Over the past year, the Detroit Tigers have found little interest in their pricey stars on the trade market. We saw this last offseason when the team promised to get younger and leaner, but ultimately only traded Cameron Maybin for a relief prospect. We saw this again last week when they traded outfielder J.D. Martinez for an underwhelming return. One player immune from this has been reliever Justin Wilson, who has as many as 10-12 teams interested in acquiring his services.
Yet, the Tigers might bungle that one too. The Milwaukee Brewers are interested in both Wilson and second baseman Ian Kinsler. According to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, the Tigers may look to bundle the two in order to save money on Kinsler’s 2018 salary.
“But this appears to be more a case of Detroit trying to link Kinsler with reliever Justin Wilson and move a veteran salary,” Crasnick said on ESPN’s website. “Kinsler has a $10 million club option for 2018 with a $5 million buyout. If the Brewers were to assume that financial obligation, it could lessen the player package Detroit receives for Wilson.”
No. Just no.
I’m not even sure where to start with this, so we’re just going to yell at everyone.
Justin Wilson is the golden goose
Regardless of how you feel about the actual return for J.D. Martinez, the reality is that there wasn’t much of a market for his services. A few notable baseball scribes have written about the economics of this year’s trade market, and “power hitting corner outfielder with questionable defense” ranks fairly low on those power rankings. Neither FanGraphs nor Beyond the Box Score believe that the Tigers front office is grossly incompetent — though I’m not so sure, given this latest rumor — and blame the light prospect haul on a lack of interest in Martinez’s limited skill set.
We can’t say the same for Wilson. Reports vary on how many teams are actually involved, but just about every contender in baseball has shown some sort of interest in acquiring the hard-throwing lefthander over the past few weeks. This won’t drum up the same elite prospect package that Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman warranted last year, but the increased demand and extra year of club control should increase Wilson’s value beyond what Martinez returned. Bundling Kinsler’s salary as an anchor of sorts — more on that in a second — tanks the value of the trade.
Ian Kinsler’s contract shouldn’t be a burden
As a fan of a team with a $200 million payroll, this is easy to say. Kinsler’s $10 million option for the 2018 season is just five percent of their payroll for this year, and less than 10 percent of the $138 million they already have committed to 2018 salaries, per Baseball Reference. He would be a bigger chunk of Milwaukee’s $60-odd million payroll, but not an unreasonable one (especially since the Brewers had a $110 million roster a few years ago). Given that Kinsler is still a productive player — he has produced 2.0 WAR in 80 games, not far off his recent pace — picking up his option should be a no-brainer whether he’s dealt or not.
Now, I’m not so sure.
We saw warning signs of the Tigers being more cost-conscious when they traded Maybin to the Los Angeles Angels last November. However, Maybin’s BABIP-inflated 2016 numbers and continued injury problems offered reasons for why the trade could have worked out in Detroit’s favor. Maybin’s 2017 performance doesn’t necessarily indict the Tigers’ front office — his OPS is down nearly 100 points from last year — but this latest report does. Sabotaging a potential trade return to save $10 million would be a major error on Detroit’s part, and doubly so if they also refuse to kick in money in a hypothetical Justin Verlander trade.
Summary: this is bad
While rumors like this should often be taken with a grain of salt, we’ve seen a very consistent pattern lately. Nothing we’ve seen or heard from the Tigers over the past month has given me any reason to believe they are capable of retooling this roster in short order. From the poor return on J.D. Martinez — bad market or not, they should have done better — to a refusal to kick in trade money, the Tigers are in a bad position. They have repeatedly told the media that shedding payroll isn’t their primary goal, but their actions behind the scenes suggest otherwise. If they aren’t capable of maximizing the value of their few trade assets, the inevitable rebuild we’ve heard about for a half decade could be even worse than we hoped.