The last 10 years have been great for Detroit Tigers baseball. The Tigers have appeared in two World Series, made three other playoff appearances and played a very memorable game 163 in 2009. Due to this run of success, the Tigers have often drafted late in the MLB Draft or have forfeited their first-round pick due to a free agent signing. However, these may not be as a big of a concern in the 2016 draft.
Major League Baseball allows the top 10 picks in the draft to be protected each season. However, if a teams pick falls outside of the top then, they risk losing their first-round pick if they sign a free agent that received (and declined) a qualifying offer from their old team. Detroit has forfeited their first-round pick under these circumstances quite a bit over this 10-year period of success.
- 2010: Tigers gave up the 19th overall pick to sign Jose Valverde
- 2011: Tigers gave up the 19th overall pick to sign Victor Martinez
- 2012: Tigers gave up the 27th overall pick to sign Prince Fielder
One could make the argument that each of these decisions worked out just fine. However, the loss of first-round picks does begin to show up in the form of a depleted farm system. Couple that with the Tigers often trading what prospects they did have for a playoff push and you will find the bare cupboard the Detroit system had at this year's non-waiver trade deadline. The trades of David Price, Yoenis Cespedes and Joakim Soria have helped a great deal in righting the ship.
Former Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski was careful in calling these moves part of a "reboot" rather than a "rebuild," meaning that the Tigers intend to compete for a playoff spot in 2016. For this to happen, the Tigers need to see this new, young talent grow up and contribute next year and they will likely need to make a move in free agency this offseason.
If the Tigers fall in the top 10 picks (one of the 10-worst records in the major leagues) they will have a protected pick, allowing them to have a high draft pick and sign a big-time free agent. Instead of giving up their first round pick, the "protected" teams forfeit their second round pick, a far less severe penalty. If one were to speculate a bit, there are currently six teams that are mortal locks for a top ten pick.
- Colorado Rockies
- Miami Marlins
- Philadelphia Phillies
- Cincinnati Reds
- Milwaukee Brewers
- Atlanta Braves
These are your current six worst teams in baseball and they all gave up big league talent around the trade deadline to get younger and cheaper for 2015. The Tigers currently have the 12th worst record in baseball (a half-game "better" than the White Sox). So, if the season were to end today, the Tigers would pick 12th in the draft next spring but would lose their pick if they were to sign a big name free agent. So, who is between the Tigers and the Braves?
- Oakland Athletics (54 wins)
- Boston Red Sox (56)
- Seattle Mariners (57)
- Cleveland Indians (58)
- Chicago White Sox (58)
It's conceivable that the Red Sox could get hot -- and they did, for a bit. Most of their big name players have underperformed. Ditto for the Mariners. The A's are the only team on this list with a positive run differential, so that could possibly lead to some late-season wins. The keys here are the Tigers' AL Central rivals, the White Sox and the Indians. So, down the stretch, pull for Tigers wins, but don't feel so bad about any loss to a team listed above.
So, let's assume the Tigers end up with a protected pick and want to make a move in free agency. Who might they target? The players below are set to become free agents (*likely to receive a QO).
- Matt Wieters
- Chris Davis
- Ian Desmond*
- Yoenis Cespedes (cannot receive a QO)
- Alex Gordon (has a player option that may be declined)*
- Gerardo Parra (cannot receive a QO)
- Justin Upton*
- Dexter Fowler
- Austin Jackson
- Denard Span*
- Jason Heyward*
- Jose Bautista (team option)
- Johnny Cueto (cannot receive QO)
- Doug Fister
- Yovani Gallardo
- Zack Greinke (can opt out of his contract and is expected to)*
- Mike Leake (cannot receive a QO)
- Mat Latos (cannot receive a QO)
- Tim Lincecum
- David Price (cannot receive a QO)
- Jeff Samardzija*
- Jordan Zimmerman*
- Joe Nathan (just kidding)
The guesses on who will get a qualifying offer can obviously change and some guys make get one here that we may not expect right now. However, it's easy and fun to imagine the Tigers targeting a guy like Greinke, Zimmerman or Heyward, especially if there is not risk of losing a first-round pick.
Obviously, a lot can happen between now and the end of the season. However, if the Tigers are not going to make the playoffs this season then there are plenty of silver linings out there to be found.