Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler tells MLB.com’s Jon Morosi that he intends to sit down the general manager Al Avila in the next couple of days to discuss his future with the team (all Twitter links). The 35-year-old Kinsler says his willingness to waive his partial no-trade clause will be dependent on what Avila tells about the team’s planned offseason direction, as a return to the postseason is his priority. The Tigers appear to be dead-set on rebuilding, having traded the likes of Justin Verlander, Justin Upton, Justin Wilson, Alex Avila and Cameron Maybin in the past 10 months. Kinsler, then, stands out as one of the most obvious trade candidates of the offseason as he heads into the final year of his contract.
- With the Tigers miles from contention, the rest of their season provides opportunities for veterans to showcase their skills for other clubs, MLive.com’s Evan Woodbery writes. Some, like Anibal Sanchez, are likely to become free agents (Sanchez has a $16MM option that the Tigers are all but certain to decline, likely opting instead to pay him a $5MM buyout.) Others, like Ian Kinsler and Jose Iglesias, are trade candidates. (Jeff Todd discussed the possibility of a Kinsler deal in his recent Three Needs piece on the Tigers.) Still others, like Bryan Holaday and Tyler Collins, are currently on the fringes of the Tigers’ 40-man roster.
Next up in our Three Needs series: the Detroit Tigers.
1. Trade Ian Kinsler.
This is about as obvious as these sorts of decisions get. Kinsler is already 35. He’s going to cost either $11MM or $12MM, depending upon whether he wins the A.L. Gold Glove for second base. (More on that here.) And it’s perfectly plausible that he could, since he continues to draw top-notch reviews for his glovework. Though Kinsler has dipped at the plate this year — he’s at career lows in batting average (.234) and slugging (.397) and is fighting to stay ahead of his prior low in OBP (currently .309) — he has a lengthy record of above-average hitting. And he also carries only a .243 batting average on balls in play this year despite making more hard contact (37.2%) than he ever has before, indicating some positive regression could be on the way. Even in a down year, Kinsler will put up at around 2 WAR; last year, he topped five (and, by measure of the DRS-based rWAR measure, did the same for the three prior seasons as well).
Bottom line: teams are going to see appeal in adding such a high-quality veteran at a palatable price on a one-year deal. Detroit has no real business employing Kinsler at this point. While his partial no-trade clause could factor in, Kinsler will surely see the merit in finding a new home with a contender. Demand at second base may not be immense, but there should be enough to support a decent return. The Tigers should be, and likely are, laying groundwork now to begin an auction process for the veteran.
2. Listen on Michael Fulmer, but hold out for a huge return.
You’ve heard the phrase “controllable, top-of-the-rotation starter” — or some variation of it — discussed quite a bit in recent months and years. Everybody wants ’em, but there aren’t enough to go around. And as that class of pitcher goes, Fulmer is near the top.
Fulmer is still just 24 and won the Rookie of the Year Award in 2016. He won’t reach arbitration until 2019 (as a Super Two) and won’t hit free agency until 2023. His overall ERA has sagged this year on the whole, but he carried an exact match to last year’s effort (3.06) following his start on July 15th. Fulmer faded as a nerve issue became problematic. While that did ultimately require surgery, it’s not expected to limit him next year — and, as an added bonus, his elbow ligaments just received a visual inspection and clean bill of health from the world’s most famous baseball surgeon (Dr. James Andrews). Though he doesn’t rack up all that many strikeouts, most agree it’s not a concern, as Fulmer dominates with a four-pitch power arsenal that may allow him to continue to suppress batting averages on balls in play.
We’ve already heard of some teams approaching the Tigers with interest, and that’ll surely continue. The market has produced huge returns for pitchers such as Chris Sale and Jose Quintana; while Fulmer doesn’t have the former’s excellence or the latter’s track record, he’s much younger and cheaper. Clearly, even with the surgery, he’s one of the game’s best trade chips.
Under the circumstances, the Tigers ought to listen in earnest to offers on Fulmer. But the club would be foolish to pre-commit to dealing him for less than a true haul of young talent. There’s always risk in hanging onto a pitcher that has immediate and long-term value. But that’s just what the team should be willing to do if suitors don’t come calling with packages featuring multiple players that project to be quality big leaguers.
3. Don’t be afraid to lose.
Of course, Detroit shouldn’t hold onto Fulmer or others out of any inclination to keep winning games. The pain will come, and already has; the danger now is in not embracing it fully. Nabbing a few more W’s in 2018 is likely only to cost draft position and extend the timeline of a successful rebuild. There’s nothing the Tigers can do but play Miguel Cabrera, Jordan Zimmermann, and Victor Martinez (if he’s able to return). Other than those high-priced veterans, who’ll need to reestablish some value to be traded, the efforts should be directed toward developing players, finding hidden gems, and generating trade chips.
That’s not to say that the Tigers can’t give some money to veterans. But they ought to be the sort whose control rights come with some real upside — younger free agents who haven’t yet harnessed their talents or still-useful veterans that slipped through the cracks. While the team had its reasons this year for giving significant time this year to over-30 role players such as Andrew Romine (114 games) and Alex Presley (207 plate appearances despite lengthy DL stints), doing so next year may not be wise.
Instead, the Tigers ought to be willing to part with useful relievers such as Shane Greene and Alex Wilson if there’s something worthwhile to be brought back. They should keep running out Mikie Mahtook unless and until he proves he can’t sustain solid production. And they ought to find out what they have not only in Dixon Machado, but also in reserve catcher John Hicks (who has hit quite well) and newly acquired prospect Jeimer Candelario.
If some buy-low opportunities arise in free agency, that’s always worth considering, but the Tigers already maintain a hefty payroll. And the bet here is that a wide variety of other teams will provide competition (and thus raise salaries) for the sort of short-term assets that might be of interest. Instead, perhaps, working the waiver wire and minor-league free agency will be more fruitful avenues for Detroit. The club should be open to taking chances there and perhaps also pursuing a few Rule 5 players.
It seems likely there will be fewer teams than usual in 2018 that truly don’t care about winning. The Tigers may join the White Sox as the only teams that are really just focused on aggregating young talent (though that could change in the coming weeks and there are a few other organizations that won’t be looking to spend much to improve in the near-term). That’s actually a good thing for Detroit, because the club has a clean path to a top draft pick and can operate without worry of results while other, slightly more advanced rebuilders begin to feel demand for results. The front office already made the hardest call in trading Justin Verlander. There’s no reason to look back now.
The Angels have announced that they have sent righty Elvin Rodriguez to the Tigers. He’ll become the player to be named later in the deal that sent outfielder Justin Upton to Los Angeles two weeks ago.
Rodriguez, 19, joins fellow minor-league righty Grayson Long in making up the return for Upton, who was something of an odd trade candidate given that he can opt out of his contract at the end of the season. Detroit did have some leverage, as the team could have held onto him and then traded the remainder of his deal if he did not exercise that clause and return to the open market. The Tigers also had reason to want a deal, though, since Upton was not eligible for a qualifying offer (having previously received one) if he opted out.
Rodriguez has shown some promise in the Halos system and ranked 22nd among the club’s farmhands on MLB.com’s latest list. Though he doesn’t even sit above 90 mph, per MLB.com, he generates movement, possesses intriguing secondary offerings, and has a track record of success in the low minors. Refinement and perhaps also some physical development may yet come. Rodriguez posted a 2.91 ERA with 8.1 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in his 68 innings this year, most of which came at the Rookie ball level before he earned a promotion to Class A.
With just a few weeks left in the season, we have a pretty clear idea of which Rule 5 draft picks will stick with their drafting teams. At this point, having already carried the player this far and with expanded rosters easing any pressures, teams are quite likely to stay the course. Here’s how this season’s Rule 5 group has shaken out thus far:
It isn’t official yet, but these
- Miguel Diaz, RHP, kept by Padres (via Twins) from Brewers: As part of the Pads’ unusually bold Rule 5 strategy, the club kept three youngsters this year. Diaz, 22, has managed only a 6.21 ERA with a 31:22 K/BB ratio over 37 2/3 innings. But he is showing a 96 mph heater and will remain with the organization, quite likely heading back to the minors next season to continue his development.
- Luis Torrens, C, kept by Padres (via Reds) from Yankees: The youthful backstop — he’s just 21 — has struggled badly on offense in limited action. Through 133 plate appearances, he’s slashing just.169/.246/.212 — with just four extra-base hits, none of them home runs.
- Allen Cordoba, INF, kept by Padres from Cardinals: And then there’s Cordoba, who’s also just 21 years of age. He faded after a hot start at the plate, but on the whole his output — a .209/.284/.304 batting line and four home runs over 215 plate appearances — is fairly impressive given that he had never before played above Rookie ball.
- Dylan Covey, RHP, kept by White Sox from Athletics: Technically, owing to a DL stint, Covey has only compiled 83 of the minimum 90 days of active roster time required to be kept. But he’s going to make it there before the season is up, meaning that the Sox will be able to hold onto his rights and option him back to the minors in 2018. Covey, 26, has struggled to a 7.90 ERA with 4.9 K/9 against 4.4 BB/9 over 54 2/3 innings, allowing 18 long balls in that span.
- Stuart Turner, C, kept by Reds from Twins: Turner has seen minimal action, appearing in just 33 games and taking only 77 trips to the plate. And he’s hitting just .141/.184/.268 in that sporadic action. Clearly, though, the Reds have seen enough to believe he’s worth the trouble to hang onto.
Still In Limbo
- Kevin Gadea, RHP, selected by Rays from Mariners: Gadea has not pitched at any level this year owing to an elbow injury. He’ll remain with the Tampa Bay organization for the time being, but will still need to be carried on the 40-man roster over the offseason and then on the active roster for at least ninety days for his rights to permanently transfer.
- Armando Rivero, RHP, selected by Braves from Cubs: It’s the exact same situation for Rivero as for Gadea, though he has had shoulder problems.
- Josh Rutledge, INF, selected by Red Sox from Rockies: This was not your typical Rule 5 move. Boston snagged the veteran infielder after he signed a minors deal with Colorado. He ended up seeing minimal MLB time owing to injuries and his season ended recently with hip surgery. Rutledge is eligible for arbitration this fall and isn’t likely to be kept on the 40-man roster regardless.
- Anthony Santander, OF, selected by Orioles from Indians: Since he only made it off of the DL late in the summer, Santander can accrue only 45 days on the active roster. If Baltimore wants to keep him, then, it’ll need to put him on the Opening Day roster next year. Santander has seen minimal playing time thus far, recording two hits in twelve trips to the plate, though he put up impressive numbers on his rehab assignment.
Kept By Other Means
- Daniel Stumpf, LHP, signed with Tigers after electing free agency upon return to Royals: This is another unusual situation. As a previous Rule 5 returnee, Stumpf was eligible to elect free agency upon being returned to his original organization. That’s just what happened when Detroit sent him back to Kansas City; the southpaw then turned around and re-signed a MLB deal with the Tigers. He has ended up turning in a rather productive year, posting 32 1/3 innings of 2.78 ERA ball with 8.6 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 at the major-league level and showing even more impressive numbers during his time at Triple-A.
- Tyler Jones, RHP, returned to Yankees by Diamondbacks: Jones has thrown rather well at Triple-A since going back to the New York organization, posting 10.7 K/9 against 2.8 BB/9 in 63 2/3 innings, though he has also allowed 4.38 earned per nine.
- Caleb Smith, LHP, returned to Yankees by Brewers: Smith ended up earning a 40-man roster spot and spending some time in the majors after showing quite well as a starter in the minors. But he has been knocked around in his 18 2/3 MLB frames on the year.
- Justin Haley, RHP, returned to Red Sox by Twins (via Angels): The 26-year-old didn’t stick with Minnesota, allowing a dozen earned runs in 18 innings before being returned to Boston. But he has thrown well since landing back at Triple-A Pawtucket, posting a 2.66 ERA with 7.2 K/9 and 1.4 BB/9 in 44 innings over seven starts.
- Tyler Webb, LHP, returned to Yankees by Pirates: Webb also gained a 40-man spot with the Yankees after showing some intriguing K/BB numbers at Triple-A. He was ultimately dealt to the Brewers.
- Aneury Tavarez, OF, returned to Red Sox by Orioles: Tavarez played his way back up to Triple-A upon his return to his former organization, but has hit just .244/.292/.400 in 145 plate appearances there.
- Glenn Sparkman, RHP, returned to Royals by Blue Jays: Sparkman was bombed in his one MLB appearance and has been limited to just 30 1/3 minor-league frames due to injury.
- Hoby Milner, LHP, returned to Phillies by Indians: Another player who has risen to the majors with the organization that originally let them leave via the Rule 5, Milner has turned in 24 1/3 frames of 1.85 ERA ball in Philadelphia. Of course, he has also managed just 15 strikeouts against ten walks in that span.
- Mike Hauschild, RHP, returned to Astros by Rangers: The 27-year-old righty struggled badly in his eight MLB frames. Upon returning to the rotation for Houston’s top affiliate, Hauschild has uncharacteristically struggled with free passes (5.3 per nine).
Top Tigers starter Michael Fulmer will undergo ulnar nerve transposition surgery in his right elbow tomorrow, manager Brad Ausmus told reporters (Twitter link via Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press). Katie Stang of the Athletic reported earlier today that the procedure was a possibility for Fulmer (Twitter link). MLB.com’s Jason Beck tweets that the procedure comes with a three- to four-month recovery period, which should put Fulmer on track to be back up to strength prior to Spring Training 2018.
Fulmer, 24, won American League Rookie of the Year honors in 2016 on the heels of a tremendous 3.03 ERA with 7.5 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 and a 49.1 percent ground-ball rate in 159 innings out of the Tigers’ rotation. The former Mets farmhand — Fulmer was acquired in the 2015 Yoenis Cespedes swap with New York — largely replicated that success to open the 2017 campaign. However, over his final seven starts of the season, Fulmer allowed five or more runs on five occasions, causing his earned run average to balloon from to 3.06 to its now season-ending mark of 3.83. The injury certainly explains that rough stretch, as Fulmer himself has recently cited numbness and tingling in his fingers when describing the reasons for a DL placement.
While an arm-related surgical procedure for a top young starter always carries a certain level of concern, there’s no indication at present that there’s a significant level of worry moving forward. Fulmer has time to get ready for Spring Training, and the Tigers certainly aren’t playing for much in 2017 after trading away the majority of their veteran core over the past year. For comparison, Mets right-hander Jacob deGrom also had surgery to re-position the ulnar nerve in his right arm last September and has returned to toss 188 1/3 innings thus far in 2018 (though certainly every injury situation has its own intricacies).
Fulmer had been a speculative trade piece for the rebuilding Tigers, though the chances of that have long seemed somewhat slim. News of an arm operation seems to further dampen that possibility, as Detroit is unlikely to sell a player that it controls for another five seasons when his value is at a relatively diminished level. Fulmer won’t be eligible for arbitration this winter, though he’ll very likely qualify as a Super Two player following the 2018 campaign.
The Tigers announced today that they have placed right-handed reliever Arcenio Leon on release waivers. That will clear a roster spot for outfielder Tyler Collins, whose contract was purchased from Triple-A Toledo as reported yesterday.
Leon had a short-lived tenure with the Tigers at the major-league level, pitching just 6 2/3 innings while allowing nine earned runs. He walked six batters and struck out only two. He averaged 96 MPH on his fastball, but hasn’t been able to consistently find the strike zone between Triple-A and the majors this season. The 30 year-old Venezuelan native spent time with the Astros, Brewers and White Sox organizations before he finally made his major-league debut on May 28th of this year, striking out one batter in a perfect relief inning against the White Sox.
- The Tigers will select the contract of outfielder Tyler Collins on Monday, writes MLive.com’s Evan Woodbery. The team will make a corresponding move at that time. Collins started in right field for the Tigers early in the season, but batted just .200/.288/.338 and was ultimately outrighted. He then hit .288/.358/.462 in 296 plate appearances with Triple-A Toledo. Now, the Tigers are calling on him again as fellow outfielders Mikie Mahtook and Alex Presley struggle with injury.
In one of his latest columns at FanRag Sports, Jon Heyman looks at the final hours leading up to Aug. 31’s Justin Verlander blockbuster. The Astros, according to Heyman, had been reluctant to part with any of their top six prospects in trades for virtually any player in either July or August. It wasn’t until 10:30pm ET on the night of Aug. 31 that they called the Tigers to at last cave in and concede a willingness to part with highly touted right-hander Franklin Perez. Detroit GM Al Avila had two execs head to Verlander’s home before the ace had decided whether to waive his no-trade clause in order to obtain his signature as quickly as possible if he ultimately approved a deal.
The Tigers’ initial centerpiece target, per Heyman, was another of the Astros’ young right-handers: Forrest Whitley. Houston held firm on him, but the two sides were ultimately able to cobble a deal together and give Verlander about an hour to weigh whether to waive his no-trade protection. In the end, the trade went through at 11:59pm, per Heyman, barely scraping under the wire.
Ian Kinsler’s five-year, $75MM contract has been widely reported to have a $10MM club option with a hefty $5MM buyout attached to it, but there’s a slight detail that Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic recently brought to light (via Twitter). Kinsler’s 2018 option actually has a vesting clause that will automatically trigger that option if and when Kinsler reaches 600 plate appearances this season.
MLBTR has learned that the option would also vest at $11MM — a slight uptick from the $10MM base salary he’d have if he falls shy of 600 plate appearances. Winning his second straight Gold Glove Award can also boost Kinsler’s 2018 base salary by $1MM. That’s of particular note given that Kinsler currently leads qualified Major League second basemen both in Defensive Runs Saved (+8) and UZR/150 (+9.3).
It’s a minor distinction, to be sure. Kinsler’s bat has taken a step back this season(.235/.314/.382), but his superlative glovework and quality baserunning have made him worth about two wins above replacement per both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference. Whether the bottom-line price tag is $10MM, $11MM or $12MM, it seems exceedingly likely that Kinsler’s option will either vest or be exercised by the Tigers. The $5MM buyout Kinsler is owed, after all, essentially reduces the Tigers’ decision on him to a one-year deal worth $5-7MM — an even easier call to make.
Having already traded Justin Verlander, Justin Upton, Justin Wilson, J.D. Martinez, Cameron Maybin and Alex Avila in the past calendar year, the Tigers are all but certain to shop Kinsler around this offseason. While the potential for an additional million or two being tacked onto his salary may have a modest impact on trade talks, it’s hardly going to be a sticking point in negotiations with interested parties.
Kinsler currently has 522 plate appearances on the season, leaving him 78 plate appearances shy of that $11MM sum automatically kicking in for the 2018 campaign.