Is it too early to start thinking about 2016? Well, yes. The 2015 season isn't even here yet, and the Tigers are still among the favorites to win the World Series. This has been a wild offseason and should make for an exciting year. But it's hard to look at the moves that have been made this offseason -- particularly with the starting rotation -- and wonder if Dave Dombrowski isn't positioning the Tigers to sign a big-time free agent starting pitcher in 2016.
It's hard to say that Dombrowski had this kind of foresight when he traded for David Price at the trade deadline last season, but it would not be surprising. Dombrowski commented that Price "replaces" Max Scherzer in their starting rotation. Scherzer and agent Scott Boras got the lofty contract that they wanted, while the Tigers still have Price around to anchor their rotation. The problem? Price is only under contract for 2015 and there has been no indication that the two sides are looking to negotiate a contract extension.
There might be a reason for that. Price is one of several high profile starting pitchers set to test free agency this offseason. Names like Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, Yovani Gallardo, Mat Latos, and Rick Porcello will all be on the open market unless they work out extensions with their teams prior to free agency. Considering that, of the above names, Fister, Gallardo, Latos, and Porcello have all been traded within the past 15 months, team loyalty may not factor into their decisions.
There are some other interesting names on the list as well. Ian Kennedy, Mike Leake, Wei-Yin Chen, and Clay Buchholz have all enjoyed some success during their careers. Zack Greinke can opt out of his contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers if he thinks he can top the $77 million left on his deal over three years. Jhoulys Chacin will be 28 years old and itching to get out of Coors Field. The Tigers will only need one of them, assuming the spot vacated by Alfredo Simon goes to a pitcher currently in the system.
Despite so many names heading to free agency, I hesitate to call this a buyer's market. With more players heading to free agency come more teams needing another starting pitcher (or more), and the free agent market may turn into a feeding frenzy. However, there are more choices available, and younger ones at that. Of all the pitchers listed above, only Greinke, Fister, Kennedy, and Buchholz will be older than 30, and none are over 32 years old. Porcello is the youngest of the bunch, but Latos, Leake, Zimmermann, and Chacin will all be under 30 years old on Opening Day 2016.
We will never be 100 percent sure what the Tigers' overall plan is, but the team has an obvious need for a starting pitcher after the 2015 season. With a big crop of free agents on the horizon and over $40 million coming off the books after the season, the Tigers will have money to spend at the right time. Will they cash in and pick out a top free agent for 2016?
It certainly looks that way, but let's first enjoy 2015 and all it has to offer.