July 3rd, 2017
Tigers GM Avila deals from a woeful
Position of weakness in trade talks
By KEITH GAVE
“Hello, Al Avila here.”
“Hey Al. New York Yankees calling. We’re interested in maybe acquiring Justin Verlander.”
“OK. I’m listening.”
“Well, we’re prepared to offer you a couple of cracked bats – but they belonged to Aaron Judge! – and a bucket of used baseballs. . .”
“Oh, well, of course there’s more. We want your club to pay half his salary until his contract expires.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me!”
“Take it or leave it.”
And so goes the fire sale as the beleaguered Tigers general manager starts taking calls to pare his payroll after a season with more hope than promise has gone off the rails at exactly the halfway mark.
Avila threatened a month ago that if his team wasn’t playing at least .500 baseball at the end of June, he’d begin making changes. His team immediately went in reverse. After losing two of three over the weekend to Cleveland, the team they must overcome to win the Central Division if they want to make the playoffs, the Tigers are 36-45, tied with Chicago for last in the Central, eight games behind the Indians.
Injuries have been a factor, to be sure. But the fate of this team was sealed in its woeful inconsistencies, notably in the starting rotation, the bullpen and an offense that too often came up impotent, especially against marginal pitching.
Some fans will scream bloody murder at the very notion of trading Verlander. He has a full no-trade contract; he’s not going anywhere, they’ll say. Hah! Bet on Justin Verlander to be the first among the rats to leave this sinking ship, and remind him not to let the door hit him in the behind on the way out.
In the most inconsistent season of his career, the so-called ace of the staff has been among the primary problems. In what may have been the most pivotal game of the season Sunday against the visiting Indians, Verlander had what might have been his worst start in years. In 3 1/3 innings, he allowed nine hits and seven earned runs. Worse, he walked three and, for the first time in 331 starts, failed to strike out a batter.
If he gets the chance to waive his no-trade clause to join a contending team like the Yankees, the Chicago Cubs or, most likely of all, the Boston Red Sox, trust me, he’ll jump at the opportunity. And if Avila can get a couple of broken bats and a bucket of old balls to dump half of Verlander’s salary, he should jump at that, too.
That’s how it’s going to be as Avila tries to unload salaries amid changing economics in major league baseball. His most coveted players are those on decent contracts:
- Outfielder J.D. Martinez, 29, is on the final year of a contract that is paying him $11.75 million and he’s having his fourth straight outstanding year offensively. He’ll be Detroit’s most coveted player this month as a rental to a contending team. But given the nature of recent contracts around baseball, it’s no sure thing that Martinez will get a big payday like Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes got a few years ago. A nice raise, yes, something reasonable enough that the Tigers should consider keeping him. He’s a player they can rebuild around.
- Catcher Alex Avila, 30, is having his best season since he made was named an American League All-Star early in his career. He has been by far Detroit’s most consistent hitter – and a bargain at $2 million. Already he has been linked to Cubs and Toronto, both in need of backup catching. Will Al Avila trade his son for, say, a centerfield prospect? Bet on it.
- Second baseman Ian Kinsler, 35, is paid $11 million for this season and Detroit has an option to keep him in 2018 for $10 million – or opt out of the contract for $5 million. It only makes sense for the Tigers to shop him around, but moving him won’t be easy. The market for second basemen is soft, and he can block deals to 10 team – like he did with Toronto before the Tigers acquired him in the deal for Prince Fielder.
- Closer Justin Wilson, 29, is also among the Tigers’ most coveted players. For good reason. Left-handed relievers who can throw strikes in the high 90s and close games are among the most valued players in the game. He, too, is a bargain at $2.7 million, and he’s arbitration eligible in 2018. Avila will be offered a lot more than a few cracked bats and some scuffed balls for this guy – and he might take it.
Bottom line, that Tigers have managed to keep our interest throughout this lame season so far, and we can’t help but pay close attention, at least until July 31, MLB’s trade deadline. By then it could be a very different Detroit Tigers team for the final two months of this roller-coaster of a season.