Major League Baseball’s offseason is in full swing. Free agents have declared, qualifying offers extended, options exercised or declined, and prospects added to rosters. The annual winter meetings are set to begin. General managers are making their lists, checking them twice, and sorting out their priorities for the offseason.
The Detroit Tigers have addressed some of their needs, but others have yet to be addressed. Tigers’ President, Dave Dombrowski, listed the club’s top priorities as being:
- Sign Victor Martinez
- Make the bullpen more efficient (some of that can be internal)
- Acquire a center fielder, either to play full time or split time with Rajai Davis
- Add another left handed hitter, somewhere
The Tigers signed Victor Martinez to a four year, $68 million contract. Check.
The club picked up the option on Joakim Soria for $ 7 million for the 2015 season. Check.
Dombrowski traded prospect Devon Travis to Toronto for center fielder Anthony Gose. Check.
Martinez is also a left-handed hitter most of the time, but I’m not sure that’s what Dombrowski had in mind. After all, he was with the team last season and there was a need for another lefty bat\
The bullpen has lost Joba Chamberlain, Phil Coke, Jim Johnson, Evan Reed, and Pat McCoy. Soria will replace Chamberlain, and one might argue that shedding some of the other relief pitchers from the roster is only addition by subtraction. Indeed, a replacement level player would fill any void left by the departure of the aforementioned relief pitchers, but that doesn't do much for those looking to upgrade an area of great weakness over the past few seasons.
If the club were to enter the season as is, that would only leave the Tigers with hopes that Joe Nathan would rebound, and hopes that Bruce Rondon would be healthy and effective for a full season- both firsts for him. It’s hard to imagine that they would roll the dice on these things happening with a $175 million payroll and a directive to win now.
In the outfield, Austin Jackson left a void that was temporarily filled by Davis for a couple of months, and Gose will at least provide solid defense. Torii Hunter has been given the pink slip following the signing of Martinez. Davis could be suitable as a platoon partner for Gose, but would not be a suitable starting corner outfielder against right handed pitchers. Nobody expects the club to enter the season with Davis and Gose both in full time starting roles. Do the Tigers?
The top of the lineup is where Hunter's departure leaves a big gap. The club struggled early in the season to find a number two hitter. Davis didn’t work out. Jackson tanked in the lead off spot and Kinsler was moved up. The emergence of J.D. Martinez allowed manager Brad Ausmus to move Hunter up to the two slot, with J.D. batting fifth. Without Hunter, the two hole is a big void again.
The biggest loss from the 2014 team is the departure of Max Scherzer, the team’s ace for the past two seasons. You could say that David Price is the replacement for Scherzer, and that’s a fair statement. But then, who replaces Drew Smyly, who went to Tampa Bay in the trade for Price?
There has been some speculation that the team would trade Price to get some of the players that are needed to fill holes in other areas, and then sign Scherzer to a long term contract. If Price isn’t willing to sign an extension, this scenario is plausible. But as long as the team doesn’t have both Price and Scherzer, there is nobody in the organization capable of filling the void left by the departure of Smyly.
It’s entirely possible that the Tigers will kill a few birds with the one stone, either by acquiring a left-handed hitter who can play a corner outfield spot and bat first or second, or perhaps trading a starting pitcher for a less expensive starting pitcher and an outfielder.
There is also that elephant in the room: the financial reality that any further acquisitions of more than about $4 million in salary will trigger the club to pay a luxury tax at the end of the season. The club would have to pay a 17.5 percent tax as a first time offender, but the tax jumps to 30 percent in 2016 should they cross that line again. Only a mass exodus of prime talent would prevent the payroll from increasing again in 2016.
All of this adds up to a substantial likelihood that the Tigers are going to be looking to make a deal. They will try to move an expensive piece in exchange for some less expensive pieces that will fill multiple needs among those listed above.
So, if you’re the king of the Tigers, what does your shopping list look like? What is the most pressing need that absolutely must be filled before the 2015 season?