- When the offseason rolls around, odds are that Tigers left fielder Justin Upton will not opt out of the remaining four years and $88MM left on his deal, reports Heyman. “Not happening,” one rival general manager said of a potential opt-out. Upton hasn’t lived up to his lucrative contract in his year-plus in Detroit, putting him on track to take the bird-in-the-hand approach.
Collins, a member of the Detroit organization since it selected him in the sixth round of the 2011 draft, ranks sixth among Tigers in plate appearances this year, but he hasn’t been productive in those 146 trips. The out-of-options 26-year-old has slashed a meek .200/.288/.338 with four home runs and a 31.5 percent strikeout rate (with an 11.5 percent walk rate), giving him a 72 wRC+ that’s significantly worse than his unspectacular career mark (87) across 529 PAs. On the other hand, Collins has bounced back from subpar 2016 in center field, having accounted for three Defensive Runs Saved and a 2.8 UZR/150 over a small sample size of 169 innings. In the event someone trades for Collins – which manager Brad Ausmus indicated is a possibility (via Evan Woodbery of MLive.com, on Twitter) – that team could control him for the long haul, as he’s not eligible for arbitration until 2019 and won’t become a free agent until 2022.
Presley first joined the Tigers on a minor league pact last July, but he only picked up at-bats with the club and was designated for assignment in late August. The 31-year-old re-signed with the organization on another minors pact over the winter and is now in line to make his Detroit debut. Presley has not performed well offensively at Triple-A this year (.213/.278/.303 in 171 PAs), however, and has also scuffled in the majors. In 1,239 combined plate trips with the Tigers, Pirates, Twins, Astros and Brewers, Presley has batted .253/.295/.382. The lefty-swinger will take Collins’ place as a third center field option to join right-handers JaCoby Jones and Mikie Mahtook, both of whom have offered uninspiring production this year.
As the trade deadline approaches, the Tigers have discussed dealing veteran players for pieces capable of helping them both now and in the future, reports FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal (video link). Regardless of whether they’re in the playoff hunt around the deadline, the Tigers could move impending free agent right fielder J.D. Martinez, says Rosenthal, who notes that the new qualifying offer system will make it difficult for them to keep the slugger through the season if they’re not going to re-sign him. Should the Tigers retain Martinez through 2017, stay above the luxury-tax threshold and issue him a qualifying offer after the season, they’d only get back a pick after the fourth round if he rejects the QO and signs elsewhere.
Hall of Fame pitcher and former US Senator Jim Bunning has passed away, the Phillies have announced. He was 85 and had suffered a stroke last fall.
Bunning was born in Southgate, Kentucky, outside Cincinnati, and attended a Cincinnati high school and Xavier University. He spent several years in the Tigers’ minor-league system before debuting in the big leagues with Detroit in 1955. He received five All-Star berths as a member of the Tigers before heading to Philadelphia in 1964. There, he continued to rate as one of the game’s best starting pitchers, finishing second in NL Cy Young balloting in 1967 while leading the league in both innings pitched (302 1/3) and strikeouts (253).
Bunning made brief stops with the Pirates and Dodgers before finishing his career with two seasons in Philadelphia. He ended up with 224 wins, 2,855 strikeouts (second to Walter Johnson on the all-time list at the time of his retirement), a no-hitter, and a perfect game. As a pitcher, Bunning was known for his sidearm delivery and his reliability (he threw 200 or more innings in 11 straight seasons). He was selected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1996.
Bunning then embarked on a career in politics, serving in local and state roles in Kentucky before being elected to the US House of Representatives as a Republican in 1986. He won a Senate seat in 1998 and served two terms, leaving the body after announcing he would not run for reelection in 2010. He lived in his native Southgate at the time of his passing.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Tigers announced this morning that they’ve placed second baseman Ian Kinsler on the 10-day DL with a left hamstring strain. In addition, they’ve optioned lefty Chad Bell to Triple-A Toledo, recalled outfielder JaCoby Jones from Toledo, purchased the contract of righty Arcenio Leon and designated righty William Cuevas for assignment.
Kinsler left a game last Saturday due to hamstring trouble, but returned to play this week. He generally struggled, however, batting 4-for-22 since Saturday. It isn’t clear how long he’ll need to be out. The team has Andrew Romine and Dixon Machado to take his place. Jones also played shortstop during his early years in the minors, but has never played second base as a pro and figures as more of a third baseman and outfielder at this point.
The 30-year-old Leon pitched well for Toledo (3.15 ERA, 7.6 K/9, 2.2 BB/9 in 20 innings, earning what could be his first taste of big-league action after 12 seasons in the Astros, Brewers, White Sox and Tigers systems. His roster spot comes at the expense of Cuevas, who posted a 4.06 ERA, 6.9 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 in 34 1/3 innings in the Mud Hens’ rotation. Cuevas also appeared once for the Tigers this year, allowing four runs in just a third of an inning.
- Anthony Gose, who has converted from playing center field to pitching, made his pro debut on the mound for Class-A Lakeland yesterday, writes Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus tells Fenech that Gose’s fastball sat at 97 mph, and the left-hander also touched 98 mph twice and 99 mph three times. Gose was a two-way prospect in the draft back in 2008, so pitching isn’t exactly new to him, though he obviously hasn’t focused on it in his nearly nine seasons of professional ball. Ausmus noted that due to Gose’s age, he may not be progressed through the minors like a typical (i.e. younger) prospect would be. The implication there, seemingly, is that Gose may not need to stop at every level before the club decides to take a look at him in the Majors. That, however, could be a long shot to happen in 2017. GM Al Avila appeared on the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit this week and said that he wouldn’t put a firm “no” on Gose pitching in the Majors this season, though he also didn’t characterize that outcome as likely (via Will Burchfield of CBS Detroit).
- The Tigers’ efforts to transition Anthony Gose from outfielder to pitcher became official today, as he was activated at Class A Lakeland to work out of the pen. While he didn’t escape from his first inning of action unscathed, Gose did make quite an impression. Per Lakeland assistant GM Dan Lauer, on Twitter, Gose was clocked at 99 mph with his debut heater.
Recently, I took a quick look at all of the players with vesting options for the 2018 season, noting that many of the outcomes within will have significant ramifications for both the upcoming free-agent market and the future of those players’ respective teams. The implications are even greater for the eight players that have opt-out provisions of some type at the end of the current season. In some cases, the opt-out in question could either liberate that player’s team from more than $80MM in future commitments or saddle them with that same burdensome amount. (And, in most cases, if the player isn’t opting out, the remaining salary is indeed a burden, as the player either performed too poorly to opt out and/or got hurt.)
Here’s a look at the opt-out decisions that are looming at season’s end…
- Justin Upton, Tigers: The disastrous start to Upton’s six-year, $132.5MM contract now looks like a distant memory. After struggling to a .228/.286/.369 batting line through his first three months in the Motor City, Upton has surged with a .255/.342/.535 slash and 31 home runs over his past 471 big league plate appearances. Strikeouts are still an issue for Upton, but he’s also walking more than ever (15 percent in 2017). He’s on pace to finish the season right around the 30-homer mark, and if he can do so with an OBP in the mid-.300s and respectable marks in left field — he’s currently at +4 DRS and +3.4 UZR — then the remaining four years and $88.5MM on his contract will pose an interesting decision for Upton, who is currently playing out his age-29 season.
- Johnny Cueto, Giants: Cueto looked like an ace in his first year with San Francisco but has stumbled to a 4.50 ERA through his first 58 innings with the Giants in 2017. He’s still averaging better than eight punchouts per nine innings to go along with solid (but diminished) control. However, he’s seen his ground-ball rate plummet from 50 percent to 39 percent, and paired with the increase in walk rate (1.8 BB/9 to 2.5 BB/9), that has led to some issues. There’s still plenty of time for Cueto to get back on track, but the remaining four years and $84MM on his contract doesn’t look quite as easy to walk away from as it did just seven weeks ago. He’ll be 32 next season.
- Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees: Cueto’s slow start looks Cy Young-worthy when juxtaposed with Tanaka, who has logged a ghastly 6.56 ERA through 48 innings in 2017. Like Cueto, Tanaka has seen his control take a step back, though his strikeout and ground-ball rates are consistent, and his velocity is fine. Tanaka’s average on balls in play is up, however, and his homer-to-flyball rate has skyrocketed from 12 percent to 24.5 percent. Given his age (29 in November), Tanaka would be a virtual lock to opt out of the remaining three years and $67MM on his contract with a good season. If he can’t overcome his home-run woes, however, he may instead opt for the substantial amount of guaranteed cash remaining on his deal.
- Wei-Yin Chen, Marlins: Chen’s opt-out is perhaps the easiest to determine of any player on this list. Unfortunately for the Marlins, that’s due to the fact that he’s currently sidelined indefinitely due to arm troubles. Chen is on the disabled list with arm fatigue, though it’s been reported previously that he’d been pitching through a slight tear in his ulnar collateral ligament, which was sustained in 2016. Chen hasn’t pitched well as a Marlin even when healthy, and at this point it would take a quick recovery and a dominant finish for him to even consider opting out of the remaining three years and $52MM on his contract.
- Ian Kennedy, Royals: Kennedy has logged a solid 3.74 ERA in 233 1/3 innings since signing a five-year deal with Kansas City, but he’s already in his age-32 season. His strikeout rate and control have taken a step back in 2017 as well, and he’s remained homer-prone despite pitching half his games at the spacious Kauffman Stadium. Kennedy turned in a very strong final four months in his last contract season — which helped him land this surprising contract in the first place — but it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll opt out of the remaining three years and $49MM on his current contract.
- Greg Holland, Rockies: To be clear, Holland cannot technically opt out of his contract just yet. The one-year, $7MM contract that he signed with the Rox contained a $10MM mutual option that can vest as a $15MM player option if Holland finishes 30 games. At this juncture, though, it seems as if an injury is all that can stop Holland’s player option from vesting. He’s already finished 20 of the 30 games he needs, and he’s currently boasting a preposterous 0.96 ERA with a 26-to-6 K/BB ratio through 18 2/3 innings. Apparently, pitching at Coors Field suits Holland just fine, though if he keeps this up, it’s a foregone conclusion that he’ll turn down the one year and $15MM he’d receive for a second season at Coors and hit the market in search of a lucrative three- or four-year contract.
- Matt Wieters, Nationals: The stagnant offseason market for Wieters’ services culminated in a two-year, $21MM contract with the Nats that offers Wieters the opportunity to test free agency once again next winter, if he wishes. To this point, it’s looking likely that Wieters will pass on that player option. His walks, hard-hit rate and BABIP are up, none of which has come at the expense of his strikeout rate. Wieters is hitting a solid .283/.358/.442 with four homers on the year. His caught-stealing rate is down (23 percent), and his framing remains questionable, but the improved offense makes it seem likely that, even if Wieters again struggles to find the strong multi-year deal he craves, a contract comparable to the one year and $10.5MM he can opt out of will once again be available on the open market.
- Welington Castillo, Orioles: Castillo’s two-year, $13MM contract with the Orioles was a pleasant surprise for a player who had previously been locked into arbitration in Arizona before surprisingly being non-tendered. He’s off to a torrid .348/.375/.543 start to the season with four homers and six doubles through 96 plate appearances. There’s a fair bit of luck involved in that production, as evidenced by the 30-year-old’s .418 BABIP. But his strikeouts are down this season, and he’s thrown out a career-best 41 percent of attempted base thieves. His framing marks, while still below average, have improved on a per-pitch basis as well. His glove may prevent him from fully cashing in, but Castillo’s bat could make the remaining one year and $7MM on his contract easy enough to walk away from, assuming he’s healthy.
The Tigers have optioned veteran righty Anibal Sanchez to Triple-A, manager Brad Ausmus told reporters including Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press (Twitter links). Sanchez, who would’ve had the right to reject any minor-league assignment, will return to working as a starter at Toledo.
The move was driven by Sanchez himself, per Ausmus. He would like to return to working from the rotation after opening the year in the bullpen. Through 21 innings over 11 outings, Sanchez had allowed 21 earned runs on 34 hits while compiling 22 strikeouts against nine walks.
That was the first time Sanchez had functioned as a reliever for such a dedicated stretch. The vast balk of his dozen-year MLB career has come from the rotation, where Sanchez once thrived. But the results just haven’t been there over the past two seasons — he owns a 5.65 ERA since the start of 2015 — and Detroit wasn’t willing to give him a starting role this year.
It seems optimistic to hope that Sanchez can turn things around by returning to a starting role, though stranger things have happened. It’s worth noting that he’s registering a 10.1% swinging-strike rate in the early going, his best since 2013, and could perhaps boost that yet further if he can get batters to chase outside the zone at a rate closer to his career average. Sanchez’s batted-ball results — .379 BABIP; 3.86 HR/9; 55.9% strand rate — may fall at his feet to large extent, but there’s probably some poor fortune mixed in as well.
Regardless of how things go, Sanchez will earn $16MM this season — the final guaranteed year of the contract he signed before the 2013 campaign. He’ll also earn a $5MM buyout over the winter, unless the Tigers make the surprising decision to pick up his $16MM option.
- Chris Illitch is officially the controlling owner of the Tigers, having gotten approval from the league’s other 29 owners earlier this week, per Mark Feinsand of MLB.com (Twitter link). Illitch is taking over for his father, Mike Illitch, who passed away in February after a nearly 25-year run at the helm of the Tigers.