By: Will Burchfield
For the most part, the Tigers’ teardown is complete.
Justin Verlander and Justin Upton are gone. J.D. Martinez and Ian Kinsler are, too. But those were the easy decisions for general manager Al Avila. Now come the tricky ones.
Is 25-year-old Nicholas Castellanos part of the rebuild? Is 27-year-old James McCann? How about 28-year-old Jose Iglesias?
“Those are three perfect examples of decisions that are going to be shorter term than longer term because there’s going to be — and there already has been, to some degree — some interest in a couple of those guys,” Avila told 97.1 The Ticket.
In the case of Iglesias, who’s only under team control for one more season, a trade within the next six months seems likely.
“We’ve talked about it on a regular basis,” said Avila. “He’s one of those guys that, quite frankly, probably will not be with us in the long run. We have to make sure that we develop a good shortstop in our system for our future.”
The Tigers know what they have in Iglesias: An elite defender without much of a bat. He made $4.1 million in 2017 and is estimated to make about $5.6 million through arbitration in 2018. After that he’ll be a free agent.
In an ideal world for the Tigers, Iglesias will have a great first half and become an asset at the trade deadline.
“I’ve talked to Iglesias already a couple times and I’ve talked to his agent almost monthly in that, right now, Iglesias will probably be our starting shortstop at the beginning of the season but may well be traded at the trade deadline, if not sooner, depending on the needs that teams have out there for a shortstop,” said Avila.
He added there hasn’t been much of a market for shortstops as most contending teams are set at that position. Should the Tigers find a deal, Dixon Machado would likely be first in line to take Iglesias’ place.
Detroit also has a pair of well-regarded shortstops in the farm system in 18-year-old (soon to be 19) Isaac Paredes and 21-year-old Sergio Alcantara. Paredes, known for his bat, was ranked the Tigers’ No. 7 prospect in Baseball America’s most recent scouting update. Alcantara, known for his glove, is the team’s No. 25 prospect, according to MLB.com.
Dawel Lugo is also in the pipeline, but the Tigers envision him at second base.
In contrast to Iglesias, Castellanos may well be part of the Tigers’ long-term future. He had a breakout year at the plate in 2017 (even as he dealt with some woeful luck), the team believes he can make a successful transition to right field and he’s arbitration-eligible through 2019.
“Talking about Castellanos, it’s a little bit different there,” said Avila. “We have him for 2018 and 2019, he’s very young, still developing as a hitter. There’s value there.”
The Tigers moved Castellanos away from third base toward the end of last season to make room for youngster Jeimer Candelario, acquired via trade from the Cubs. He logged 21 games in right field.
“We have a good feel in the short term that he can make that transition,” said Avila. “If he does, then all of a sudden his stock goes up quite a bit. I know Nick very well and he’s working his rear end off right now because he wants to be a great major league player. He wants to be an All-Star. He’s got that determination, and he very well could be.”
Castellanos is due a sizable raise through arbitration in 2018, from $3 million up to about $7.6 million. The Tigers approached him toward the end of last season about a long-term extension but talks quickly stalled. He will be 26 at the start of next season.
Though Avila is open to trading the up-and-coming slugger, it sounds like he’d rather keep him in the core.
“Hey, if the right deal is there, possibly, but he might be a guy that we stick with,” said Avila. “He’s one of those guys that we just have to go year by year, day by day and see how that turns out.”
The same goes for catcher James McCann, who’s under team control through 2020.
“He’s improved his catching and will continue to improve his catching. His bat seems like it’s coming around. He’s another one of those guys that could be that guy there down the road, but maybe you end up trading (him),” said Avila.