Hello, readers of Bless You Boys. How are all of you doing? Personally, I’m feeling a bit ill and the bags under my eyes from sleep deprivation and crying are quite noticeable. It’s been a rough few days for Detroit Tigers fans, and it’s okay to let your emotions get the best of you right now. With Justin Verlander on his way to Houston, the Tigers have lost the face of their franchise — their golden goose. Words can’t properly express how sad I am to see him go, and it’ll only become harder when he dons a Houston Astros jersey for the first time. However, I’m here to tell you that with Verlander’s departure, the Tigers finally have a set direction to go in.
While the immediate direction the Tigers are going in is “the cellar,” the larger answer is a direction that all fans should be happy about. The immediate future of the big club is bleak, but due to a prospect pool that is growing stronger with every trade, the organization as a whole is better now than it’s been in many, many years. It’s been apparent since the end of the 2014 season that the Tigers were on an unsustainable path and were going to have to blow up their roster. While the team sold at the 2015 deadline, stood pat in 2016, and sold again in July of this season, much of the roster’s core was still intact. That earned the team much criticism from analysts around the league, with the collective opinion basically saying that “half-assing” a rebuild will keep the Tigers in mediocrity for years to come.
Well, with the trade of Justin Verlander, and to a lesser extent, Justin Upton, general manager Al Avila has officially lit a stick of dynamite under the team and blown the core to smithereens. There is no more “half-assing” a rebuild. The Tigers are all-in on a youth movement, and the future of the club now depends on the development of their prospects, the MLB draft, and trading the remaining aging assets that are left. There is no more trying to crack the window open a little longer. The Tigers are tanking, and this is a good thing.
When the Tigers traded J.D. Martinez, it was a tough blow. The prospect package of Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara, and Jose King seemed light, but we all knew Martinez would be departing via free agency following the conclusion of the season regardless. In retrospect, the trade looks decent considering the market for position players with expiring contracts never developed. The Justin Wilson/Alex Avila trade brought back a healthy return in Jeimer Candelario and Isaac Parades, but with the Martinez trade still fresh in mind, fans were reasonably skeptical of Al Avila’s ability to handle the trade market.
And then Thursday happened.
Going into the day, the Tigers still had a serviceable core of Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, and Justin Upton. It was becoming increasingly apparent that Upton was going to opt out of his contract following the season, but he was still someone who featured into the future plans of the Tigers should they decide to retool for 2018 and 2019. Obviously, Avila had other plans. Wiser plans. Trading Upton to the Los Angeles Angels for Double-A pitcher Grayson Long might not be a big time move, but it’s shrewd considering Upton will probably be a rental for the Angels.
Then came the Verlander trade. Again, losing Verlander feels awful from a fan standpoint, but Avila and Co. did extremely well with the return. Pitcher Franklin Perez immediately becomes the club’s top prospect, while center fielder Daz Cameron is a guy who has five-tool potential if he can put it all together. Even catcher Jake Rogers is a nice depth prospect who could turn into a solid backup. Now, when you look at all the trades collectively, the Tigers have nearly rebuilt their farm system by trading five players.
Trading Verlander signals the end of a highly successful era in Detroit Tigers baseball, but what it also signals is a shift in a definitive direction for the organization. The next couple years of baseball in Detroit are going to be ugly, but they will be ugly because they are supposed to be. Not ugly like 2015, when retooling goes wrong and you have to punt halfway through the year with an extremely high payroll. For the first time in years, the Tigers have a plan. They are going to continue acquiring prospects, and work on creating a sustainable player development system that has sent teams like the Cubs and Astros straight to the top.
It’s going to be painful to watch the Tigers in the immediate future, but take comfort in knowing that it’s all part of the plan. It won’t be fun, but it’s necessary for the good of the organization. Though he doesn’t have the credentials of Dave Dombrowski, Al Avila proved over the course of this week that he knows what he’s doing. The emotion of losing Justin Verlander isn’t going away anytime soon, but take solace in knowing that the Tigers future is now much brighter because of the move.