Ever since he was promoted to his current role in 2015, Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila has not wasted any time conducting his offseason business. He traded for Francisco Rodriguez and Cameron Maybin, and signed Jordan Zimmermann to a five-year deal before the MLB Winter Meetings kicked off in 2015. He then traded Maybin to the Los Angeles Angels on the first day of the 2016 offseason.
Avila continued that trend on Thursday, clearing eight players off the team’s 40-man roster. Utility man Andrew Romine was claimed off waivers by the Seattle Mariners, while Anibal Sanchez’s contract option for 2018 was officially declined. The team also put six players on outright waivers, including two — pitchers Myles Jaye and Kyle Ryan — reported by Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press.
In other words, it was a busy day. Here’s what we learned.
1. The Tigers are not messing around
Between parting ways with Andrew Romine and outrighting six players of varying potential to the minors, the Tigers cleared eight spots off their 40-man roster. A few of those will be taken up by players who need to be protected from the Rule 5 draft, but there will still be several spots available for other pick-ups. These could be waiver claims of their own, Rule 5 draftees, or a bargain bin free agent signing. With the team unlikely to contend in 2018, the Tigers can afford to take a flyer on a couple cast-offs from another organizations in hopes of finding a key piece for their next contender.
This may seem like a logical course of action, but their almost ruthless execution of said moves is surprising. The Tigers have deferred to veterans almost to a fault in previous years, and I fully expected them to hang onto Romine for his final year of club control. They also have not outrighted players to the minors this early in recent years, instead clearing necessary space on the 40-man roster whenever Mike Ilitch decided to sign another star free agent. That they now have eight spots available feels like something else is coming, even if that something is ultimately a few uninspiring waiver claims.
2. Mike Gerber will get some playing time in 2018
If we had to pick a “winner” from Thursday’s moves, outfield prospects Christin Stewart and Mike Gerber would be 1a and 1b. The Tigers cleared three outfielders off their roster, leaving only Nicholas Castellanos, JaCoby Jones, and Mikie Mahtook. We may see a free agent signing to help fill the void, but at least one of the two or three available spots (including bench depth) will be filled from within.
So why Gerber? Stewart is ultimately the better prospect, but all of his value resides in his bat. He will probably out-produce Gerber in the long run, but Gerber’s superior glove and versatility — he can passably play all three outfield positions — put him in line to not only make his major league debut in 2018, but possibly make the Opening Day roster.
3. There’s something going on at first base
Of all the roster moves made on Thursday, one surprising omission was first baseman Efren Navarro. The 31-year-old first baseman seemed like an obvious candidate to get bumped off the 40-man roster. He is a capable defender, but is well below average as a hitter, especially at first base. Add in Bryan Holaday and John Hicks, who are somewhat redundant, and you have three players behind Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez who can play first base.
There’s a good chance this means nothing. As I write this, we’re still less than 24 hours removed from the end of the World Series, and Navarro could easily be sent packing by the time this is published on Friday morning.
But what if it does? Cabrera was not 100 percent healthy at any point in 2017, and the Tigers announced that he has multiple herniated discs in his back shortly after their season ended. Martinez has not been cleared to play baseball again after missing the final month of the season due to heart surgery, and might not last long on the roster even if healthy. While anyone can take Martinez’s place as the designated hitter, the team may use his absence to give Cabrera more days off his feet while keeping his bat in the lineup.
Plus, Detroit’s other backup first baseman is now in Seattle.
4. Ian Kinsler and Jose Iglesias might not be traded
This one is difficult to predict, but we have guessed all along that the market for both middle infielders might be depressed after they struggled for large stretches of the 2017 season. Kinsler finished the year relatively strong in August and September, but his .236 batting average and 90 OPS+ were both career lows. Add in his age and no-trade clause, and there just might not be that many suitors for the veteran second baseman.
Ditto Iglesias, who produced a passable 1.4 rWAR in 130 games. His offensive numbers were nearly identical to what he produced in 2016, while his defense took a slight step back. These numbers aren’t bad by any means, but pale in comparison to a robust crop of young, talented shortstops around the game. Nineteen shortstops produced more rWAR than Iglesias last year, with 13 putting up 2.5 WAR or more. Iglesias is also projected to make $5.6 million next year, a relatively hefty price tag for his meager production.
One might argue that Romine’s departure could hint at Kinsler and Iglesias sticking around next year. While we just got done talking about the dearth of outfielders on the 40-man roster right now, there are at least a few players ready to step into those voids in 2018. In the infield, it’s Dawel Lugo or nothing. The Tigers have been relatively guarded with their prospects under Avila, and it makes little sense to have him skip Triple-A and start his service time clock with the team unlikely to contend next year.
5. The bullpen probably didn’t change all that much
Of the eight spots cleared off the 40-man roster, only two belonged to relievers. Should Jaye and Ryan clear waivers, they will be outrighted to the minor leagues and remain in the organization. Odds are they will be back at some point — Jaye, in particular, looked solid at times in September. There are still 19 pitchers on the 40-man roster, and only four are locks to be in the starting rotation. There isn’t much to report here yet.