As a Detroit Tigers fan, you might presume that the team would field offers for virtually any player on the roster. It seems like a smart approach. Why not see what other teams might be willing to give up in return, even if you're not really serious about making a trade?
So when Jon Paul Morosi and Ken Rosenthal report "multiple major league sources" are telling them that the Tigers are putting Edwin Jackson on the trading block, it might seem like business as usual during the offseason.
But what if Detroit is looking to deal Jackson as way of keeping payroll down for next season? The sources who spoke with Morosi and Rosenthal said that was the case.
Perhaps this shouldn't be surprising for a team locked into paying almost $100 million to nine players next season. Yet Jackson also looked to be a cornerstone of next year's pitching staff, which presumably would once again be the strength of the team.
As you might expect, Tigers' GM Dave Dombrowski was vague when asked about the situation:
"We're listening to a lot of different things," he said. "People are talking to us about different stuff. I think we're open-minded, based on the fact that we didn't win a championship."
When asked directly about Jackson, he refused to get into specifics. And he didn't indicate whether any sort of deal was in the works or close to being made. But other executives around baseball are apparently doing the talking for him.
Are the Tigers worried about what sort of raise Jackson would get next season, due to arbitration? Dombrowski's never had a player go to a hearing since he's been with Detroit. But the team would have to pay up to avoid the process, as they did last year (and will have to do again this year) with Justin Verlander. Maybe the Tigers feel they can afford to give only one of their pitchers a big raise.
Last year, Jackson made $2.2 million. After a season in which he won 13 games, was among the top ten lowest ERAs among AL starting pitchers, and up until September, was considered the team's second-best pitcher, would he be in line for twice that salary? $4 million? Maybe more?
Perhaps the Tigers are also concerned about Jackson's September tailspin, and wonder if he can sustain a high level of performance over a full season. In his last seven starts, Jackson posted a 3-3 record and 6.14 ERA, while giving up 50 hits in 44 innings. Opposing hitters began to lay off his slider (perhaps because he was tipping it), forcing him to throw more pitches, and taking him out of ballgames earlier.
This could be a classic "sell high" circumstance for the Tigers. Trading away a lower salaried player who's still under club control for two more seasons isn't typically the way to keep payroll down. But the contracts that Detroit would surely prefer to trade - Carlos Guillen, Magglio Ordonez, Jeremy Bonderman, Dontrelle Willis, or Nate Robertson - won't interest anyone. So if you're looking to trim payroll somewhere, it has to be done with a player another team would take. (This is Lynn Henning's thought process with trading Curtis Granderson, as well.)
This would also seem to confirm the worst fears about next year's budget. Just how much do the Tigers want to spend on payroll next season? Would they like to keep it in the $130 million range? Or do they plan on reducing it? If so, there's not much money to add a shortstop and closer, while also giving Verlander his raise. Unless some wiggle room is created. (Of course, a raise for Jackson was presumed in that budget, as well.)
So how does this development strike you? I'll admit I was a bit stunned to read this. But if Dombrowski wanted to make a big move, this might qualify.