Two of the most productive moves that Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila made last offseason were the trades that brought closer Francisco Rodriguez and center fielder Cameron Maybin to Detroit from the Milwaukee Brewers and Atlanta Braves, respectively. The Tigers now face decisions on whether to exercise contract options on the two players for the 2017 season. The wise move would be to double down on both players for another year.
Teams have until five days after the end of the world series to exercise or decline team options on players, unless their contract specifies an alternative date. While Avila has expressed concern about the team’s payroll — declining the options would save $12 million in 2017 salary — both players fill a big need on the Tigers’ roster, and neither can be adequately replaced internally. At minimum, both Rodriguez and Maybin would have trade value if the club absolutely must cut payroll.
Rodriguez was acquired from the Brewers in November 2015 for prospect Javier Betancourt and cash. The closer affectionately known as “K-Rod” is the active career leader in saves, and still holds the major league single season record with 62 saves for the Angels in 2008. He was an All-Star in both of his two seasons in Milwaukee, and six times in his 15-year major league career.
Rodriguez was second in the American League to Baltimore’s Zach Britton with 44 saves last season. K-Rod led the league with 49 save opportunities, and converted 90 percent of those. He blew five save opportunities, with three of those resulting in a Tigers loss. He posted a 3.24 ERA, 3.83 FIP, and 1.13 WHIP while striking out eight batters per nine innings. He was a dependable closer in a not-so-dependable bullpen in 2016.
Rodriguez, who will be 35 in January, earned $7.5 million in 2016, a bargain for a top-end closer. The Tigers hold a $6 million option for Rodriguez for 2017 with a $2 million buyout. That reduces the decision on the team option to a $4 million difference. Avila scored a coup last offseason by adding an accomplished closer for so little both in terms of trade value and salary.
Maybin was acquired from Atlanta for left-handed relief pitchers Ian Krol and Gabe Speier last November. The Braves contributed $2.5 million towards Maybin’s $8 million salary in 2016. He has a team option for 2017 that will cost $9 million, with a $1 million buyout. Maybin’s net cost to Detroit in 2016 was $5.6 million, but they would be on the hook for his full salary if they bring him back for 2017.
Maybin was a much-needed spark plug in the Tigers’ lineup when he wasn’t on the disabled list. He played in just 94 games and logged 391 plate appearances, but still had a career season in 2016. In those 94 games, Maybin hit .315/.383/.418 with a .352 weighted on-base average (wOBA). He led the team with 15 stolen bases despite missing so much time, and ranked second on the team in batting average and on-base percentage. He was a key cog of the lineup at the top of the batting order.
Defensively, Maybin left something to be desired in center field. Despite his speed, he was worth -11 defensive runs saved (DRS) and posted a -6.9 UZR. He ranked 10th of 16 qualified center fielders in revised zone rating (RZR). He did well making out of zone (OOZ) plays when he was in the lineup, but his arm rated at the bottom of the league. He made just two fielding errors and two throwing errors, but did not record an assist all season.
The Tigers would have a difficult time fining another center fielder who would produce as much for them as Maybin did in 2016 for the same salary, even though he is coming off a career season. If it’s a matter of money, J.D. Martinez provides more value for his $11.75 million salary than Maybin does for $9 million. However, without Maybin in the lineup, they would have to hope that Jose Iglesias returns to his 2015 form to fill a hole towards the top of the lineup. Also, the Tigers would be looking for prospect JaCoby Jones to make a major leap forward as an outfielder.
Maybin would cost $3.4 million above what the Tigers paid him last season, or an extra $2.4 million after figuring in the buyout cost. Rodriguez would cost $1.5 million less than what he was paid in 2016. The net cost of bringing both players back would be a $1.9 million increase in payroll, or just a bit less than they agreed to pay Mike Aviles last year. Both Maybin and Rodriguez fill important needs on the Tigers’ roster. Both provide good value for the money, and their options should be exercised.