At a number of points during this lengthy rebuild, I've explored another way that the Tigers could collect valuable prospects -- taking on an undesirable contract. At the time, I hoped that the Tigers would be willing to take such a crazy step in the hopes of collecting potential future contributors. I was wrong. I was living in an alternative reality. Let's take a temporary step into that reality to see what options are out there for the 2021 season.
Before diving into individual trade ideas, I want to walk through the idea in a little more depth.
- Another team has a player who is owed a meaningful amount of money but isn't performing up to that standard.
- That player is doing *something* of value and would be a useful (if not exciting) contributor here in Detroit.
- The other team has a strong incentive to offload that contract -- strong enough to part with a reasonably exciting young player or two. The only reason they'd have that much incentive is if they are looking to use that money on another hopefully more productive player, either by trade or as a free agent.
My primary source for data here is baseballtradevalues.com. I know this site has its weaknesses, particularly with very high-value players, but it's still a useful tool as long as you are willing to apply a layer of common sense.
The BTV approach is pretty straight forward. They identify the amount of money that a player will be paid along with an estimate of the value that he'll provide on the field. For example, BTV estimates that JaCoby Jones will earn $7.0 million over the next three years of arbitration and will provide $10.8 million worth of on-field value, for a trade value of $3.5 million. That's not to say he's only worth $3.5 million. It's saying that he's worth an estimated $3.5M more than he'll be paid over that time. Any trade for him should return an equivalent of $3.5 million of surplus value. Another example: Miguel Cabrera is due $94 million over the next three years and is estimated to provide $1.6 million in on-field value. If the Tigers were to trade Miggy (they won't), they'd need to provide a whopping $92.4 million of value (they wouldn't) to compensate the other team (who probably wouldn't do it either). Here's where common sense needs to prevail.
Let's look at some players:
Justin Verlander, Astros, owed $33 million, AFV: $0 million, Surplus -$33 million
The Tigers wouldn't get a single inning from him in 2021 but might be in the position to extend Verlander into 2022 when he'll be 39 years old and returning from Tommy John surgery. He certainly won't be demanding a repeat of his current deal and he might like spending that time in a familiar place under a manager he already knows.
The Astros could certainly use some of the $33 million that they plan on paying JV to improve their chances in 2021. That's enough to warrant packaging a player or two to be willing to make it happen. Though, I question whether or not they'd be willing to part with enough talent to account for all of his salary. If nothing else, they had already budgeted for the full $33M already. Maybe they prefer to offload package half of the minor league talent with half of the money in the form of cash.
Luis Garcia got a small taste of major league competition in 2020 and didn't exactly disappoint. There are real questions about whether or not the big right-hander should be a starter, though. As the Tigers look for enough pitchers to survive the long 2021 season, a spot in the bullpen where he goes out every third or fourth day might be a perfect try-out to see what he can do.
Jeremy Pena is a middle infielder who might just be ready for a taste of the big leagues in 2021. He's a quality defender who should get enough from his bat to play every day.
In this proposed trade, I have the Astros kicking in $16 million to go towards the money owed to Verlander. That's not me imagining the Tigers being frugal -- though it's not hard to imagine -- it's the Astros refusing to part with additional minor league players to account for the difference. They had already budgeted to pay him $33 million and have built the rest of the team around that budget. I see this happening across the board, especially in salary swaps.
Wil Myers, Padres, owed $41 million, AFV $24 million, Surplus -$17 million
Myers was a popular name in similar trade rumors a year ago, but his stock is different now. For one, he's only under contract for two years instead of three. He's also been able to restore some of his previous production. I don't see this working for either team. For one, the Padres are in win-now mode and Myers is back to being a productive contributor. From the Tiger's perspective, that's a lot of money to eat for likely modest prospect return.
Tanner Roark, Blue Jays, owed $12 million, AFV $3.6 million, Surplus -$8.4 million
Shortly before the world changed on us, the Blue Jays signed Roark in the hopes that he'd stabilize a very unsteady starting rotation. It didn't work out. He never lasted more than five innings and was often knocked out of the game with multiple runs on the board.
From the Blue Jays' perspective, they have more than enough salary space to hold on to him and see if a normal-ish life and schedule returns him to normal-ish production. On the other hand, freeing up $12 million could help them follow through on the big splash they have been trying to make.
From the Tigers' perspective, $12 million is obviously way too much to wager on a four-inning pitcher, but he'd none-the-less be useful if they are going to need multiple multiple-inning pitchers to survive the full season.
Miguel Hiraldo is a Low-A middle infielder who needs a few years to develop. He's likely to move to third base, but his powerful bat profiles well there.
Johnny Cueto, Giants, owed $27.5 million, AFV $6.2 million, Surplus -$21.3 million
Cueto is owed $21 million in 2021 plus an additional $5 million for a buyout of his 2022 option. He can very comfortably be projected to eat plenty of innings as a back-end starter, though it's safe to assume the Giants want more than that.
In Detroit, it's obvious he'd be one of the many multi-inning pitchers helping the team survive the season -- most likely as a starter. That's not worth $27 million, but it's not nothing.
Alexander Canario is a power hitting outfielder who is still flirting with center field in the minors but probably moves to right in Detroit.
Justin Upton, Angels, owed $51 million, AFV $8.3 million, Surplus -$42.7 million
When the Angels traded for Upton, some Tigers fans weren't willing to understand why he was seen as a rental. In reality, the Angels soon needed to offer him an extra year to get him to stay in Anaheim. Here is the downside of that offer. It's a number of years later and Upton isn't playing up to that level -- at least not consistently.
The Angels could stay the course with Upton in the hopes that the first half of last year was a one-month aberration and he returns to the guy they saw last September. They have a lot riding on it, though. From Mike Trout on down, this roster is built for more than fourth place in the AL West. Reallocating $25 million per year to a more reliable contributor.
The #2 and #3 prospects in the Giants system, Detmers and Adams are each a year or two away from being Major League ready. Detmers profiles as a mid-rotation starter. Adams brings 80-grade speed and a high walk rate to get him on the bases.
Jeurys Familia, Mets, owed $13 million, AFV $0 million, Surplus -$13 million
$13 million is a lot of money to dedicate to a reliever that isn't even your setup man, but that's exactly where Familia sits (technically, it's $11 million for 2021 and $1 million for both 2020 and 2021 that are deferred to 2022).
In Detroit, Familia would almost certainly get another crack at closing games -- especially with AJ Hinch not using a fixed inning assignments for relievers. Regaining an ability to close games, or at least contribute in the late innings, would help him find a new home in 2022.
There are two items that make this match-up less likely. The first is the $1 million trade bonus that he's owed if traded. He'd need to waive that bonus in the hopes of a greater role in Detroit. Otherwise, it wouldn't make sense to incur a $1 million penalty in a trade being done for salary purposes. The second is a domestic violence issue in 2016 that will certainly follow him as long as he plays.
Scott Kingery, Phillies, owed $19.8 million, AFV $2.1 million, Surplus -$17.7 million
Kingery's summer of 2020 was dominated by what sounds like a pretty bad case of coronavirus. His description sounds a lot like what Daniel Norris described at the time. You really have to feel for him. And, yes, it explains for a lot of his struggles early in 2020. The trouble is the previous two years weren't much to write home about either.
Backing up for a moment, Kingery signed what is fairly typical for a pre-arbitration player. The first three years paid him modest salary, followed by escalating salaries in 2021, 2022, and 2023 when he'll be 27, 28, and 29 years old. In those three years, he's guaranteed $4 million, $6 million, and $8 million, respectively. That base salary plus annual signing bonuses and a buyout on his 2025 season brings the total guarantee to $19.75 million. That's not exactly breaking the bank over three years, but it's also not really helping the Phillies when they want to be at their best.
Kingery's best asset is his defensive versatility. He started the year as the Phillies' starting second baseman but has seen very meaningful time at shortstop, third base, and center field. Depending on who the Tigers add for 2021, they could probably use another swiss army knife to help get through the season as inevitable injuries come along. By 2023, the Tigers should be expecting more from this roster and it might be time to just cut him loose. For now, he'd be a very reasonable safety net from the bench. The first thing I'd do is try to renegotiate that contract with him to shift money earlier in case that happens.
Rafael Marchan is the #7 guy in the Phillies' system. His defensive skills are ready for the big league already but his bat needs another year or two to develop. The good news is there's some value there to fall back on. He's a switch-hitter who makes a ton of contact and rarely strikes out. His power is limited to the "extra-base" variety, but that can be enough if he can defend and call games well.
Ender Inciarte, Braves, owed $9.7 million, AFV $0.3 million, Surplus -$9.4 million
Even in good health, it's really hard to blame anyone for having a rough time during the summer and fall of 2020. We all had it bad. But few had it as bad as Ender Inciarte -- at least while still maintaining good health. This review by Talking Chop is just hard to read. He went from "'starter on a good team' to 'toxic asset that’s probably off the team'". Now, to be clear, there aren't any signs that he has become a toxic personality that would bring others down. But, still... Ouch. The good news for Braves fans is his guaranteed money runs out after 2021.
In Detroit, he'd supplement an outfield by replacing Derek Hill on the 40-man and Christin Stewart in Detroit. He's primarily a center fielder on paper, though any team would use him as a backup across the outfield. That's assuming he hits well enough to be on the roster. You can't rule out an outright release at this point.
Bryce Ball isn't a killer asset, but you can't expect a ton for eating a reasonably small contract. Still, he's a left-handed hitter who is showing signs of hitting for average and power while holding his own on the basepaths and in the field.
Ian Desmond, Rockies, owed $10 million, AFV -$3.1 million, Surplus -$10 million
Desmond had a nice run with the Nationals, earning him a nice veteran contract elsewhere. Since then, things have been rough. (This does happen to other teams, too.) His five-year deal will come to a close after the club option for 2022 is declined. $10 million of his guarantee remains as well as a $1 million trade bonus that he would need to waive for this trade to make sense.
In Detroit, he could be the short side of a platoon at first base or a corner outfield spot. He could also pinch hit some against left-handed relievers. That's not nothing, especially after watching the Tigers 2020 play out. Having said that, there's probably room for a guy who holds down first base half of the time even if his at-bats are black holes half of that time.
Grant Lavinge's profile is a near carbon-copy of Ball out of Atlanta -- left-handed first baseman a few years from the big leagues who excels with the bat and holds his own defensively. These aren't guys you build a system around, but having a nice stable of guys like this will help when it comes to fully form a line-up -- either directly or through trades.
So, that's our little foray into this alternative reality. It's too bad this team doesn't seem to be willing to do one of these trades. There are some nice young players out there who could help the team later on.