Oh, what the heck. I'll throw my hat into the ring on this one. I'm writing this before the non-tender deadline on Dec 2, which is when I think teams should really finalize offseason planning.
- Tender contracts to Matthew Boyd, Daniel Norris, Michael Fulmer, JaCoby Jones, Buck Farmer, Drew VerHagen.
I actually went back and forth on tendering Drew VerHagen. My suspicion is that he'll be another borderline case next season. So, if this team thinks they can do something really smart with that spot, yeah, don't tender him a contract. But, I go ahead and do it.
It's notable that none of the arbitration decisions at this stage are driven by money. If you decide that Hardy, Hicks, or VerHagen are worth a spot on the roster, the money they are projected to make is totally reasonable for what they will provide. This is about spots on the roster. The question is whether or not these guys are full-time major league players in 2020. (Side note, I certainly see Hardy as a part-time major leaguer next season. Full time from the start? Thanks to that injury, no.)
Pending free agents (re-sign or let go)
I'd start from scratch from a roster perspective. So, maybe one or more of these guys come back to Detroit, but I start with a clean slate and then select from the full free agent pool
- Jordy Mercer: made $5.25 million in 2019
- Tyson Ross: $5.75 million
- Matt Moore: $2.5 million
- Josh Harrison: $2 million
- Gordon Beckham: $700,000
If there is one cardinal rule that should be followed for the next few months, it is this: Don't commit to anything. Not yet. Give it until at least the end of the Winter Meetings and likely mid-January before making any serious free agent moves. You never know what deal might be available as all of the other teams position themselves for 2020. You also don't know who get non-tendered in a few days. For now, build relationships to the point where many of their agents know there is interest from Detroit.
Jason Castro -- C -- 2 years -- $7M in 2020, $5M in 2021, and a team option for $5M in 2022.
Castro brings a solid defensive profile that should fit in very nicely as a primary catcher to pair with a heavily used backup. He hits left handed so it would make sense to look for platoon advantages along the way, but I don't see it as a strict platoon.
This is a little bit of an overpay with that extra money coming immediately in 2020. From there, the contract comes right in line with the MLBTR guess of $10M over 2 years. I'd like an option to look beyond 2021 as well even though he'll be approaching 35. That option could come with a modest buyout that would be included in the 2021 budget -- no more than $1M perhaps.
Fallbacks: I could easily be talked into Travis d'Arnaud instead. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that he's not going to be available here without a significant overpay. And if he's available, he may not want to stay very long since he won't be sure what will be going on with this roster. Also available: old friend Alex Avila, Martin Maldonado, Matt Wieters, Jonathan Lucroy, Yan Gomes, Austin Romine, Robinson Chirinos.
Brock Holt -- 2B/Util -- 2 years -- $7M in 2020, $5M in 2021, and a team option for $5M in 2022
I was really hoping for Howie Kendrick for this spot, but he'll be able to take his pick of modestly competitive teams for the next two seasons. The good news is there are a ton of options at the second base position.
Holt's primary position is second base, but he can play all four infield spots as well as both outfield corners. To boot, he's an above-average hitter from the left side. This is the kind of glue guy that can help fill a line-up. His contract is structured just like Castro's with the overpay coming right away and an option in 2022. He also gets a modest buyout on that option, but nothing crazy.
Fallbacks: While I like the idea of a glue guy that can play all over the place, Holt isn't the only one available who would spark interest. Johnathon Schoop, Jason Kipnis, Brian Dozier, Eric Sogard, Wilmer Flores are all available, and all of them can be useful somewhere other than second. Add defensive wiz Ryosuke Kikuchi and Jonathan Villar who could probably be had from the Orioles as a salary dump.
If players like Castro and Holt want to have some kind of leverage in the event of a trade, I'm not against it. The last thing they want is to be sent to yet another rebuilding club against their will. I wouldn't want them to have the leverage of a meaningful no-trade clause but perhaps convert the team options to player options in the event of a trade.
Josh Lindbloom -- SP -- One year, $6M
You've probably noticed that I've gravitated towards 2+ year commitments all of the sudden. I see no reason to do that for the rotation. This team should be swimming in arms by September and I have to think free agents will see that coming. If future arms are delayed or don't quite measure up, there will be another batch of available free agents next season, too. We're looking for a pitcher who wants to use a shorter contract with the Tigers to springboard elsewhere. Lindbloom's last springboard was a three-year stint in the KBO.
This contract is a modest overpay with MLBTR guessing that he'd make $8M over two seasons. Maybe there's some magic to pull with an option year or something to get some value into 2021. Still, the true commitment is to 2020 and 2020 only.
Michael Wacha -- SP/Swingman -- One year, $5M
$6M on a one-year deal is what MLBTR projected. That seems like a little much, just like it would be for Lindbloom. In this market, there's some room to haggle.
As we should have all learned by now, you go into Spring Training with six starting pitchers and figure it out then. That's what he is -- the sixth on that list. Yeah, he'll prefer a starting job. If you can't earn one here, you're probably not getting one. He'll have to beat out Jordan Zimmermann or the recently inked Lindbloom for that spot, assuming no injuries. Considering the injury history from this batch, I would not rule out having a six-man rotation over the first few months of the season.
Fallbacks: There are always a long list of productive starting pitchers available. Tyson Ross, Matt Moore, Rick Porcello, Rich Hill, Jason Vargas, and Drew Smyly jumped off the screen after a quick glance but mostly because I recognize the names. Pick two total. Assume that one of them is pretty much promised a starting role while the other needs to earn that spot.
Total MLB Commitments for 2020: $25M
Compared to last season, we're clearing the $16M spent last season and the $8M that was going to Justin Verlander. That money accounts for this spending. From there, use the $11M that was spent on Nick Castellanos on arbitration raises and a few minor league depth additions.
Mark Trumbo -- 1B/OF -- split contract $2M MLB / something reasonable in AAA
It's virtually impossible to guess what player will be the best guy left after all teams fill their rosters. Trumbo is as reasonable guess as we can make right now. I want a guy who will at least start the season in AAA and be available to come up should there be a need. With Holt available in addition to the large stable of utility types on the roster, that need isn't glaring yet. Sure, none of those guys bring the kind of offense that a traditional first baseman should bring, but that's not the point. The point is the team is using those at-bats at first base to evaluate them for a longer term role elsewhere.
Trumbo is an interesting case since he's enjoyed a nice productive Major League career, but he still does want more if it's out there for him. So, sure, first things first. He gets a wide array of opt-out opportunities early in the season. We'd guess he'd want one before opening day. Provide others too.
The question now is how do you convince him to stick around the AAA club for a few months if the need hasn't arisen yet? I try to do it by offering all of the other opportunities that he might want other than immediate playing time at 1B/DH. A recent profile by Dan Connolly of The Athletic gives a nice run down of what Trumbo is thinking going into free agency. He has shown some interest in pitching an inning or two here and there. Sure! In fact, how about staying in extended Spring Training in Lakeland, FL for an extra week or so to work on it specifically? Everyone else will be bouncing from cold city to cold city trying to stay warm. He has also shown interest in using analytics to improve his efforts at the plate and those of his teammates. Guess what? Our entire organization is trying to learn those lessons! Plan on spending some time with our AAA hitters and with the coaching staff in Detroit, too.
Trumbo told The Athletic that he's stuck in the middle between playing and contributing off the field. How about using the first few months of this year to get an idea of what that role might be? In return, he delays that opt-out decision and gives the Tigers a little more time to decide if he's needed in Detroit.
Fallbacks: Again, we're aiming for the best slugging 1B/DH/OF without a home come mid-February. Logan Morrison, Justin Bour, Yonder Alonso, Mitch Moreland jump off the screen at me, but again maybe because I just recognize names. The same approach holds true. Pick the best name remaining and then get creative to convince the player to stick around a few extra weeks into the season.
John Hicks -- C -- Split contract: $1.7M MLB, something reasonable in AAA
If he gets a major league deal, you can tell me I was wrong. I will have been. I wouldn't bet a ton of money on it, but I still think Hicks lands on a minors deal somewhere but very likely sees major league action. You can certainly offer the customary selection of player opt-outs if he's not on the major league roster. I think Hicks won't have any real immediate opportunities, so I imagine you can plan on him being available in Toledo for the bulk of the season -- at least until the All Star break.
Having said that, I'd like to waive a modest payday in front of him in the hopes that he does stick around. That $1.7M annual number is actually what MLBTR projected to be his salary this season. On a split contract, he only sees that number if he's promoted. That's a little extra incentive to stick around in the event there's an injury. Well, that and I'd look to pay him something decent at the minor league level as well.
Fallbacks: This team absolutely needs catching depth even after adding an established veteran. If not Hicks, I'm still looking for a name with a little more upside than somebody like bobby Wilson. Blake Swihart jumps out at me, though my interest is based on his profile from a year ago.
Blaine Hardy -- P -- Split contract: $1.8M MLB, something reasonable in AAA
Hardy's contract is structured the same way with all of the same logic. He is very likely to make his way onto the major league roster at some point, but not likely to do so on opening day. If there's a need to outright him, odds are he accepts the assignment because he'll still be able to make that decent pro-rated annual rate with his next call-up as well.
One of the main reasons to delay free agent decisions is so there's room to maneuver on the trade front. Any significant trade would change the free agent picture. There are a handful of trades that I'd likely consider.
- The first would obviously be to trade away Matthew Boyd. I'm going to leave this for another day because I actually don't think it will happen. I think his value is at a low point and it won't make sense to move him unless the other team values him as high as I think he'll be worth come next July.
- I'm still holding out hope, against what we've seen so far, that this team might just eat a bad contract. I've toyed around with a potential Wil Myers deal in comments elsewhere, but I made a laughably bad arithmetic error along the way.
- Maybe there's a low-end trade deal that makes sense that wouldn't really be worth speculating about. Again, I could see a guy like Jonathan Villar could be had for very little in return. I'm sure there are other borderline non-tender types who we really wouldn't consider.
Here's a quick look at the team going into the spring:
- Starting Pitching: Boyd, Turnbull, Norris, Lindbloom, Zimmermann, Wacha (swingman), Alexander (depth/bullpen), VerHagen (depth/bullpen), Fulmer (at some point), and others
- Catching: Castro, Greiner, Rogers (AAA), Hicks (depth)
- Infield: Candelario (3B/1B), Goodrum (SS/elsewhere), Holt (2B/elsewhere), Cabrera (DH/hopefully a little more 1B), Lugo (if he's still around), W Castro (AAA)
- Outfield: Jones/Reyes (CF/corner OF), Demeritte (corner OF), Stewart (LF), Stokes, Trumbo (depth)
- Pure utilities to fill at 1B, corner OF, and elsewhere: Dixon, H Castro, Rodriguez (if he's still around)
Yeah, I know. There are a lot of questions there. The whole point of rebuilding seasons is to answer those questions and find players who can contribute in 2021 and beyond.