unit.
Adding at least one veteran to the pen mix might be sensible, but the Tigers shouldn’t tie up relief roles on low-upside arms. Just look at the Marlins’ Nick Anderson bonanza: added in a minor swap in the 2018-19 offseason, the righty threw well enough in his debut season to become a major mid-season trade piece. It’s tough to score that kind of a player, but it’s easier to dig for gold in the relief arena than any other. The Tigers should utilize their reliever roster spots and MLB opportunities to chase ceiling.
There’s obviously work yet to be done on the pitching staff. But with a host of highly regarded arms moving toward the Majors, there’s help on the way. And the near-term problems pale in comparison to the issues on the other half of the roster. Outside of Cabrera and the departing Mercer, only Victor Reyes, Niko Goodrum, and JaCoby Jones posted offensive numbers in spitting distance of average for the Tigers.
Goodrum is capable of playing just about anywhere, which helps with flexibility. (Somewhat curiously, he graded out much better at shortstop than in left field.) Reyes and Jones can both play center, though the latter’s defensive grades strangely plummeted in 2019. While none of these players has shown a particular likelihood of turning into anything like a core piece, it’s nice to have such a reasonably flexible trio to work with.
The other players that had 2019 trials all turned in duds. Jeimer Candelario and Dawel Lugo scuffled at third base. Brandon Dixon launched 15 homers but did little else with the bat during his time at first base. Corner outfielders Christin Stewart, Travis Demeritte didn’t hit. Neither did middle infielders Willi Castro and Ronny Rodriguez or utilityman Harold Castro. Behind the dish, Jake Rogers holds promise but he and Grayson Greiner … you guessed it, didn’t hit in 2019.
These players are all still available to draw from. Some have greater promise than they’ve shown to this early stage of their MLB careers. And the Detroit farm has a few pieces that could pop up in 2020, including infielder Isaac Paredes and outfielder Daz Cameron. But it would frankly be difficult to say that the Tigers are remotely precluded from adding at any specific position except, perhaps, center field — which is just as well given the state of the market. The positional flexibility on hand only adds to the sense that the Tigers can and should explore upside opportunities wherever they can find them.
What the Tigers should probably not do is settle for another version of the Mercer-Harrison middle-infield combo (whether there or anywhere else on the diamond). It is valuable to have some veteran leadership, to be sure, but you’d like to see it come from somewhat more youthful players that have some hope of delivering future value (via trade, future arbitration control, or otherwise). It’s one thing to add a solid part-time catcher or fourth outfielder, but tying up significant playing time with short-term, low-ceiling pieces is of dubious merit.
If the Tigers want the veteran presence and performance, then they’d be better served making a more significant investment in a more youthful, higher-end player. Didi Gregorius, Jonathan Schoop or Yasiel Puig are the sort of players that could plausibly be attracted by multi-year offers if they can’t get them elsewhere. The Tigers can also look at the trade market, which could conceivably feature personnel on the order of Nomar Mazara, Michael Taylor, Maikel Franco, and Albert Almora. We don’t yet know for sure what opportunities might arise and whether they’ll be worth the price. But the Tigers ought to be seeking situations that come with some real upside — both in terms of performance and control rights — even if it means taking on financial obligations that extend past the 2020 season.
Let me congratulate the fact that ALL FIVE Tigers starters from their WS Team now have rings… without a parade down Woodward.
Sad what this team has become. I did not go to a single MLB game for the first time in at least 18 years. Luckily for Detroit, they have the Galactic Champions, Detroit City FC to follow now. Young people now go there to get 10X the fun and 1/5th the price.
All 5 from 2014 rotation, not the 2012 WS rotation, which included Smyly and Fister.
“Fristly” Ive gotten Tigers tickets, even in the good years, for 5 dollars.
Secondly it sounds like you should stick to Detroit City FC with your bandwagon, fair-weather attitude. No one needs it.
Exactly, win or lose I’m a fan for life. I’d hate to be that person’s family and be down. I just may get kicked. Lol
I didn’t go to a game for the first time since 2000. I am have zero faith in Chris Illitch & I think he is selling the team. I hope he does because he’s not what you want or need in an owner. He’s not interested or passionate. He’s a business guy cleaning up the balance sheet.
I’ll pass on that BS, I’m a Tiger fan win or lose, not just when there winning.
I can’t speak for the organization. But as a fan I’d love to see Puig in a tigers uniform. Also, I would like to see us at least make a run at Gerrit Cole. He definitely won’t sign with us but might as well try. If we could attach someone like JaCoby Jones to Jordan Zimmerman, we may be able to offload him. Miguel Cabrera deserves to continue to play for us as long as he wants, even though he takes up a ton of salary.
They’re going to have to package more than Jones, or eat some salary to unload Zimmerman.
1-13, era around six and always hurt. Nobody will take him. Maybe the Tigers worst free agent signing.
Going to have to eat all of Zims contract, the guy had one good month then nothing. Worst free agent signing in a long time. Good job Avila.
I’m legit curious… WHY does MC deserve to continue to play for Detroit, at $30,000,000. What value is he going to bring to Detroit at that salary? Obviously they won’t be able to trade him w/ out eating 2/3’s of that contract (or more), but why give him a free pass to suck, and get paid $30m.
His stat line was terrible in 2019. He was only worth .01 war. He only hit 12 hrs.
What else are they gonna do?
On a decent team I would platoon him and he’d get 10-15 AB’s a week until he proves he’s a major league DH. At this point though, nobody on the Tigers is a major league player.
I would trade him for Pujols. Change scenery and on the Tigers side they get out from under a horrible contract sooner. Or maybe Chris Davis. He’s $55M cheaper and maybe you’d be more comfortable platooning some other team’s junk contract.
I believe that the Tigers would be better off by trading Cabrera, paying his entire salary, in return for a mix of decent prospects. It’s not like they’re going to need him for a pennant run. Plus, the truth is that the DH spot (which he is now anchored at) is better spent on a youngster versus aging veteran. Same situation we had with the great Victor Martinez.
This rebuild sucks, and if a club doesn’t make efficient use of the development seasons, they’ll stay mired in them rather than returning to contention.
Miggy and his contract are untradeable unless he rebounds and shows some power again.. No team is going to take on his contract. No team wants a DH that performs below league average. The Tigers are probably the only team that can sell a few extra tickets as he hits milestones, and he is currently not blocking anyone from the farm. They can afford him at the moment.
Your comments reveal one of the most important reasons why so many teams are forced into rebuilds, and why, therefore, so few teams really compete for championships in a given season: long-term mega-deals for veterans whose skills deteriorate as the contract plays out. Cabrera takes up so much salary space that the club has correspondingly fewer dollars to spend on major league talent. Some years ago it became evident that the future of major league rosters was the presence of a very few highly paid players and a whole lot more fringe players making significantly less. Take Harper, for example, at $30k+/year. Even if he performs as expected, is his contribution to the team’s success more than, say, three solid major leaguers signed for $10mm each? Huge contracts like Harper’s eventually force the team to absorb competitive balance taxes or, more often, to accumulate prospects, who, the team hopes, will mature into major league players over the course of a few years and thus place the club in contention again.
Harper is a once in a generation player, locking him up was a smart move.
Vtncsc… why? Cause he’s a hall of fame player that’s why. He is legitimately one did the greatest hitters ever to play the game, that’s why. He was underpaid during his prime and is now overpaid, get over it. He will prove all the doubters and haters wrong next season. He has had zero off season routines due to injuries the last two years… ruptured a bicep tendon…. try working out with that.
al avias phone
his legs are shot! once a power hitter loses those it’s over.hes what Victor was at the end..SINGLIO! that’s it.hrs not helped by playing in the cold for a couple of months every season.besides his legs he keeps getting lat injuries he’s useless to the team
How soon we forget, he was under paid in good youth, now he’s getting paid good. It evens out. Shame on you.
Going to have to eat all of Zims contract, the guy had one good month then nothing. Worst free agent signing in a long time. Good job Avila.
Why would the Tigers want to give up an asset just to get rid of Zimmermans salary? They aren’t about to contend and have boat loads of payroll space, in fact this team is so far from contending that they should be offering to take on bloated contracts with good prospect attached not giving it away.
Exactly. You don’t give up prospects for Zimm. You hope he turns into 2019 Anibal who was far worse than Zimm his last 3 years with the Tigers.
The only way I see Detroit getting anything out of Zimmermann is if he’s moved to the closer role, somehow finds success, and can be moved at the trade deadline. He provides nothing in the rotation.
Zimmerman and King Felix’s careers have taken a similar path (although Felix was more successful). Both were once young and talented starters, and both’s career have taken a sudden and massive dropoff in their later years.
Any player the team should trade to bolster the farm?
I would love to wake up one morning, click on an mlbtr alert, and read something to the effect of, “offseason Outlook, Detroit Tigers: nope.” or, offseason Outlook: Florida Marlins: bucket of puke. “
They have to pay Zimmerman either way
May as well try to move him for a prospect by eating as much salary as you would have to
A team like Atlanta could make a move for him instead of overpaying in years to a free agent
Or Milwaukee, Twins, Angels etc
Why would any of those teams trade for him? As bad as their pitching is toward the back of the rotation I’m sure they could find an arm in AAA that could produce a -0.4 WAR, save a prospect (or bucket of balls-whatever it would take to acquire him), and a bunch of money. Sorry Tigers’ fans, but you will see Jordan Zimmermann in a Tigers uniform until his contract runs out.
or until they decide to cut their losses.
It was -0.3, jeez, don’t short-change him.
The Braves are a team trying to contend so they will have no interest in Zimmerman.
No team in there right mind would give up anything for Zim, he’s done……
What a waste of digital ink. I’m a Tiger fan (thanks for your sympathy) and we all know virtually the entire roster will be remade over the next 2-3 years. These guys are mostly AAAA players, fill-ins until the youngsters are ready. Why not focus on who might be called up in 2020 besides maybe Paredes and Cameron?
Miggy, our two time MVP, needs to stay healthy for the tigers to success…
That depends on what you mean by “success”. If you mean drawing 1.6 million fans instead of 1.4 million fans and watching a guy pad HOF stats and climb the leaderboards… OK.
But if you mean winning…
Whether Miggy is a 2 WAR player or a 0 WAR player (likes he’s been for 3 years in a row) makes almost no difference. His days of being a great player are over. You can hope he comes back and hits .290 with 25 homers and 90 RBI and is a 2 WAR player at DH. But so what? The team would finish 35 games out of first instead of 37?
I say this as a fan that has suffered through many years of bad baseball from my team. You could try and trade Miggy for Pujols or some other junk. At least Pujols has a shorter contract and maybe in 3 years you can start to see improvement. But whether your team wins 60 games or 58 games I don’t think really should be your worry.
He absolutely must lose weight.
The problem is, Miggy does not care to do so. He is extremely selfish in that regard. And it effects the entire team. He does not put any effort into running and it puts added stress on his knees. If he lost 20 pounds, he could easily become a 3-5 WAR player again. He just doesnt care to do so.
al avias phone
he’s also a drunk..all those cervaces add pounds
Couldn’t be more wrong. Miggy is intensely competitive and those “20 pounds” are muscle. Like all power hitters, he’s focused on muscle mass. He’ll very likely come in weighing less next spring after the knee issue diagnosis. Same as Pudge did when his back issues almost sidelined him.
The “he doesn’t put in the effort” line about not racing down the line on an obvious out line of thinking makes no sense. Speed doesn’t age, just ask Carl Crawford, and 35 yr olds built like linebackers are only going to get hurt playing like their in little league.
Miggy doesn’t drink anymore he’s been sober for years
Nobody said anything about “not racing down the line”. The comments was about getting in shape. He needs to lose weight. That could be running to burn fat. He’s fat and out of shape but he doesn’t care to get in shape. He’s just going to keep killing the Tigers for year after year after year. He’s stealing money at this point. You think he’s added 20 lbs of muscle? You are kidding yourself. He’s added a 1-pack, not a six pack.
I like Miggy don’t get me wrong, but his best days are behind him. He can no longer carry an offense, especially this one.
I saw the first three contracts in the article and seriously went ‘OOF.”
From swept in WS complete dumpster fire.
That was 2012. They “should have” won it all in 2013, but let the Red Sox slip by. A rotation of Verlander, Scherzer, Price, Porcello, and Sanchez was swept in three games by the Orioles in 2014. They should have gone into a partial rebuild at that time, but no, they had to keep trying. Don’t think that they went from 2012 to the 2017-2019 version in one fell swoop.
Four contracts rammed the Tigers into an ice berg. Zimmerman. Upton. Lowe. Pelfrey.
One coach made sure there wasn’t a prayer of surviving. Ausmus.
This rebuild should take a page from the 06 Tigers and sign the games best catcher to help the young arms develop into champs. Last time, Pudge. This time, Grandal.
Sign a Rogers type too. This time MadBum or even Miley.
You know.. that is not a bad idea…I was thinking we got 5 good starters ( young) coming up.. but do you bring up 5 kids? adding Madison. ( like kenny). could help big time…and adding Grandal. to handle the pitching staff.. sound be a sound move.. also he could help our JAKE.. I have heard that we are looking at PUIG. sort of simular to maggs..
this could work… adding 3 players and working with our young core
I dont know about anybody but we have got one more year of zimm.. why not put that arm in the bull pen.. you know as a starter it is a loss
al avias phone
we all know now.verlander is a choke artist.mustve learned it from Kate!
I think Verlander is mentally fatigued. I also think he makes tons of dead red mistakes that he can’t get away with in the WS where guys are absolutely locked in. Either way, choke artist? Probably not.
It would help if Hinch told him that he was only going 5 or 6 innings so he could let it fly a bit more.
Tigers will do little this off season besides what they have done the past two off seasons: find low cost veteran help to fill gaps. There is no urgency Mr Todd to add anything to compliment their young talent. Most of it is not even at AAA yet. So do not expect any major signings until some of these kids do make the majors and they see what exactly what complimentary pieces they do need. So likely won’t happen for another 2-3 seasons.
I would just like to see the Tigers rent a bat or two, so there would be less pressure on the young pitchers to be perfect, and the games might be more entertaining.
At this point, the market for veterans is super cheap. The Tigers could fill all the gaps for 50 million if they didn’t want to secure that first pick again. Billy Hamilton, Adam Jones, Juan Lugares. For a grand total of 10 mil and now you’ve got a MLB outfield. Jose Iglesias and Brian Dozier for 7 mil and you’ve got a SS and 2B. Grandal at 18 mil and you’ve got the game’s best catcher for your young arms. Then take 15 mil and build a world class player development architecture. Analytics. Nutrition. Sports psych. Physical therapy. At every level, A, AA, AAA, and MLB. Keep the talent healthy. Build a pipeline to the show and have a legit team for the young guys.
If you didn’t notice…none of these guys hit…but yet Lloyd is still the coach….is it a coincidence that everytime he’s been the hitting coach the results are minimal…
Lloyd is no longer the hitting coach but is still on the staff
What is all this Lloyd hate? Every ship needs an anchor or it’ll sail right of the edge of the world.
Tell me I’m wrong!
Miguel Cabrera will DH and bat 3rd.
Jordan Zimmermann will pitch only against weak lineups to bolster his stats in hope for a mid season trade where half his salary is paid in return for waiver wire trash.
Free agents will be acquired with the intent to trade them mid season for more waiver wire trash.
Although other teams have injuries and young players, the Tigers will hide behind those excuses for bad strategy and poor play..
This team has epic organization and administration. Move the seats back and take the games off television. This team deserves respect.
Denny McClain and Pete Rose would be great addictions to the team. They are ready to win. Move the seats and walls back., The rebuilt is complete. Detroit has a real dynamo of a team. No way they finish less than first.