DETROIT -- The Tigers have a vision for the future as they prepare for next week's Winter Meetings at Walt Disney World. It has nothing to do with anything on exhibit at Epcot.As last summer's trades showed, the rebuild is on -- and the dealing is far from complete as
DETROIT -- The Tigers have a vision for the future as they prepare for next week's Winter Meetings at Walt Disney World. It has nothing to do with anything on exhibit at Epcot.
As last summer's trades showed, the rebuild is on -- and the dealing is far from complete as they work the lobby and hallways of Disney's Swan and Dolphin Resort. With a prime trade candidate in Ian Kinsler and several other experienced players who could draw interest, the Tigers have plenty of scenarios to become active sellers at the Winter Meetings for the first time since they traded Curtis Granderson in 2009.
When the Tigers pulled off the Granderson trade, they acquired Major League-ready talent that helped to bring them back to contention by 2011. Max Scherzer and Austin Jackson became cornerstones of a roster that put together four consecutive American League Central Division titles and reached the World Series in 2012. Detroit's goals this time are a little further into the future, though it wouldn't turn down young talent it could plug into the big league roster immediately.
Beyond potential trades, the Tigers' search for free agents on cost-efficient deals is expected to pick up as the market unfolds and free agents begin to weigh their options. Add in an expected active Rule 5 Draft, and general manager Al Avila and his staff could be in for a busy week.
Prospects: This is the Tigers' most pressing need, regardless of their potential struggles next year. Detroit's transition to a team reliant on homegrown talent requires a deeper farm system than it has, especially for hitters. Any trades the Tigers make will have that in mind.
Starting pitching: If there's a shorter-term priority for the Tigers, this is it. They have a young trio of Michael Fulmer, Matthew Boyd and Daniel Norris to build around, and they hope to get innings from Jordan Zimmermann. But they need more, not just to round out the rotation but to provide some competition in Spring Training and depth in the regular season. Detroit won't be in play for the big names, but it will be looking for short-term deals with veterans on the rebound and Minor Leaguers who might be undervalued.
Bullpen: After all the summer moves, Shane Greene and Alex Wilson were the two relievers left in Detroit's bullpen with a full year of Major League experience, and that youth showed in the struggles. A similar scenario on the Opening Day roster would have the potential for disaster. Expect Avila to look for experience and leadership on the open market to help his club's younger relievers along.
Left-handed hitting: The righty-heavy lineup imbalance the Tigers carried the past several years still holds, something the quality of their right-handed bats can no longer be expected to overcome. Switch-hitters Victor Martinez and Jeimer Candelario are the lone members of the projected Opening Day roster who don't bat exclusively right-handed. An impact lefty bat off the bench is a near-necessity. A platoon or better lefty bat for the outfield would be preferable.
Who they can trade
2B Kinsler: Once the Tigers traded Justin Verlander and Justin Upton at the end of August, Kinsler became the next veteran expected to go. He was on the trading block at last year's Winter Meetings, too. Unlike then, Detroit's rebuilding project is well underway, leaving the 35-year-old second baseman as one of the few veterans left on a team looking well beyond his timetable for a World Series as he enters the last year of his contract.
SS Jose Iglesias: Like Kinsler, the Tigers shopped Iglesias at last year's Winter Meetings but weren't close to a deal. The slick-fielding shortstop is still young, with his 28th birthday coming up next month, but he's arbitration-eligible now and up for free agency next offseason. His successor, Dixon Machado, has been waiting on Detroit's bench since last season.
• Machado named Tigers Rookie of the Year
RHP Greene: The Tigers were willing to listen on trade offers for Greene last summer, but they found surprisingly little interest. That was before he took over the closer role and finished strong. With three seasons of team control, Greene could attract better interest in this offseason market with more teams looking to acquire relievers with cost control.
RF Nicholas Castellanos: If there was a bright spot to the Tigers' 2017 season, it was the emergence of Castellanos as a middle-of-the-order hitter and consistent run producer. But with free agency looming in two years, even the 25-year-old isn't part of the long-term plans in Detroit. The Tigers are more likely to wait a year and let Castellanos settle into right field before pursuing trades, but if the right offer comes along now, they probably won't sweat the timetable.
RHP Fulmer: Here is the wild-card scenario in the Tigers' offseason. Avila indicated over the summer he would have to be overwhelmed by an offer to trade the former American League Rookie of the Year Award winner, who isn't up for free agency for another five years. That vision still holds, and with Fulmer coming off surgery to shift the ulnar nerve in his right elbow to alleviate numbness, an overwhelming offer is less likely to emerge. Nevertheless, Fulmer is the one Tiger left who could generate the package of top prospects to jump-start Detroit's farm system.
Four starting pitchers -- Franklin Perez, Matt Manning, Alex Faedo and Beau Burrows -- top MLB Pipeline's Tigers prospect rankings and form the core of the rebuilding effort they are undertaking. None are expected to contribute to the big league club in 2018, though Burrows and Perez could conceivably earn September callups. Manning is years away, having finished the season at Class A West Michigan, while Faedo has yet to pitch as a pro after being drafted in June.
Outfielders Daz Cameron and Christin Stewart rank as Detroit's top position prospects. Stewart spent 2017 at Double-A Erie and could push for a spot in the Majors late next season, while Cameron closed out his year at West Michigan after coming over from the Astros in the Verlander trade.
Rule 5 Draft
The Tigers are going to be active in the Rule 5 Draft, possibly their busiest since they carried three picks on their roster in 2003. Detroit holds the first pick and could try to grab another, allowing it to hunt for hitting prospects left off 40-man rosters and possibly add a bullpen arm.
Big contracts they might unload
The Tigers traded away a lot of big contracts over the summer, but they still have a few to go. Kinsler has one year left at $11 million on his deal, making his salary relatively easy to trade. Other bigger deals would be tougher. Zimmermann has three years and $74 million remaining on his deal, to go with uncertain health after two years of neck issues. Jose Cabrera is coming off the worst season of his career, but even a strong season wouldn't have done much to alter industry perception of his megacontract, which has six guaranteed seasons and $182 million remaining, as untradeable.
The Tigers will end up paying a luxury-tax penalty for this year, despite their flurry of late-season trades. That will change dramatically going forward, beginning with a 2018 payroll that should end up under $150 million. Detroit has $83 million in guaranteed salary for '18, along with $19 million in payments to the Astros (Verlander), Rangers (Prince Fielder) and Anibal Sanchez (contract buyout). Just Cabrera and Zimmermann are left under contract from '19 on.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.