Cleat Geeks

Tiger Time: Top Trade Pieces

One thing is certain: it’s approaching selling time in Detroit for the Tigers.

Looking for one last shot at glory, efforts seem to be falling flat as the team has buried themselves in the Central division and the American League. With a lot of money tied up in big contracts and a big name free agent looming, let’s look at who could be moving on from the Motor City.

Bigger Pieces

J.D. Martinez

Remember that big-name free agent I mentioned?

Initially signed on a minor league contract before the 2014 season, the 29-year old Martinez has quickly become a candidate for biggest steal of the 21st century. Since joining the Tigers, Martinez has slashed an impressive .299/.359/.549 with 96 home runs and 274 RBI. He’s earned an all-star nod in 2015 and, despite missing 42 games, hit 22 home runs in 2016. After missing the first month of 2017 he’s picked up right where he left off, already posting 14 home runs in 46 games.

Earning a modest (by 2017 standards) $11.75 million this season, there’s a distinct possibility and great likelihood that this figure doubles with any deal he’s offered once he hits free agency. And with the contracts the Tigers have to deal with already there’s little chance they are able to match what other teams will be offering. They’d do well to explore his market and see what they can get in return. GM Al Avila has acknowledged that he’ll be hard-pressed to fetch a top prospect for Martinez, but it’s entirely possible that a top three prospect comes over in any deal, along with other prospects or Major League role playing talent.

Best fit: the St. Louis Cardinals, per the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo, have been linked to Martinez. It’s not a bad scenario. Sitting only three games out of the NL Central, they could use an upgrade over the likes of Randal Grichuk or Stephen Piscotty at either corner outfield position. And either could serve as an interesting return piece for a Tigers team in need of youth going forward. The Cards’ payroll sits at $132.7 million for this season, dropping to $118 million in 2018 before arbitration deals. Should they move for him there is potential that St. Louis locks him up for the long run with money to spare.

Alex Avila

To be honest, I never thought I’d be mentioning Alex Avila on a list like this, given his performances since his 2011 all-star season.

But he has earned his spot here. Initially brought in as a back-up/platoon mate to the young James McCann, Avila has taken over most catching duties for the Tigers. He is playing better than almost any catcher around baseball, leading his position in OPS (1.011) while slashing a stellar .311/.432/.579. His high OBP is aided by 34 walks and his slugging/OPS is aided by 22 extra base hits (11 HRs and 11 doubles). Just watching Avila it is noticeable that he looks much more comfortable at the plate and is seeing the ball much better, even when he fails to reach base. Plus his defensive prowess and game-calling abilities are second-to-none. A contending team in need of a reliable bat and defense behind the plate or a young team in need of a veteran to help lead their pitching staff could benefit from Avila’s presence on their roster.

Best fit: The Chicago Cubs, per Fox’s J.P. Morosi and many other sources, have kept Avila on their radar. The Blue Jays have expressed interest in Avila as well. However, the Cubs seem a much better fit for Avila at this point. Still a young team, the Cubs now miss the presence of the veteran David Ross and could use another experienced body in the locker room as well as behind the plate. To boot, the recent drama with Miguel Montero, resulting in his being designated for assignment, has opened the door for a veteran catcher. And Avila’s club friendly deal, along with his baseball IQ and abilities, could benefit the Cubs. And the Cubs, with their dilemma of too much young talent and nowhere to play it, could serve to benefit the Tigers in this deal.

Ian Kinsler

Photo By: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

At 35, Kinsler has not played up to his age. Brought over in the Prince Fielder trade prior to 2014, Kinsler immediately filled the hole at 2nd base. Since coming to Detroit he has held down the lead-off slot to the tune of a .281/.332/.438 slash line, with good power (28 home runs in 2016) and the ability to get on base and score runs (100, 94, and 117 from 2014-16, respectively). He’s done everything you’d want from your lead-off man. And, to boot, he is one of the best fielding second basemen in baseball, earning Gold Glove honors for the first time in 2016 after finishing in the top of the pack throughout his career.

Owed $11 million in 2017, he can enter free agency as early as this off-season, should the team decline his $12 million 2018 club option. If the team keeps trending in the direction in which they are headed it’s unlikely they re-sign him if they even pick up his club option at all.

Best fit: The Los Angeles Dodgers were linked to Kinsler in the off-season and would do well to remain in talks for him should he be available. In-house second basemen Logan Forsythe and Chase Utley are under-performing. Chris Taylor, a second baseman by trade who can also jump into any outfield spot, is a younger 2nd baseman at 26 and has produced well during his 63 games this season. He may block Kinsler’s way in any deal that may arise. Taylor could be an intriguing piece for the Tigers, should this kind of deal gain any traction. This deal would hinge entirely on the Dodgers wanting to part with what Al Avila is asking for, which may be too high of a price.

Justin Wilson

If you’re going to tank don’t do so half-heartedly. Justin Wilson is a prime trade chip for this team: a hard-throwing, reliable lefty that can be called upon to produce results in a high leverage situation. Wilson’s 99-mph fastball is his selling point, though he’s become reliable with some breaking pitches. Save for a couple of unfortunate placings that have cost him saves Wilson has been the most reliable arm out of the Tigers’ bullpen. As someone who can throw anywhere from the 7th-9th inning of a high-stakes ballgame, he’s likely to be a hot commodity that can reap some good return should he be put on the block.

Best fit: The Washington Nationals were reported to have interest in Wilson at the onset of the Tigers’ west coast struggles last week, though nothing has gone beyond that. As a team that has been looking for that last push, perhaps a power arm like Wilson could give them the depth boost that this bullpen-starved needs to make the leap from from a great regular season team to a true contender. Add in the facts that the young Koda Glover is dealing with rotator cuff issues, along with other unreliable arms being unable to hold the job, and the trade for Wilson makes all the more sense for the Nats. 24-year old Eric Fedde, a righty reliever currently working his way through AA and AAA, could serve as an interesting piece in any deal here, as could other lower prospects and MLB-ready talent.

Hard Sells

Justin Verlander

One year ago, if you would have told me that trading Verlander was even a possibility I wouldn’t have believed you. But, as I’ve said, if you’re looking to tank, don’t do so half-heartedly.

Amid bounteous reports that the Tigers’ long-time ace and only tangible link to the 2006 Restore the Roar squad, will be on the block, potentially as soon as two weeks from now, per reports, there is a bit to wonder about with Verlander. Coming off of one of his best seasons to date in 2016, his bounceback came amid seasons where he seemed to be losing a step or two compared to what he was in 2012 and before. However, 2017 is showing that 2016 year may well have been a fluke as the Verlander of 2013-2015 is rearing his head again. Struggles this year have been matched with a few stellar performances, showing that the veteran righty still has something left in the tank.

Why he’s a hard sell: Look at the contract. Dave Dombrowski, in one of his signature moves, doled out a massive contract extension to the club’s franchise pitcher. I’m not arguing with the move, mind you. It’s arguable that the Tigers would have been nearly the same team without him. I whole-heartedly agree to that. But the 34 year-old Verlander is under contract until at least 2019, with a vesting option for 2020. Until 2019 he is owed $28 million annually, with his 2020 vesting option (contingent on a top 5 Cy Young finish in 2019) worth $22 million. With his arm there are a lot of teams that will want him. But any trade will be contingent upon if a team is willing to a). Take on a bulk of Verlander’s remaining deal, and b.) pay what will likely be a king’s ransom to land him.

Miguel Cabrera


This, too, seems outlandish. Two years ago I wouldn’t have even entertained this thought. Nobody would have. But times have changed in Detroit.

With 2017 quickly marred by stints on the DL for Miggy, he has come around more as of late, though he hasn’t been putting up the numbers that those around baseball have come to expect from him. Rather quietly, Cabrera put up very solid numbers in 2016, slashing .316/.393/.563 to go with a .956 OPS. He further complemented these with 38 home runs and 108 RBI, as well as 92 runs scored. At 34, Cabrera remains a force to be feared around baseball and still holds the potential to turn any game on its head with a single swing of his bat. It’s a piece that many teams could use, despite any risks that may come along with it.

Why he’s a hard sell: First, let’s accept that Cabrera is no longer as mobile as he once was. Though a smart baserunner he is slow on the base paths, requiring deep gap shots to score him from second base. A ground ball when he is on-base almost certainly will result in a double play. He still fields well, but with the beating his body has taken it’s only a matter of time before he becomes a full-time DH, which will cut his market to only 14 teams, if that many can afford him. Which brings me to the second point, which is his contract. Cabrera is owed $28 million in 2017, which will jump to $30 million in 2018 running until 2021, when he will then make a whopping $32 million annually until 2023, when $30 million vesting options (contingent on top 10 MVP voting finishes in 2023 and 2024) kick in. For a player that will likely serve as a one-dimensional player within the next three to five years, that is a hefty amount to pay. The Tigers will likely eat a lot of that money if any deal arises, but even then those deals are contingent upon a team willing to part with top prospects, MLB-ready talent, and draft picks. A heavy price tag is liable to keep many buyers away.

Justin Upton

Following a slow start in Detroit Upton caught fire down the stretch in 2016 and was a key factor in keeping that Tigers in the play-off hunt until the last day of the season. With high strikeout numbers (179 Ks in 570 ABs) Upton ended up slashing .246/.310/.465 with 31 home runs while drawing a slightly down from average 50 walks. He has looked better in 2017, slashing at a very respectable .267/.351/.500 to go with a club-high 15 home runs and 52 RBI while already drawing 33 walks. To boot, his defense has improved, though some very inexcusable errors have befallen him. His power bat, discerning eye at the plate, and by-and-large reliable defense make him an enticing piece for any team in need of any combination of these.

Why he’s a hard sell: Upton’s abilities and relatively young age do not make him a hard sell. In fact, he will only be 33 when his current contract expires and his abilities on the diamond make any deal entirely possible. What does make this deal tougher is, again, the size of his contract. While he has an 0pt-out that can be used as early as this off-season, any team will be on the hook for an annual hit of $22.125 million should he remain on-board for the remainder of his contract, which runs until 2021. On top of that, he has a modified no-trade clause, which lists 20 teams to which he cannot be dealt without his approval.

Victor Martinez

Martinez is a consummate pro when it comes to hitting; there are few around the league that have the IQ that he does. Upon arrival in Detroit he added security for Miguel Cabrera, keeping the bat in his hands due to his ability to place a ball in the gap seemingly at will, if not over the fence. He continues to serve as a veteran guide to the younger likes, such as Jose Iglesias, James McCann, and Mikie Mahtook, and even to the vets like Justin Upton and J.D. Martinez.

Why he’s a hard sell: This may be the toughest sell of them all. Once a very capable clean-up hitter, the 38-year old Martinez has begun to show his age and has seen a decrease in his numbers over the last couple of years. Knee problems have taken away his mobility, thus taking away any ability to play in the field, making him strictly a hitter and effectively limiting his market to 14 teams. As a result of limited mobility he does not move well on the base paths. Unless the ball goes into triple’s alley at any given ballpark or over the fence you will not see Martinez scoring after he reaches. Add in recent heart issues that put him on the 10-day DL and you have a whole new layer of risk added to any potential sale. Add that into a hefty $18 million going to an aging, one dimensional piece and it’s difficult to see him on the move, especially given what Al Avila will likely seek in return.


Michael Fulmer

Photo By: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

This does not need any explanation. If you think the Tigers’ solution to their troubles this year is to consider selling your one consistent arm, the one who will be your pitching cornerstone going forward, then you are kidding yourself.

Daniel Norris

See above. Despite his struggles in 2017 we all know what Norris is capable of doing. He, along with Fulmer and Matt Boyd were crucial to keeping the Tigers afloat in 2016 and arguably were the one factor you could point to and say that it kept them in the thick of it all. Only 24, it is far too early to give up on him. A lefty with this potential for effectiveness is a rare commodity, one which would make the Tigers look foolish if they part ways.

Nick Castellanos

Despite any struggles this season, Castellanos will be a big piece going forward. He is hitting the ball hard but is struggling to find open field. Eventually those balls will start dropping and finding the outfield grass. And when they do it will add an offensive weapon to the Tigers’ lineup. However, his defense (14 errors as of July 2nd) needs to improve and immensely at that.

Who will stay and who will go? Let me know in the comments below!

Find me on Twitter @milz_chris and follow @cleatgeeks for more baseball and sports news.


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