Tigers Considering Major Changes

detroit_tigers_logoThey are not calling it a fire sale.  Let’s get that out of the way first. Dave Dombrowski has conducted fire sales before, most notably following the 1997 championship season with the Florida Marlins.  This, he says, is not a fire sale.

The GM meetings don’t usually bring much noise, and there were no major moves made by the Tigers during this round of meetings which wrapped up last night in Chicago.  But what we learned may give us a deep insight into the immediate and long-term future of the Detroit franchise.

Curtis Granderson
Image via Wikipedia

News first broke Tuesday that the Tigers were at least listening to, and possibly even making offers on deals that included all-star right hander Edwin Jackson.  It was also reported that catcher Gerald Laird was made available by the Tigers.  Then Wednesday, straight out of a Lynn Henning wet dream, word spread that Detroit was open to dealing to the fray, all-star Curtis Granderson.  By the end of the day, all-star third baseman Brandon Inge’s name had been added.

Is this simply a case of a GM doing his due diligence and being open to talking about deals that might improve his club, deals that would routinely be spoken about in any given off season?  Or is there something bigger here?

I’ll not get into the economic state that the Detroit area finds itself in.  We all know what’s happened with the auto industry and the sky-high unemployment rate.  We also know that the Tigers have salary commitments for 2010 that they will not be able to move.  No GM, in this economy, will be persuaded to take on the bad contracts the Tigers would like to dump.

So it would appear that Dombrowski might be open to moving some of the team’s younger players like Jackson and Granderson in an attempt to restock the thinning farm system and hopefully bring back some pieces they can add to the major league roster for 2010.

But make no mistake, the economy does play a factor here.  Would the Tigers like to deal away the names that have been mentioned? In a perfect world, the easy answer is no.  Ideally, the Tigers would build their club around players like Jackson and Granderson.  They would like to have Laird as the mentor to Alex Avila behind the plate and they would want Inge’s glove manning the hot corner.

Major League Baseball Rookie of the Year Award

Image via Wikipedia

Or is it simply that Detroit is exploring the possibilities of selling off on Jackson when his value is at its peak?  If all are healthy, the Tigers appear to have a surplus of potential starting pitchers, none whose trade value is as high as Jackson’s (Verlander and Porcello obviously have higher value, but they aren’t going anywhere).

If the Tigers feel they can plug a hole at shortstop (for example) by trading Jackson and still have a solid group of starting pitchers, they would be fools not to do that.  Jackson would begin next season as the number three starter in Detroit, but there are others that can conceivably fill that role.  While neither Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson, nor Armando Galarraga have inspired much confidence, all will be a part of the team next year.  If someone fails, Eddie Bonine and Zach Miner can step in as well.

I think there is a strong possibility that Jackson does end up getting dealt, but I doubt that Granderson does.  Granderson had a terrible season (excluding all the home runs) last year, so trading him makes little sense, especially at a still affordable $5 million next year.  With Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen penciled in as corner outfielders, the Tigers need Granderson in center.

As far as Laird and Inge go, Laird is arbitration eligible and will get a good-sized raise from his $2.7 million salary of a season ago.  Detroit may and should feel like there are cheaper options to nurture Avila along while splitting duties behind the plate.  Inexpensive backup-type catchers are seemingly always available, so there should be plenty of options in replacing Laird on the team, with minimal impact on the outcome of games.  For all that Laird brought to the 2009 Tigers defensively, the guy simply struggles with the bat.  Those catchers don’t cost $3.5 million per year.

Fernando Rodney
Image by Keith Allison via Flickr

Inge is entering the final year of his contract that pays him $6.3 million next season.  His first half of 2009 was amazing, but once he injured his knees, his offense fell off the map.  A healthy Inge is essential to this team, especially with the glove, but he has never been a strong hitter.  Trading Inge would free up some payroll that could be allocated to re-signing a Brandon Lyon or a Fernando Rodney, but it would also leave a gaping hole at third base.  If the Tigers could find a suitable replacement (and I don’t think that player is currently in the organization), it may be wise to make such a move.

(major hat tip, as always, to MLB Trade Rumors)

Editor’s note: This will be John’s last post here at Baseball Reflections & I personally wanted to tank him for his work and support over these months!

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