Allow us to dream a little bit here, Tigers fans. We’ve survived into early February, winter is half over, and as long as things go according to schedule, pitchers and catchers will be reporting to Lakeland, Florida in only one week’s time. We’re optimistic about baseball returning generally, and very much looking forward to it, but of course there are few reasons to feel that way about the Tigers roster. However, we do have one last possibility to investigate that could save this offseason from being just another payroll cut leading to bottom feeder status yet again.
Back on February 1, the Colorado Rockies dealt star third baseman Nolan Arenado to the St. Louis Cardinals. Just two years into his eight-year extension, the 29-year-old, five-time All-Star was frustrated with the Rockies inability to generate traction as a threat in the NL West, had two option years left before reaching the final four years on his contract, and wanted out. Rockies GM Jeff Bridich obliged, crushing fans, garnering a pretty meager return in prospects, and generally ensuring that his ballclub has more tough years ahead.
He also trimmed a lot of cash off the long term Rockies payroll, and that is where their shortstop, Trevor Story comes into our sights.
Story will reach free agency after the 2021 season. He turned 28 back in November, and for the past three seasons has been one of best all around shortstops in baseball. He’s stolen 65 bases over the past three seasons, nabbing 15 in 59 games in 2020 alone. Between 2018 and 2019, he launched a combined 72 home runs, topping the 30 mark in both 2018-2019. Oh, his defensive metrics as well are generally good as well.
In short, with close to $150 million freed up over the next six seasons by trading Arenado, the Rockies are either signing Story to an extension in the next few weeks, or he’s getting traded.
Presumably, Bridich and the Rockies are furiously engaged with Story’s representatives as of this writing. If they can’t come to terms at this point, there’s no reason to think he’s going to sign with them as a free agent, and so they’d have little choice but to try and re-coup something for him in trade right now. So until such a deal is reached, it would be great if the Tigers were making serious inquiries into his availability. With only one year left to free agency, and considering the low cost in prospects for Arenado, the price for Story may be more reasonable than you think.
Trevor Story 2018-2020
It’s tricky to value Nolan Arenado under his current contract. He already had an opt out after the 2021 season, but as part of the deal to the Cardinals a second option was added after the 2022 season, and an extra year was added to his deal in 2027. That seventh year is worth $15 million that would be paid by the Rockies. The Rockies will also contribute to his salary in 2021-2022. Arenado could opt out next year, opt out the year after, or elect to stay in St. Louis for the next seven seasons. In short, his contract details assure that he has a lot to say in how long he’s with the Cardinals and how much total value the deal ultimately produces for them.
Of course, what is clear is that the Cardinals made out like bandits here either way. It’s really just a question of degree. Either the Cardinals gave up a package of decent role player level prospects—Tigers outfield prospect Parker Meadows could have headlined the deal, to put it in context—for one or two cheap years of Nolan Arenado, or they gave up that much in prospects for six quite reasonably priced years of Arenado, plus a seventh year the Rockies will be paying for should it come to pass. Sure he’ll be 36 by that point, but it’s real hard to lose on that deal.
Of course, the real point of trading for Story is to acquire him for 2021 and immediately lock him up on a long-term deal. For a hopeful contender, he’d certainly be worth trading for on a one-year deal, but among those teams, shortstop isn’t a need. The Mets already traded for Francisco Lindor. The San Diego Padres have Fernando Tatis Jr., while the LA Dodgers have Corey Seager. The Houston Astros have Carlos Correa, the Yankees have Gleyber Torres, and the Tampa Bay Rays have Willy Adames.
A Texas boy, Story could be a target for the Texas Rangers and persuaded to sign on there for the long haul as they attempt to build a new contender in Arlington. Maybe a team like the Atlanta Braves could seek an upgrade. Otherwise there isn’t really an obvious fit right now.
Why not Detroit?
The most glaring need in the entire organization is arguably the shortstop position. Defense is the key priority playing centerfield in Comerica Park, and while catcher is another sore spot, there aren’t a lot of teams with strong two-way production at the catcher position, and at least the Tigers do have Dillon Dingler as a prospect to dream on for the time being. On the contrary, it’s hard to find a contending team that has an average or worse shortstop.
Certainly, Willi Castro arrived in 2020 and showed some potential at the plate in his 36 game stint, but he also made clear he’s still a minor liability defensively. Castro looks capable of providing average power and some stolen bases, but he continues to project as an average offensive player at best, with his value undercut at the shortstop position by the same defensive issues he’s been trying to clean up since the Tigers acquired him. If he continues to develop offensively, the club will find a way to play him, but it need not be at shortstop.
The lack of a shortstop of the future has led many to speculate about next year’s free agent crop at the position. Story will be a free agent, barring any deal this spring, as will Lindor, Seager, Marcus Semien, and Javier Baez. Another option would be to reunite Correa with Hinch in Detroit, though getting the band back together with that history may not be the wisest of ideas. Correa’s lengthy injury history and inconsistent production might make him a bargain if he can ever get back to playing a full slate of games, but he also looks relatively risky by comparison to others in the free agent class despite being the youngest of the group. Lindor, Seager, and Baez are all thought to be extension candidates this spring, so possibly one or all of three will be locked up by the time the 2021 season begins.
If the Tigers are even willing to spend on shortstop next offseason, the options may be fairly limited by that point. Either they’ll be competing with big market teams like the Mets, Cubs, and Dodgers, or those teams will have already ensured that Lindor, Baez, and Seager are off the market by signing them to long-term extensions. Of course, if the Tigers aren’t willing to spend on a shortstop in any case, then the Story idea is dead in the water, along with any realistic hopes of success in the next few seasons. We’ll proceed with the expectation that Chris Ilitch will ultimately start spending substantially more soon, because if he won’t, this is all in vain to begin with.
According to Baseball Trade Values, and taking the actual price in prospects the Cardinals paid for Arenado into account, the Tigers should be able to put together a package to acquire Story now without dipping into their top five prospects. It may cost them as much as Isaac Paredes and Joey Wentz as a centerpiece, as well as a couple lower tier prospects. The Rockies have a potential future shortstop in prospect Brendan Rodgers, so they don’t need a current replacement, and they’re probably thinking in terms of players who might be ready a few years from now rather than major league ready guys.
Certainly if there is intense competition for Story out there, the Tigers needn’t push too hard to get this done. Likewise, if Story is intent on testing free agency, there isn’t much point giving up even second tier prospects just to have him for one year.
There are plenty of reasons why a deal like this is unlikely to come together. Perhaps the Rockies get Story to sign an extension. Perhaps another team pays full price and gives up a strong top 100 prospect to land him. Perhaps Story is just dead set on testing free agency now that he’s only a year away. We won’t be ripping the Tigers if they don’t make this happen, but it would be malpractice to fail to at least explore the possibility with the Rockies front office, and soon.