At the beginning of the 2016-2017 offseason, there were rumors that the Tigers were considering hitting the big red button and tearing it all down in a full fledged rebuild. Despite firm rebuttals from Tigers’ general manager Al Avila, these opinions were only strengthened by comments by Avila that indicated that the plan that he had instituted would happen over the course of three winters. When news broke that the very cornerstones of the franchise, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, and Ian Kinsler were receiving serious attention from opposing GMs, fans were convinced that a teardown was just around the corner.
However, through the course of their actions thus far, Detroit’s front office is clearly resistant to the idea of a teardown. Aside from the Cameron Maybin trade, which received mixed reactions, at best, there has been no indication that the front office has any intention of selling off. Whether that’s based on the returns offered, or an organizational decision remains unknown.
But there may be cause to reconsider.
On Tuesday, the biggest trade to this point went down. Chris Sale was traded to the Boston Red Sox, and in return, Chicago managed to get second baseman Yoan Moncada, starting pitcher Michael Kopech, centerfielder Luis Alexander Basabe, and reliever Victor Diaz. This is an incredible haul in prospects no matter how you slice it.
Moncada is every GM’s dream: he’s got a powerful bat, hits for high average, has a plus arm, and runs like the wind. He is rated as being at least above average in literally every category other than pure fielding, in which he is graded as being average. According to every report, he is poised to be a superstar, and poised to be one soon. While he may have had an underwhelming debut in 2016, he is the best prospect in baseball, and a fantastic return on his own.
But he wasn’t on his own. Joining him is Kopech—a starter who touched 105 miles per hour —-who is an explosive player on the field and an explosive person off it. He sits around 98 m.p.h. with his elite, 80-grade fastball and regularly crests triple digits. He also has a plus slider and an average changeup. Unfortunately for the White Sox, however, he’s got a temper, too. He actually broke his hand in an altercation with a teammate. He’s a long way from the majors, but has incredible potential.
That’s not it, either. The White Sox received two more high-ceiling prospects in centerfielder Luis Alexander Basabe and reliever Victor Diaz. Basabe is a speedy player with solid power, but strikes out a bit too much and has only played one season above short-season ball. Diaz has a plus-plus fastball and decent offspeed and breaking stuff.
These prospects are the beginning of what is quickly turning into a bright future for a divisional rival of the Tigers. Moncada will mark the end of the Great White Sox Second Baseman Drought-—unless Moncada ends up in centerfield—and propels their pipeline into legitimacy. Although the other pieces acquired are very raw and far from the majors, they all have high ceilings and are a breath of fresh air in a system that has few good prospects and a floundering big league club.
This trade is a model that the Tigers could do well to follow. While it is true that many players they might trade have large price tags attached and represent a massive financial commitment, they are worth every penny. Justin Verlander had a massive bounce back season and has returned to being the best pitcher in the league over the past season and a half. Miguel Cabrera is still a monster in the box at 33 years old and is showing no signs of slowing down. Ian Kinsler is a leadoff hitter with power, a defender to be envied. Justin Upton may have had an atrocious start to the season, but from June onward was the juggernaut that the Tigers expected when they signed him.
These are not the kind of players that are gotten cheap.
The haul in prospects that could be gotten for even one of these players would breathe life back into the Tigers system. The Sale deal illustrates just how much a trade like that can do to for a club’s future. While a true, full-fledged rebuild would hurt, it may be worth it. A rebuild is probably not in the cards for the Tigers, but it should be strongly considered.
So far, indications are that the Tigers just aren’t getting anywhere near the scale of offer that landed Chris Sale. And despite having arguably the best starting pitcher, first baseman, right-fielder and second baseman any club could potentially acquire, that may continue. The cost of those contracts precludes quite the same level of haul the White Sox received. Then again, we don’t know the offers, and we don’t know Avila and the Tigers’ expectations. Things could change in a heartbeat.
In truth, Avila may be wise to moderate his demands. With a serious sellers’ market, the time to strike is now. The lack of a strong indications that the Tigers have World Series potential in 2017, combined with the mandate to get the payroll onto sustainable footing, may yet cause the Tigers’ front office to agree.