Here’s a brilliant idea for the offseason: the Detroit Tigers should try to get better.
Crazy, right? Instead of continuing to only sign lottery ticket free agents to hopefully flip at the trade deadline for younger lottery tickets, maybe the Tigers should just sign really good baseball players with the hopes that they will form a really good baseball team. I know that might be a radical idea at this point in the rebuild, and it’s definitely not going to happen, but hey, it’s a suggestion.
Should Al Avila — and, more importantly, Chris Ilitch — sign off on an expedited rebuild, the player that should be at the forefront of their free agency plan is none other than Manny Machado.
“Manny Machado,” you say?
“That jerk who spiked multiple first basemen in the playoffs and said that hustling wasn’t for him?” Yeah, that guy. Underneath that prickly narrative is an elite baseball player, and he would look good playing shortstop for the Tigers. Machado is still only 26 years old and one of the best players in the game. He would provide the Tigers with an All-Star bat in the middle of the lineup and a solution to replace Jose Iglesias in the middle of the infield for years to come.
Machado and Bryce Harper are without a doubt the two biggest names set to hit the free agent market this winter. Both are young studs. But, in terms of what the Tigers need, Machado is the better long-term bet. Harper’s aggressive nature combined with his injury history makes him a slightly riskier gamble, and his production over the last three years hasn’t been at the elite level that should warrant teams handing him up to $400 million. With the exception of a down 2017 — when he was still hitting the ball extremely hard — Machado has been a force to be reckoned with, and has played in no fewer than 156 games in a season since 2015.
Drafted third overall by the Baltimore Orioles in 2010 (just two spots behind Harper) Machado played his first full season in 2013. He put up 5.0 fWAR, primarily due to his exceptional defense at third base. At 6’3 and with a rocket launcher for a right arm, his body type plays better on the hot corner, but he showed during his time with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2018 that he could admirably handle shortstop given better pre-pitch positioning.
Raw-skill wise, the dude can pick it, and could put up good statistics from short in Detroit, an organization that has had success at implementing defensive shifts under Ron Gardenhire. When Machado proves he can no longer handle the position towards the end of his contract, his arm and soft hands will allow him to make a seamless transition back to third base.
Then there’s his bat
Machado is coming off his best offensive year, a year in which he split between the Orioles and the Dodgers. His 9.9 percent walk rate, .367 on-base percentage, .538 slugging average, and 141 wRC+ were all career highs, and his 14.7 percent strikeout rate was the lowest of his career. With his raw tools and ripe age (26), this might be who Manny Machado is as a hitter. Plugging him into the middle of the Tigers lineup would give their lackluster offense a much-needed boost, not to mention a hitter to build around for the foreseeable future. If the team could squeeze any more healthy production out of Miguel Cabrera through the end of his contract, that’s a very dangerous one-two punch that opposing pitchers will struggle to get out.
The Tigers have quite a few infield prospects that are in the high minors, but none of them are even close to the pedigree of prospect that Machado was. Isaac Paredes, Willi Castro, and Sergio Alcantara all have the potential to be solid pros, but it’s probably safe to say that none of them will be potential MVP candidates like Machado. Paredes, who has the highest ceiling of any position player in the system, has already begun his transition off of shortstop, and Castro and Alcantara project as average (at best) at the position. There’s value to be had in all three of those prospects (and others), but Machado would become the franchise’s cornerstone, and allow the organization to use other prospects as utility players and/or trade bait to bring in more major league ready talent.
Yes, Machado is going to get a boatload of money.
MLB Trade Rumors predicts that he will earn a 13-year, $390 million deal from the Philadelphia Phillies. That is an astounding amount of money, and a deal that I’m cool with the Tigers not even considering. But let’s break it down. The average annual value of that projected contract is $30 million. That’s a lot of dough, but for a six-win player, $5 million per win isn’t unreasonable at all. We can’t assume that he will be a six-win player throughout the entirety of his deal, but the back end of all big contracts are bad. It comes with the territory, and it’s what it takes to get good players to sign with your team.
Should Machado not fetch a 13-year deal, but rather get something closer to the 10-year range, the Tigers should absolutely be poking their noses into the fray, even if it takes adding an extra few million per year onto it.
The Tigers should be competing in the next few years, and signing Machado to a mega-deal would be the first step in ensuring that. In 2004, they signed Pudge Rodriguez. In 2005 they signed Magglio Ordoñez. While neither of these players fetched anything close to what Machado will this offseason, the Tigers are going to have to pay high prices to sign good players, even if it doesn’t result in success next season. They do not have any elite prospects in their system, so they will eventually have to acquire a star player using other means.
Again, it’s not going to happen, but Machado is the perfect candidate to be the foundation of the Tigers’ rebuild and the new face of the franchise, and he’s available right now should the Ilitch family want to open up the check book.