SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Whether the Tigers prefer to say they are rebooting, retooling, recalibrating or rebuilding, there's one participle that fully describes their activity at this week's General Managers Meetings.
They are listening.
Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Ian Kinsler, J.D. Martinez -- if you are on Detroit's roster today, general manager Al Avila offers no guarantees you will remain there when the 2017 regular season begins.
Kinsler and Martinez have better chances of being dealt than Cabrera and Verlander for two basic reasons: Kinsler and Martinez have moveable contracts, with one guaranteed year left on each, while Cabrera and Verlander have full no-trade clauses, so the Tigers' range of potential trade partners is limited to destinations where they'd want to play.
Why the change in direction? Avila said Tuesday on MLB Network's MLB Now that the team's previous spending levels -- a club-record payroll of more than $200 million in 2016 -- is no longer sustainable. Avila didn't specify Detroit's attendance decline, but undoubtedly, that is a factor: The Tigers surpassed 3 million fans as recently as 2013; this year's figure was more than 500,000 fans below that.
"At the very beginning, I said this may be a process that takes three winters, not just one winter," Avila told MLB.com's Brittany Ghiroli on Tuesday. "Now people are like, 'Oh, they are going to trade everyone.' No. I don't know who we are going to trade yet. We want to trade the right guys and certain things might take until next winter. ...
"The goal is to shed payroll and get better. Now, how do you do that? It may not all be accomplished in one shot. It's a process. I'm going to keep on saying that. It's not a process you do in three months. It's one you do by changing the philosophy and way you go about it moving forward -- as opposed to every year going out and signing big-time free agents and trading away your prospects."
Avila added: "Are there going to be good, viable trades out there? We will find out. If there are not, we will wait ... I think there's going to be interest in several of our players. I do. It's just a matter of where we go with those talks."
Verlander, who turns 34 in February, has three years and $84 million left on his contract -- a reasonable sum for someone named an American League Cy Young Award finalist Monday. If Verlander were a free agent now, he'd sign for more years and overall dollars than are on his current deal, one general manager said Tuesday.
In other words, Verlander is priced fairly in the marketplace, to the extent that the Tigers could expect the acquiring team to assume all of his salary while including good -- perhaps even great -- prospects. The Dodgers and Yankees are among the teams with the financial resources and Minor League talent to make such a deal.
Cabrera, who turns 34 in April, would be more difficult to move because he's due nearly three times as much as Verlander ($220 million) over seven years. The guaranteed portion of Cabrera's contract runs through his age-40 season, the sort of long-term deal teams have increasingly resisted in recent offseasons.
It's natural to speculate on the Red Sox as a fit for Cabrera. They need a big bat following David Ortiz's retirement. Dave Dombrowski, Boston's president of baseball operations, made the blockbuster trade that brought Cabrera to Detroit eight years ago. But if the Red Sox decide to spend big on a first baseman/designated hitter, Edwin Encarnacion likely will cost less than Cabrera in total dollars -- at zero prospect cost.
The best pairing for Cabrera, if there is one, could be Houston. Based in the fourth-largest city in the U.S., the Astros have signaled that they are prepared to increase their payroll and bring it more in line with their market size. Houston needs a big bat, possesses a strong farm system and has a compelling personal sales pitch: José Altuve -- Cabrera's friend and fellow native of Maracay, Venezuela -- would play alongside him on the Astros' infield.
With Chase Utley becoming a free agent, the Dodgers are an intriguing fit for Kinsler. (The Angels and Braves are among the other teams said to be interested in upgrades at second base.) Martinez, meanwhile, should generate broad interest among teams looking for outfielders and/or designated hitters, including the Orioles, Rangers and Blue Jays.