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Strong trade market could make it difficult for Tigers to move Anibal Sanchez, Mike Pelfrey

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Several teams are looking to offload pitchers with big contracts this offseason.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the number one task on many a Detroit Tigers fan’s offseason to-do list: trade Anibal Sanchez or Mike Pelfrey (or both). The Tigers already have five starters that were much more productive than those two in 2016, and will have a difficult time squeezing all seven of those pitchers onto next season’s 25-man roster. Luckily, a weak free agent market should aid the Tigers’ quest to deal either Sanchez or Pelfrey this offseason. At least, that’s the thought.

Instead, it seems like other teams might flood the market with their own overpaid, underperforming starters. MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan reported that the Texas Rangers are looking to trade left-handed starter Derek Holland instead of picking up his $11 million contract option for 2017. Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports tweeted, “A few teams are showing interest...,” and that a deal could happen soon. The Boston Red Sox appear to be in a similar position with righthander Clay Buchholz, who has a $13.5 million team option for 2017.

Holland, in particular, represents an interesting case. He has two years of club control remaining in the form of a pair of team options for the 2017 and 2018 seasons. According to Sullivan’s report, the Rangers will not be picking up Holland’s 2017 option, which means they have to trade him soon. Teams have five days after the World Series to make a decision on any contract options for the following season, but the Rangers could always renege on their earlier vow and pick up his option if they feel a deal is imminent.

There are a few other teams in similar positions. The Royals have a $10 million mutual option on Edinson Volquez, who struggled down the stretch in 2016. Volquez seemed like a lock to opt out of the deal earlier this season, but a brutal June and lackluster second half resulted in a season-long 5.37 ERA. The Cubs and Nationals are expected to pick up options for Jason Hammel and Gio Gonzalez, respectively, but could move those pitchers in the right deal. The St. Louis Cardinals face a tough decision with lefthander Jaime Garcia, who posted a 4.67 ERA and 4.49 FIP in 171 23 innings. His 2017 option is worth $12 million, and he will be a free agent next winter.

The Tigers have a bit of an advantage over these clubs because Sanchez and Pelfrey have guaranteed contracts for 2017 — they aren’t under fire to get a deal done this week like the Rangers are, for instance — but there are likely a number of teams looking to deal pitchers with one or two guaranteed years remaining on their respective deals. Alex Cobb, Danny Duffy, and Marco Estrada are among the pitchers who will be free agents after 2017.

The Tigers will likely struggle to move Sanchez and/or Pelfrey early in the offseason. Teams usually have their sights set higher early in the winter, and neither pitcher represents much of an upgrade over many situations. Sanchez was a full win below replacement level last season, per Baseball Reference, and finished the year with a 5.87 ERA and 5.06 FIP in 153 13 innings. Pelfrey only pitched 119 innings after missing most of the second half with a back injury, and finished with a 5.07 ERA and 5.16 FIP. Neither pitcher will fetch much in a trade, and the Tigers may even need to kick in some salary to get a deal done.

We don’t know exactly what the Tigers will be looking for in a hypothetical deal involving Pelfrey or Sanchez, but one would imagine that simply offloading their salary and getting an extra roster spot would be enough. These are reasonable goals for dealing a pair of pitchers who cost the Tigers so many games in 2016, but if the early trade market is any indication, it may prove more difficult than we initially anticipated.