There's a potential Tigers trade idea that I'd like to explore a bit league-wide. This thought came to me from two different places over the last few months. The first was the talk that the Tigers might package Jordan Zimmermann and Michael Fulmer as a way to get out from underneath Zimmerman's bad contract. Now, before you have a conniption, that trade would be a tremendously bad idea for the Tigers.
I actually imagine being on the other side of a deal like that, just at a much less extreme level. I see no reason to absorb a multi-year deal at $20+ million a year. And, I see no reason to expect a cheap controllable All-Star in return. I'm thinking we absorb a one- or two or maybe even three-year contract on a serviceable but over-paid veteran. In return, we'd get a few promising youngsters who should crack the majors in 2020 or so.
I have to tip my hat to Ben Rosener over at Motor City Bengals who suggested this in this post.
Ben delved pretty deep into a handful of trade possibilities including the possible return, but I'm going to cast a wider net. I'm also going to rely on the analysis done by the folks at MLB Trade Rumors in their Offseason Outlook series. I'm also going to leave the possible return in these trades to others who know much more than I.
There are a few ways that trades like these could be done:
- Simple salary dump: Tigers receive an undesirable contract as well as some desirable youngsters and send nothing in return. This strikes me as relatively unlikely considering the optics for both teams.
- Obscured salary dump: Tigers receive both the undesirable veteran contract and desirable youngsters but return low-profile placeholders in return. These could be guys that could be placed on waivers anyhow or maybe minor leagers who just aren't performing in a way that looks like they'll be successful long-term. The trade partner probably holds on to them as a way of filling out their MLB or MiLB rosters, but doesn't hold their breath looking for long-term value.
- Trade enhancer: The Tigers already have a trade brewing with a contender and the Tigers take on one of their undesirable contracts to enhance the return. If it's for a guy like Ian Kinsler, that could mean taking on a struggling veteran who is making about the same amount as him.
- Assisting in a fire sale: Team A is trading away a desirable contract and expects a sizable prospect haul (think: Giancarlo Staton). They are willing to expect a lesser haul if the receiving team is willing to take on an undesirable contract as well. Team B doesn't want to do that, but the Tigers step in as a third team. Team A sends the undesirable contract to the Tigers and receives a portion of the prospect haul from Team B.
- Trade partner looking to make room: Team A is sending an expensive but sought after player to Team B, but they need some help making salary room. Team B would love Team A to either eat some of the salary or take on one of their pricey veterans instead, but Team A isn't interested. (Again, think Stanton.) So, the Tigers receive the undesirable contract from Team B and prospects from one or both of the other teams in the deal.
This isn't about being excited to bring on the veteran. It's about being able to eat the contract better than the other team can, fill a need the team had anyhow short-term, and build a future winner using the young guys that come in the deal.
When it comes to shedding payroll, the team that should come to mind first is the Miami Marlins. Some of their contracts, with Giancarlo Stanton topping the list, have surplus value and will net some future value for them. Clearly, the Tigers won't be trading for Stanton or anyone else of immediate value. But, there are a few guys who aren't playing up to their contract and would be another way for them to save on cash.
- Starter Wei-Yin Chen is under contract through 2021 with annual values ranging from $12.6-24.6 million. That's a little rich and a little too long-term for me.
- Edinson Volquez, another starter, is returning from Tommy John surgery and will likely miss much of next year. While taking on his $13 million wouldn't break the bank and could net a nice batch of future players, I'd hate to even use a spot on the 40-man roster for him until he's throwing again.
It's a shame that there isn't a player there that would make sense for this kind of trade. If there was, the Tigers could be a third team when they trade away Stanton. Still, it could be interesting to keep an eye on Volquez as the season gets started. Maybe the Tigers still need a starter and he returns faster than expected.
The Royals have three very popular free agents and clearing off some cash could help them keep one of those guys instead of none -- or two instead of just one. It isn't clear if the Royals will try to retool and compete quickly or if they are also in store for a lengthy rebuild. Either way, clearing off some money short term could help the team hold on to a popular veteran if the team returns to form by 2018 or further down the road. In the link from Motor City Bengals, Ben identifies starting pitcher Jason Hammel and first baseman/outfielder Brandon Moss as potential contracts to be offloaded.
- Moss, currently listed as a designated hitter, could give Cabrera a break at first base and could also be a fourth outfielder in the event that JaCoby Jones under-performs or Castellanos fails to make the transition. He's owed $7.25 million in 2018 with a club option in 2019 that the Tigers would likely not exercise.
- Hammel could end up being that innings-eater that the team so desperately needs to add, but he's owed $16 million per year for the next three years. That would take a larger trade package even though it is easier to make room for a pitcher as long as he can stay healthy.
The Nationals had a pretty successful season that came to a disappointing conclusion. Their team is mostly ready for next season, but they are coming up short at catcher. They owe Matt Wieters $10.5 million for next year and he hasn't been playing up to that contract. Their current plan is to find Wieters a platoon partner catcher to help carry the load. I can't help but wonder if they'd be better off to start from scratch. Wieters has a reputation has being an asset to the pitching staff but he's been entirely unimpressive offensively. In Detroit, Wieters could be of value working with our young pitchers as well as a sounding board to help James McCann do the same. He'd also add another switch hitter to the roster, albeit a light hitting one. John Hicks can stick around if there's room for him on the 25-man roster as a first baseman and part-time DH. He's out of options, so he can't be sent to Toledo without first going through waivers.
Dave Dombrowski's view of the luxury threshold apparently hasn't changed much from his days in Detroit, it seems. The same is true for trading prospects. Still, it's certainly worth keeping an eye on the curious case of outfielder Rusney Castillo. Castillo signed a long-term deal with the Red Sox back in 2014 and is still owed $11 million in 2018 and 2019 as well as $13.5 million in 2020. He was so disappointing in his time in Boston that he was jettisoned to their Pawtucket, their Triple-A affiliate, and removed from the 40-man roster. That drastic step was taken to keep Castillo's salary out of the luxury calculations. This luxury consideration is keeping him off the roster in Boston even though he's finally put together a nice season in Triple-A.
Boston would need to put together a nice minor league package to make it worth anyone to pay $35 million over three years for a guy who has never stuck in the majors, but Detroit could just stash him away in Toledo without needing roster space. Detroit won't have the same luxury concerns, so he won't have that added cost at the major league level. He could compete against Mike Gerber and Christin Stewart to be the 4th or 5th outfielder. Alternatively, he could be the guy to come up to Detroit to give an outfielder more time to develop in Toledo. Additionally, a team like Detroit can roll the dice on a player like this where a contender focused on a deep playoff run needs to limit the chances for individual players to disappoint them.
It's hard to imagine that the Astros could have an overpaid veteran on that roster but there is one, reliever Tony Sipp. Sipp is owed $6 million for the last year on his three-year deal. He was one of only two lefties in the Astros bullpen and he wasn't even included in the World Series roster. Sipp could hold down a spot in the Tigers pen and look to regain some form, just like everyone else back there. The Astros could use the freed up cash to fill a few holes here and there -- most notably replacing DH Carlos Beltran or maybe more trusted left handed relievers.
In the piece referenced above, Rosener identifies left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski (Ed. note: bonus points for spelling his name correctly). He's owed $5.5 million for one more year in a deep and otherwise reasonably priced bullpen. I question if there's really negative value on his contract, however. Even if he's not lighting the world on fire, the Marlins may look to give him another shot to return to form next year and then maybe flip him at the trade deadline. That's certainly what the Tigers would look to do with him. While the contract could be a little lighter, maybe this is a guy who could be had for next to nothing and then flipped at the deadline next year.
The Giants are in a tough spot salary-wise. The team is hoping to compete without crossing the luxury threshold for the third straight season. Their outfield core is both disappointing and crowded. Hunter Pence, like many of the Giants' pricey veterans, has a no-trade clause and would likely reject being shipped to a team in a full rebuild. Denard Span, on the other hand, does not have trade protection. He's owed $9 million in 2018 and has a $4 million buyout in 2019. He has covered center field in San Francisco, but his speed and weaker arm are limiting his value there. In Detroit, he'd likely sit below JaCoby Jones and Mikie Mahtook in the center field depth chart. In addition to being the fourth outfielder, he'd likely cover left in the event that Jones continues to struggle at the plate and Mahtook shifts to center. If nothing else, Span's left-handed bat would be a nice platoon pairing for Jones with Mahtook covering whichever outfield position is empty. Considering Span's modest salary (compared to other players out there) and his modest value to teams out there, the return for eating his contract could be pretty small. Still, if no real market develops for him, the Giants may have more incentive to make room for a high-producer like J.D. Martinez or Giancarlo Stanton.
Rosemer identifies catcher Francisco Cervelli as a player who could be moved to make roster and salary space. Cervelli is owed $10.5 million in 2018 and $11.5 million in 2019 in a small-market franchise that needs to make every dollar count. Unlike Weiters in Washington, Cervelli is right handed, so he couldn't back up McCann in a partial platoon role. I see too many issues with bringing Cervelli to Detroit that may not be the case with other teams. Maybe there's a team that ends up with a left-handed catcher as their starter (like Alex Avila) and could eat this contract while still maximizing what value remains.
New York Yankees (outlook)
The Yankees surprised many in the baseball world by turning a transitional year into a nice playoff run. But the team is still looking to get under the luxury threshold while kick-starting another multi-year run. Fans would love to get out from under Jacoby Ellsbury's $21 million annual contract for the next three years, but he has full no-trade rights making a move to a rebuilding team unlikely. Keep an eye on Chase Headley, though. He's on the last year of his three-year deal and can be replaced internally. In Detroit, he'd be able to cover both infield corners. He doesn't have trade protection, but he does get a $1 million bonus if he's traded.
Atlanta Braves (outlook)
The Braves have been in the news a lot lately thanks to their issues with recent international signings, but their farm system is still very good. And most of the prospects that the Tigers have gone for lately have been in Advanced-A and above. Most of the players that the Braves have lost weren't at that level yet. The rebuild that the team has gone through the last few years has created that strong farm system as well as a team that is only a year or so away from contention.
The Braves have star center fielder in Ender Inciarte as well as MLB's No. 5 overall prospect Ronald Acuna for their outfield. Unfortunately, they also have two overpaid veteran corner outfielders who are blocking Acuna's path to the majors. Matt Kemp is owed $21.75 million in both 2018 and 2019, about $6 million will be paid by the Padres and Dodgers due to previous trades. Nick Markakis is owed $11 million in the last year of his deal. Both players are a few years from their heydays, but both could be serviceable to some extent. Markakis would be an easier player to put to good use than Kemp in virtually every aspect including his single year of control, his left-handed bat, and his general health. Thus, we should imagine far less in return for eating his contract. I'd even wonder if the Braves might think he'll end up being of some value at next year's trade deadline, like Curtis Granderson was. Maybe. Maybe not. Eating Kemp's contract, on the other hand, would demand a bit more in the form of prospect value.
Los Angeles Dodgers (outlook)
The Dodgers roster is stacked and one can imagine only small changes for them to return to form next year. They are an expensive lineup, but the franchise can afford that, especially if deep playoff runs are the result. They'll likely make some big waves in next winter's free agent class, but the Dodgers could still add a few short-term players to help cover what they are losing to free agency.
Brandon McCarthy is owed $11 million for next year alone. He's theoretically a starter, but injuries have been a concern for quite some time and forced him to the bullpen in LA. If you recall, McCarthy was one of the guys who returned to the Dodgers roster for the World Series and pushed out Curtis Granderson. It's hard to imagine the Dodgers giving McCarthy the time and space to get back on track as they push for another pennant. In Detroit, he could pitch when healthy and might regain some value ahead of the trade deadline. Will he be worth $11 million? Probably not. I'd need a couple of nice young players to make it worth taking him, but it could still work.
I should also mention starter Scott Kazmir. He's owed over $17 million next year on the last year of a contract that has been reduced to rubble by injury. He's also owed a fair amount of deferred money that the Dodgers would have to eat to even get the conversation started. In fact, a lot more would need to happen to even consider it, starting with a physical and probably some time with the Tigers pitching staff.