By Will Burchfield
Tigers general manager Al Avila raised some eyebrows at his end-of-the-year press conference on Tuesday, suggesting that the team needs to get younger and leaner.
“Changes are coming,” he said.
After confirming that the Tigers’ $205 million payroll will likely go down and that they will not be major players in free agency (not that there’s much out there to begin with), Avila explained the team will try to shake up the roster through trades.
“Changes that we want to make are going to be dictated by what’s available on the trade market,” he said.
In that light, here are the five Tigers who are most likely to be traded this offseason.
1. Ian Kinsler
Coming off the arguably the best season of his career, Kinsler would be a hot commodity on the trade market. He hit for both power and average in 2016 and played terrific defense at second base, which translated into 6.1 wins above replacement (per baseballreference.com.) But if the Tigers want to get younger, Kinsler, 34, is a prime candidate to be traded. Given his great track record and affordable contract (he’ll make $11 million in 2017 with a $10 million club option for 2018), he could bring back an impressive haul.
2. J.D. Martinez
There may not be a more tradable position player on the Tigers’ roster right now than Martinez. The 29-year-old has emerged as one of the better power hitters in the game over the past two seasons and will make just $11.75 million in 2017. For a guy with 30+ HR, 100+ RBI pedigree, that’s a serious bargain. But Martinez will be an unrestricted free agent due for a big-time raise at the end of next season, and the suddenly frugal-minded Tigers likely won’t be the team to meet his demands. By trading the slugging right fielder before that, they won’t risk losing him for nothing.
3. Justin Verlander
This one might be anathema to Tigers’ fans, but Verlander has to be on the table. The 33-year-old re-established himself as one of the premier starters in baseball in 2016, finishing second in the A.L. in ERA and leading the league in strikeouts. But the fact remains he’ll make $28 million per year through his age-36 season (2019), with a possibly-vesting option for $22 million the year after. As far as shedding salary goes, Verlander is the Tigers’ most viable option.
(Yes, he has a full no-trade clause, but one has to figure Verlander would approve a trade under the right circumstances.)
4. Miguel Cabrera
The rationale for trading Cabrera is the same as it is for moving Verlander. The two-time MVP is coming off another strong season (surprise, surprise,) but he’s on the wrong side of 30 and will earn a whopping $31 million per year through 2023, with vesting options for $30 million through 2025. It’s a contract that is almost guaranteed to end poorly, so it would behoove the Tigers to rid themselves of it when they still can. Whether another team would be willing to take on that kind of money, even at a discount, is a much different question.
(Cabrera has a limited no-trade clause.)
5. Justin Upton
By first impression, it’s hard to imagine Upton having much trade value. He will earn $22+ million per year through 2021 and he struggled through large portions of the past season. But Upton, for all the handwringing about his underperformance, actually put forth one of the most productive offensive seasons of his career in 2016. (Go ahead, check the numbers.) The Tigers may not be able to get much back in a trade, but if they find a team willing to take on the rest of his $132-million contract don’t be surprised if they pull the trigger.
(Upton can block trades to 20 teams throughout the duration of his contract.)