So far this offseason, a lot of the buzz surrounding the Detroit Tigers has been generated by their star players. J.D. Martinez, Ian Kinsler, and even Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander have drawn trade interest from other teams. Naturally, teams want other teams’ best players, and there’s no better time to ask for the moon than just before the MLB Winter Meetings.
It takes 25 to make a roster, though, and teams are always looking for upgrades anywhere they can find them. Fox Sports’ Jon Morosi reported that multiple teams have shown interest in left-handed reliever Justin Wilson, among others. The 29-year-old southpaw drew interest at last year’s trade deadline, but nothing more came of those rumors. The Tigers are looking at things differently this winter, however, so anything could happen.
Wilson was one of the big acquisitions the Tigers made last offseason in order to bolster a bullpen that finished among the very worst in baseball with a 4.38 ERA in 2015. While the Tigers’ pen wasn't much better last season — they were still third-worst among AL teams with a 4.22 ERA — Wilson was one of their strong points. He finished the year with a 4.14 ERA and 3.18 FIP in 58 2⁄3 innings. He also struck out 25.9 percent of hitters and walked just 6.8 percent, the lowest rate of his career.
Of course, these numbers belie how dominant Wilson was early in the season. Prior to the All-Star break, he managed a 31.1 percent strikeout rate and just a 4.4 percent walk rate. His 26.7 percent K-BB% in the first half would have ranked sixth among AL relievers had he sustained that production after the All-Star break. However, an elbow injury sidelined him at points in August, and he never appeared to have the same life on his fastball and cutter after that point. His command suffered, climbing to a 9.1 percent walk rate in the second half.
While he struggled down the stretch in 2016, Wilson’s solid peripherals and electric mid-90s fastball still make him a very desirable acquisition if the Tigers are willing to deal. His trade value probably has not changed much since last winter, when he was acquired for a pair of pitching prospects. Given his affordable salary — he made just $1.5 million in 2016 and that won’t rise too much next year — and importance to the team’s bullpen, it would probably take a lot to pry him away this offseason. The Tigers don’t appear to be in a “cut payroll at all costs” mindset, so I wouldn’t read too far into this rumor.