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Start to season could determine rebuild timetable

If Detroit begins slow, veterans likely to be moved at Deadline
March 26, 2017

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers could have been in the midst of a rebuild rather than readying for one more run at a postseason spot.If general manager Al Avila had received trade proposals that included the promising talent he wanted to collect to make his team leaner and younger, this

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers could have been in the midst of a rebuild rather than readying for one more run at a postseason spot.
If general manager Al Avila had received trade proposals that included the promising talent he wanted to collect to make his team leaner and younger, this might be a much different team. J.D. Martinez might be a Met. Ian Kinsler might have been a Dodger if not for his no-trade rights.
With interest tempered and offers few, the Tigers postponed their youth movement. They did not altogether cancel it.
"So instead of forcing the issue and doing something that might hurt the team, not only now but in the future, we figured: Let's stay the course and let's play it out for a little bit longer," Avila said last month. "We feel we have a good team, good enough that we have a chance to win."

If Detroit gets off to a slow start and heads into July with a slim chance at the postseason, the rebuild could be on. That's one reason why players have had some motivation to win from Opening Day onward.
The Tigers can count on several expiring contracts and options to lower their payroll for 2018. They can get under the luxury tax threshold simply by allowing players to hit the free-agent market. But if the Tigers are out of contention before the stretch run, they want to get what they can in return first.
If so, Martinez, set to hit free agency next offseason, could be coveted. The Tigers don't have room under the luxury tax threshold to re-sign him unless they shed other long-term contracts. Kinsler could also have value, though his ability to veto a deal to any of a dozen teams limits the market. He could ask for his 2018 option to be picked up at $12 million in exchange for accepting a trade. Closer Francisco Rodriguez could draw interest from teams seeking a veteran closer or setup man.
One younger player potentially worth tracking would be shortstop Jose Iglesias, who was available this past offseason. He has two years before free agency, but the Tigers have a replacement in line in prospect Dixon Machado. Justin Wilson, also two years from free agency, was available last offseason and could be again.

"J.D. is going to be a free agent next season. Ian Kinsler's going to be a free agent. A lot of people are going to be free agents," Jose Cabrera said. "I think let's make one more shot. Let's see what happens."
Bigger names with bigger contracts and trade veto power are usually tougher to move at midseason, making something like a Justin Verlander or Justin Upton deal easier to speculate than to actually execute.
Add together all the options, and the Tigers could end up playing a bigger factor in the postseason race out of contention than in it. Of course, they could also parlay a strong start into a run against the Indians in the division race, forcing Avila to seriously consider buying rather than selling.
"I think a lot of guys are excited to make Al's job really, really tough at Trade Deadline time," Kinsler said in January, "and kind of handcuff him, where maybe we can add some pieces at the Trade Deadline and put ourselves in a good position."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.