Should is really the operative word in the title there.
Like the Tigers should have tried to made some signings that would’ve kick started the rebuild a bit (see Manny Machado) or Detroit should utilize the opener on a consistent basis.
These are things that should have/should happen to make the team better. But they didn’t or haven’t come to fruition.
Here’s another one. The Detroit Tigers should be doing what the Toronto Blue Jays are doing.
What are the Toronto Blue Jays doing, you ask? They’re executing a rebuild that more closely resembles a shorter-term reload. Everything is easier when planning the future when Vladimir Guerrero Jr. sits atop the top prospect rankings in your farm system (and in all of baseball), but that hasn’t stopped the Blue Jays from being incredibly active and shrewd in their dealings as they look to rebuild a contender.
Toronto’s previous window of contention under John Gibbons essentially closed in 2016. Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson and friends never made it back to the postseason. All three are no longer with the organization, and Toronto has quickly pivoted to a future built around Guerrero with a roster teaming with young players.
That has led the organization to make similar types of moves to the Tigers in the sense that they’re offloading veterans for young pieces and signing flippable players to one-year deals.
It’s just that the Blue Jays are doing things a bit better as of late.
(All contract information via Spotrac.)
The Kevin Pillar trade
The Blue Jays made a trade Tuesday morning, sending outfielder Kevin Pillar to the San Francisco Giants for infielder Alen Hanson and pitchers Derek Law and Juan De Paula.
It’s not an earth-shattering return. Law and Hanson are complementary 40-man roster pieces and De Paula is the only true prospect, but Toronto didn’t really need Pillar. They’re going nowhere fast in 2019 as they await the arrival of Guerrero Jr., and Pillar was blocking younger players.
Said young players, like Anthony Alford—and, when healthy, Jonathan Davis and Dalton Pompey—will now get more opportunities in the Majors to prove themselves.
All three stand a much better chance of being part of the next great Blue Jays squad than Pillar, who will be a free agent after the 2020 season.
Toronto moved a flawed veteran player (Pillar is an excellent fielder but has struggled against right-handed pitching at times) blocking younger players for some future assets. He wasn’t the Jays’ best trade chip, but the Blue Jays cashed him in for future pieces to a team with a definite need.
(This isn’t the first time the Jays have done this either. They flipped Aledmys Diaz to Houston in the winter. The move opened up more plate appearances for Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Richard Urena and Brandon Drury around the infield while also bring back starter Trent Thornton. Thornton blanked the Tigers to the tune of eight strikeouts and 10 swinging strikes compared to just two hits in five shutout innings against the Tigers in his Major League debut.)
Some current Tigers who fit the bill in terms of being useful players but not necessarily part of the next contending team include: Mikie Mahtook, Shane Greene, Matthew Boyd, Blaine Hardy and Jordan Zimmermann.
Now, most of those players necessarily have a bankable skill like Pillar’s defense, but most could conceivably bring back more in a trade, especially the three pitchers still in arbitration.
Detroit could pull a similar move by flipping Mikie Mahtook for some future piece(s). Given the state of the rebuild, results probably don’t matter as much. So why not trade Mahtook for future pieces and bring up someone like Danny Woodrow or Jake Robson to serve as a reserve outfielder?
If it’s too early at this point in the season to bring up either player, then the Tigers can simply add an outfielder in a minor transaction or off waivers to help bridge the gap to the duo or Daz Cameron.
Toronto pulled off a similar maneuver on Tuesday in acquiring 26-year-old Socrates Brito from San Diego for minor league outfielder Rodrigo Orozco, who at 24 just finished his first full season at Advanced-A last season against younger competition. Brito and top prospect Anthony Alford will now be worked into the outfield rotation in Toronto.
The Big Contracts
The Tigers could pull a similar maneuver with Jordan Zimmermann. Michael Fulmer injury or no, the team certainly doesn’t have to have the veteran in the rotation or on the roster altogether.
Again, results aren’t going to matter much this year and Detroit could simply plug Daniel Norris into the rotation and let him figure things out in the rotation. Blaine Hardy and Matt Hall could also soak up starter innings and Kyle Funkhouser probably isn’t far off from doing the same.
Trading Zimmermann is going to be much more difficult than moving a player like Mahtook. The outfielder, who is in his last pre-arbitration year. Zimmermann, on the other hand, is making $25 million in each of the next two seasons. Zimmermann has no-trade protection in a 10-team trade approval list.
Still, it’s not impossible. Especially if Zimmermann continues to pitch like he did on Opening Day. And again, the Blue Jays have set a precedent that the Tigers can follow.
Toronto moved on from both Russell Martin and Kendrys Morales in the past few months. It was via trade in both instances.
Both were on expiring contracts, and not multi-year deals like Zimmermann’s current contract. But the duo’s contracts were conceivably significant hurdles in a trade. Martin is making $20 million in 2019. Morales is making $12 million.
But both players are now with different organizations. Why? Because the Blue Jays ate significant amounts of their salaries in order to facilitate trades.
It only spits out to $5.6 million in savings from the two trades, but that’s significant for a pair of players who turned in the following stat lines last season and were slated to earn a combined $32 million:
Russell Martin in 2018: 1.4 fWAR, 352 PA, 91 wRC+, .305 wOBA, .338 OBP, .131 ISO, 9.7 Def.
Kendrys Morales in 2018: 0.2 fWAR, 471 PA, 108 wRC+, .329 wOBA, .331 OBP, .189 ISO, -12.7 Def.
This is all without mentioning that Toronto also received actual returns for the players that could conceivably help them out in the future. They weren’t just straight salary dumps,
Infielder Ronny Brito (.841 OPS, 11 HR in 244 PA as a middle infielder in the Pioneer League against competition that was on average 1.6 years older) and starting pitcher Andrew Sopko (3.52 ERA, 121 K in 117.2 innings split between Advanced-A and Double-A) came over in the Martin trade.
Meanwhile, the Morales transaction brought international bonus slot money that, per a tweet from Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi, is $1 million in total. What’s more, 22-year-old infielder Jesus Lopez (.695 OPS in 326 PA in the Midwest League) joined the organization in the transaction.
That’s three minor league players, a significant chunk of international bonus pool money to spend on more prospects (some potentially with higher ceilings) and $5.6 million in savings from a pair of expendable veterans coming off down years.
Removing Martin and Morales from the equation also opened up playing time for younger players who could be key in Toronto’s rebuilding efforts.
In the wake of Martin’s departure, Danny Jansen has since settled in as Toronto’s backstop of the present and future while Morales moving to Oakland has opened the door for more plate appearances for Rowdy Tellez, the slugger who took Joe Jimenez deep to tie up a game with the Tigers earlier in the season.
Detroit should pursue doing a similar thing with Zimmermann. They’re going to have to eat a significant amount of his salary anyways to move him, so why not eat that money and flip him sooner rather than later and let someone like Norris, Hall or Funkhouser audition for the next great Detroit Tigers team? Because at this point Zimmermann probably isn’t going to be on it.
Detroit had to send Houston $16 million in the Justin Verlander transaction to pay down some of the ace’s contract. And that’s when the future Hall of Famer was pitching at high level. Zimmermann isn’t, and even if he continues to pitch like he did on Opening Day, the Tigers aren’t going to convince some team to take on anywhere close to the majority of Zimmermann’s contract. That’s just not happening.
In short, even if he continues to pitch well, the team is going to have to pay for the majority of his contract in a trade.
Better to rip the band aid off with Zimmermann now and trade him as soon as possible to get younger players integrated into the Major League roster.
The Tigers should follow Toronto’s lead
All of this is to say nothing of Toronto’s decision to target younger, MLB-ready players in some trades in the past few years. Like the move to bring in controllable players Brandon Drury and Billy McKinney for JA Happ. Or somehow extracting Ken Giles, David Paulino and Hector Perez from the Astros for Roberto Osuna. Or doing relatively well in snagging returns for rentals like John Axford, Aaron Loup, Steve Pearce, Seung-hwan Oh and Curtis Granderson. Or…
Well, you get the point.
The Blue Jays are doing a lot of things the Tigers should be doing.
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