By Will Burchfield
J.D. Martinez hit the nail on the head.
Asked last week if he senses a deadline by which the Tigers must make a push in the standings and thereby a statement to management, Martinez said, “I think it’s gotta be done by June or July, really. Probably the beginning of July. Because if not, there’s a good chance that there’s a couple of us that might not be here.”
Via MLB Network’s Jon Morosi:
It’s no surprise to learn that an extensive makeover is still on the table. General manager Al Avila tried hard to re-design the Tigers during the offseason, to shed payroll and add young talent, only the trade market wouldn’t allow it. When he kept the team in tact for 2017, it was with the unspoken caveat that nobody was safe.
But few thought the Tigers, off to a 22-24 start, would be facing such an early deadline.
If Morosi’s report is true, they essentially have a month to save their season. Otherwise, things could look pretty different around here come July.
Should Avila adopt a sell stance, he’ll face the same challenges on the trade market that he faced over the winter. Namely, the Tigers don’t have many movable assets. Their headline players — Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, etc. — are either too old or too expensive.
Avila said it himself in January while lamenting the Tigers’ inability to make any big moves: “Young players at low cost that you have under control for several years, they are at a premium. That’s what teams are coveting.”
Indeed, the hottest Tiger on the trade market last winter wasn’t Verlander or Cabrera, both of them former MVPs, but 29-year-old reliever Justin Wilson. That will likely hold true ahead of this year’s deadline.
In 20 appearances this season, Wilson has a 1.89 ERA, .684 WHIP and more than 14 K/9. He’s owed $2.7 million in 2017 and is under team control through 2018.
Martinez is another name to keep an eye on. Though an impending free agent in line for a huge payday, the 29-year-old is still in the prime of his career. If the Tigers don’t trade him, they’re all but assured to lose him in free agency.
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Avila has made it clear he wants to get the Tigers’ payroll under the luxury tax threshold for 2018 ($197 million). He’s also made it clear he doesn’t want to trade players solely for the sake of shedding salary.
“We’re not going to go out there and basically trade for A-ball, fringe type of guys because we’re not there yet. I can’t trade away two or three players without having the return to be able to plug in because then I’m going to cripple the organization,” he said in January.
Whether he’s singing the same tune in June and July remains to be seen.
But it’s clear time is running out on the Tigers. If things don’t improve, and improve quick, Avila looks prepared to cut the cord.