The Los Angeles Dodgers have some work to do. The game 6 loss to the Cubs completed another disappointing finish in the City of Angels. The good news: L.A. is on the cusp of its first World Series since 1988 and possesses an abundance of youth and financial power to continue its ascent in the National League.
The offseason is a fun time for speculation. Already we have a potential bombshell thanks to Buster Olney of ESPN’s report that the Detroit Tigers are willing to move anybody. That could mean breaking up a core that’s won 86 or more games eight of the last 11 years. The Tigers have something for everyone, if that process unfolds.
Los Angeles’ priority is taking care of Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen, but the front office never disappoints in its efforts to add external talent. Much has been made of Yasiel Puig in the last several months. He could be featured in a trade for Ryan Braun within the next few weeks.
With or without Braun, the Dodgers have more needs to address.
Corner outfield, a top-level starting pitcher, second base, backend bullpen help, another utility player; they’ll jump at the chance to add help in any category. Detroit’s assets match well with the Dodgers needs, and the Tigers feature an opposite offensive problem from L.A. too: a right-handed heavy lineup.
Tigers General Manager Al Avila said he wants a younger team. With payroll approaching $200 million this year, shedding salary is also paramount. He emphasized adding a pair of starters and bullpen depth. The bad contracts of Mark Lowe, Mike Pelfrey and Anibal Sanchez are hampering the roster. Moving one of the desirable players while including one of their contracts is an NBA-style move that Detroit media has frequently referenced.
Detroit intends to compete in 2017, according to its GM and those around the organization. So this isn’t a Miami Marlins selloff, but rather a retool. The Tigers need players who will make a quick impact, not a 19-year-old fireballer who may or may not learn how to pitch.
There’s one player in particular (maybe two) who makes sense on the Dodgers as currently constructed. If both teams are serious about their supposed intentions, there may be deals to be had.
*Players’ ages in 2017 season in parenthesis*
2B Ian Kinsler (35): Signed for $11 million in 2017 ($10 million team option for 2018)
How he fits: Like a glove; if Kinsler is available, Los Angeles should be at the front of the line.
Since 2006, Kinsler has been one of the game’s best second baseman. He was sent to Detroit following the 2013 season for Prince Fielder – a deal the Tigers obviously won. He’s a career .277 hitter who slashed .288/.348/.484 for the American League wild card third runner-ups. He hit a surprising 28 homers after slugging that number combined in the previous two seasons. He played in over 150 games for the third consecutive season.
The Chase Utley trade proved solid for L.A.. He’s a free agent and likely to be let go. Howie Kendrick prefers left field and the Dodgers can do better at second anyway. If Turner is retained, second becomes the biggest hole on the roster. Kinsler would be the perfect move. He replaces Utley as the experienced vet and upgrades in every way. He’s signed to a very team-friendly deal. If he regresses next season, the Dodgers aren’t obligated to commit anything to him before the big 2018 free agency. If he’s his normal self, L.A. has a bargain.
Kinsler is an ideal bridge option. He produces for two years and gives way to Willie Calhoun at second, though Calhoun’s defensive deficiencies might give that transition pause. But it gives the Dodgers an Utley-like placeholder and major upgrade for a World Series run. By the way, Kinsler bats right-handed.
Kinsler will be one of the most in-demand Tigers. If Detroit is willing to move him, it may signal a rebuild. If it doesn’t, it’ll require MLB-ready pieces and possibly a contract attachment. The Tigers will ask for Jose De Leon, Cody Bellinger and others that might halt talks. But reasonably speaking, Brock Stewart, Walker Buehler, Jordan Sheffield, Alex Wood and especially Ross Stripling would interest Detroit as young, controllable arms. Andrew Toles, Puig and maybe even Kendrick could prompt intrigue too. But it takes two to tango. The asking price might end up too steep for Friedman and company. Kinsler would help the team immensely, so this is worth keeping an eye on.
OF J.D. Martinez (30): Signed for $11.750 million in 2017
How he fits: Martinez is a likely trade candidate entering a walk year. Despite an breaking his elbow midseason, he hit .307 on the year with 22 home runs in 120 games. Another right-handed bat, he could make sense in L.A.
Since being picked up for free by the Tigers, Martinez has become one of the better outfielders in the American League. He’s a year removed from 38 homers and 102 RBI. The Detroit Free Press said he’s “probably” the most likely Tiger to be dealt. Avila said he doesn’t anticipate discussing an extension with the right fielder.
Even with his upcoming free agency, Martinez might fetch the best return of all Detroit’s assets. It can also deal him and keep aspirations of contending in 2017, while moving a Justin Verlander or Kinsler may signal the opposite. Puig could replace Martinez, but the Tigers already boast a righty heavy lineup and have options in the minors. The names mentioned as return for Kinsler apply here as well. Unlike Kinsler, the Dodgers would have to pay Martinez over $100 million on a long-term deal or let him walk in a year. Neither is optimal for the organization right now and that reality could prevent an agreement. Martinez and Kinsler are far and away not only the best targets from Detroit, but two of the best possible for Los Angeles. After falling short in the playoffs for the fourth straight year, it might be time to make a bold move such as acquiring one of the two.
RP Francisco Rodriguez (36): $6 million team option for 2017 ($2 million buyout), likely to be accepted
How he fits: Rodriguez has a team option for 2017 that’s expected to be picked up. There’s a net difference of $4 million and even if the team doesn’t want him, he has value on the market.
“K-Rod” is still going strong. It’s hard to believe he entered the league as a 20-year-old with the Los Angeles Angels in 2002. After years of being a top three closer, he was traded to the Mets in 2009. Since that time, he never regained the level of dominance he had in Orange County. That said, he’s still a solid reliever.
The right-hander posted a 3.24 ERA, 3.83 WHIP and 44 saves in 2016. It was his third straight season saving 38-plus games. If Detroit is moving pieces, he’d make sense given his contract and age. Andrew Friedman and the front office state they fully intend to re-sign Jansen, but Rodriguez fits regardless.
In the event Jansen bolts, Rodriguez is a better closer option than any current bullpen employee. If Jansen is still in L.A., K-Rod provides backend bullpen help, an underrated need for the team. Despite having the No. 1 bullpen in the regular season, the unit struggled in the playoffs. Joe Blanton had a series to forget against Chicago, but was solid for most of the season. He’s a free agent and could be overpaid by another franchise. The Dodgers would fill and upgrade upon that role with a Rodriguez acquisition. K-Rod wouldn’t milk the farm system, but given the state of free agency, it’s easy to envision Detroit getting a couple of MLB-ready pieces in return. The Dodgers July trade for Rich Hill tells us they aren’t against acquiring older, soon-to-be free agent vets if they still hold their own.
As with everything, it will come down to cost. A guy like Stewart or Wood would probably hold appeal to the Motor City Tigers’ goal of avoiding a teardown. It’d make sense for them to attach Pelfrey or Lowe to Rodriguez as well, given his reasonable salary. Ultimately, a team that loses its closer or is desperate for help, such as the Washington Nationals or San Francisco Giants, will be more willing to meet the asking price.
SP Justin Verlander (34): Signed for three years, $84 million with $22 million vesting option in 2020 if he finishes top five in 2019 Cy Young voting
How he fits: This is the most interesting case. It’s no secret Los Angeles has been looking for a second ace since the depature of Zack Greinke. Verlander looked to be done two years ago but revived his career with a Cy Young-worthy 2016 campaign in which he pitched to a 3.04 ERA and led the American League in strikeouts with 254.
It’s a perfect storm for the Tigers. The starting pitching free agent market is barren and the trade market is inflated – that, plus Verlander’s strong year, gives them an out on his contract. If he maintains his level of play, it’s not a terrible contract for a contender in need of a top-of-the-rotation arm, either, but it coincides with the star-studded 2018 free agency class. Verlander is also two seasons removed from a 4.54 ERA-ridden 2014 and injury plagued 2015. He’s going to be a 34-year-old power pitcher. History says buyer beware.
Verlander is still a better option than Hill or Jeremy Hellickson, though. If Detroit puts him on the market, there’s going to be no shortage of interest. Boston, Texas, St. Louis, Miami and the Yankees are fits. The Angels would probably absorb the money but prospect capital is lacking there. Given Verlander has to approve a deal due to 10-5 rights, the Dodgers have good odds of being among preferred destinations. Verlander and fiancé Kate Upton were house hunting in Beverly Hills in August, if you care about that sort of thing.
Detroit could justify a high prospect price, which might end negotiations with L.A. If the Dodgers are moving premium youth for arms, it’s probably for Chris Sale, Chris Archer, Gerrit Cole or one of the other rumored aces. Verlander’s age, contract and tendencies make him a risk. Friedman hasn’t displayed an apt for gambling.
OF Justin Upton (30): Signed through 2021, $110.625 million (opt-out following 2017 season)
How he fits: Want corner outfield pop? Upton is exactly that. And hey, why not continue his National League West tour?
A longtime Diamondback, short-term Brave and shorter-term Padre, Upton just finished his first season in Michigan. Even after a strong second half, he hit .246, a good notch below his career .268 average. Upton’s biggest strength and weakness both peaked: He tied a personal best with 31 jacks, but struck out a career-high 179 times.
Upton is often considered an underachiever by evaluators and spectators, having been a No. 1 overall pick who never met lofty expectations. Maybe that’s true, but he’s always been a middle-of-the-order threat. He turns 30 in August, so there isn’t much more to develop. Upton is who he is.
But who he is apparently didn’t impress Detroit. Olney reported the team was “ready to move on” and fielded offers, though he later said a Tigers source clarified the team was listening, but not “pushing” for a deal. By all accounts, it sounds like Upton can be had. His contract will limit his market. However, there is one loophole: an opt-out after next year. That can be viewed two different ways. Detroit is probably hoping he rebounds and opts-out, but if attrition takes its toll, Upton can ride out his present deal.
Unlike Cabrera, Upton fits the Dodgers on paper. But does the front office want another peaks and valleys player? Does it want a player who is often accused of loafing? Does it want to absord another $100 million deal for an aging talent? Safe bet is a big no. Upton is a one-trick pony and the type of player Friedman avoids. It would be surprising to see the Dodgers pursue him, but perhaps the team gauges his value to Yoenis Cespedes or Braun and decides to investigate. Upton is inferior to the aforementioned duo, so it’s still unlikely.
1B Miguel Cabrera (34): Signed through 2023, $212 million with $30 million vesting options for 2024 and 2025
How he fits: Well, he doesn’t.
Cabrera has arguably been the best hitter in baseball for the last decade. His greatest accomplishment was earning the Triple Crown in 2012, but he’s also an 11-time All-Star, two-time MVP, two-time American League home run leader, two-time American League RBI leader and four-time American League batting champion (with his latest being 2015). He slashed .316/.393/.563 in 2016. His age has yet to show offensively, as Cabrera has hit over .300 in all of the past eight seasons with 30 or more homers in six of those eight years.
All 30 teams should want Cabrera on their roster, in a vacuum. In reality, he’s the least likely Tiger to be moved. Not because of his production; because of the enormous amount due to him until he turns 42, along with the blurred lines of what Detroit would expect return-wise. Similar to Joey Votto in Cincinnati, the team gave Cabrera a “face of the franchise” payday. As exciting as that is to fans, it more often than not makes said player almost untradeable.
Now factor in he’s a first basemen with further declining athleticism. Cabrera will probably shift into Victor Martinez’s designated hitter role in the near future. If he is on the trading block, his market will be limited to big market American League teams. Even then, Boston, New York and Texas have more frugal alternatives. With Adrian Gonzalez holding down first on a massive contract, this isn’t even a deal fathomable on MLB The Show. Don’t make any bets on “Miggy” wearing anything but a Tigers uniform in the coming years.