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How 2015 will impact the Tigers in 2018

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An in-depth look at the state of the franchise following the reboot.

Miguel Cabrera will be in Detroit for years to come.
Miguel Cabrera will be in Detroit for years to come.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

By now, the Tigers' reboot has been well-publicized to even the most casual of baseball fans. And while it's readily apparent how the moves affect the team in 2015 -- the team has a 6.2-percent chance at the AL Wildcard, per Fangraphs -- the moves were made with the future, not the present, in mind.

So, we'll gaze into our crystal ball and take a look at the future. We'll look at who the Tigers control, for how long, and for how much. It's a State of the Franchise Report, if you will.

2016

Bench: Bryan Holaday, Andrew Romine, Steven Moya, Wynton Bernard

Rotation: Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd, Shane Greene

Bullpen: Bruce Rondon, Alex Wilson, Blaine Hardy, Al Alburquerque, Buck Farmer, Ian Krol, Kyle Lobstein

Payroll: $130-135 million (includes rough arbitration estimates). 2015 Opening Day Payroll was $173 million.

The 2016 Tigers look very similar to the current variety mainly because the team already traded away most of their free agents. Rajai Davis, Alex Avila, and Alfredo Simon are set to see what they can make on the open market, and Neftali Feliz is arbitration eligible for the fourth time, but given that he made over $4 million last year, it seems unlikely that the Tigers will tender him a contract.

GM Al Avila's main tasks will be finding replacements for the departed David Price and Yoenis Cespedes. Tyler Collins does have a career 118 wRC+ against righties at the major league level. Left-handed batter Steven Moya might also be able to help if he makes contact a little more often. Indeed, it would be shocking if starting pitching weren't addressed -- the club will likely hope that its bevy of young, unproven starting pitching can fill 1-2 rotation slots, not three.

The club additionally needs to find platoon mates for Gose and McCann. Management could opt to go with a second righty, Holaday, behind the dish; Alex Avila and George Kottaras are the only free agent lefty catcher mlbtraderumors.com lists. Wynton Bernard is the only feasible righty in the organization to platoon with Gose, but it's more likely that they find someone from outside the organization.

Al Avila may be most closely examined in his bullpen construction, as that's the one area where his predecessor failed. Rondon, Wilson, and Hardy have all been effective this year, and Alburquerque has been a middle-innings guy for what seems like forever. With newfound starting depth maybe the club can start to transition guys like Farmer to the bullpen, where they have the potential to be assets instead of laboring in Toledo working on a breaking ball. Needless to say, relievers will be added for 2016.

2017

Bench: Bryan Holaday, Andrew Romine, Steven Moya, Wynton Bernard

Rotation: Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd, Michael Fulmer

Bullpen: Bruce Rondon, Alex Wilson, Blaine Hardy, Al Alburquerque, Buck Farmer, Kyle Lobstein, Luis Cessa

Payroll: $145-150 million

Well... that's... pretty much the exact same thing. The only difference is I'm guessing that the Tigers will finally grow tired of Greene and Krol (who are both still under team control in 2017) and give opportunities to Fulmer and Cessa, both acquired in the Cespedes trade. It's still much more likely that someone other than Greene and Krol are plan-A in 2016 and those acquisitions are still in place in 2017.

The only player who can possibly be a free agent after 2016 is Neftali Feliz, and we've already said it's unlikely they tender him a contract next year. Given that the team doesn't have money coming off the books after 2016, management may consider adding a player or two on a one year deal this offseason; if they pull a Boston and sign Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval to horrible contracts they could have no money to correct their mistakes for 2017.

2018

BenchBryan Holaday, Andrew Romine, Steven Moya, Derek Hill

RotationJustin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd, Michael Fulmer

BullpenBruce Rondon, Alex Wilson, Blaine Hardy, Buck Farmer, Kyle Lobstein, Luis Cessa, Jairo Labourt

Payroll: $135-145 million

The first big name drops in 2018: J.D. Martinez. There's a good chance that the Tigers extend him given the team's general affinity for traditional, power players, and the fact that he, unlike someone like David Price, made a name for himself in Detroit. If he leaves, however, there is a black hole in right. Al Alburquerque is the only other player scheduled to be a free agent before 2018.

2018 is when 2014 first round pick Derek Hill projects to possibly be ready for the majors, if he develops his bat. Christin Stewart was just selected in the supplemental round of the 2015 draft, and as an advanced college hitter could be ready for an everyday job in 2018. Jairo Labourt, the third pitcher in the Price deal, gets slotted into the bullpen to replace Alburquerque, but this far into the future it's obviously impossible to project the seventh man in the bullpen.

2019

BenchBryan Holaday, Steven Moya, Derek Hill, Javier Betancourt

RotationJustin Verlander, Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd, Michael Fulmer, Beau Burrows

BullpenBruce Rondon, Alex Wilson, Blaine Hardy, Buck Farmer, Kyle Lobstein, Luis Cessa, Jairo Labourt

Payroll: $105-110 million

2019 is when things start getting ugly.

Jose Iglesias, Ian Kinsler, Anibal Sanchez, and Victor Martinez are all free agents. Of course, of those four, only Iglesias is cost-controlled, so maybe (or even probably) at this point the Tigers will be thankful to get these expensive, under-producing veterans off the payroll and have the opportunity to replace them with the freed money.

If everything clicks, 2015 first-rounder Beau Burrows may be ready to step into the rotation. Beyond that, Dixon Machado, JaCoby Jones, and Dean Green are all long shots to ever hold starting jobs with the Detroit Tigers. And it is, of course, completely implausible that Machado would toil away in Toledo through 2018 only to assume the starting shortstop position in 2019.

* * *

I think there are two main takeaways from this exercise:

  1. The Tigers have a very real window open through the 2018 season. All of their main talent is controlled through that season (save for J.D. Martinez).
  2. This offseason is one of the most important offseasons for the club in recent memory. With the right moves, the club has the potential to win a World Series. With the wrong moves, Al Avila (or more likely, Al Avila's replacement) will be left to sell off underperforming, expensive contracts since the club doesn't have money coming off the books for a long time.

Additionally, this exercise illustrates the importance of Justin Verlander reemerging as a reliable starter. He will be in Detroit for a long time.

Due to Verlander's high, long-term salary, it's equally important that the team finds 2-3 long-term rotation pieces from the unproven group of Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd, Shane Greene, Kyle Lobstein, Buck Farmer, Kyle Ryan, Michael Fulmer, Luis Cessa, and Jairo Labourt. Some will bust, others will emerge as bullpen pieces, but the Tigers need cheap pitching to offset Verlander's contract.