Take a look.
See anything you like?
To frame this discussion, if we assume that nothing BIG happens in Motown in 2013 (except maybe a World Series championship) most of the guys earning significant salaries this season will be around next season. The only “vacancies” will be in the middle infield – as Jhonny Peralta and Omar Infante will be free agents – and in the bullpen as the Tigers stand to lose Joaquin Benoit and Octavio Dotel. That, to be frank, doesn’t really free up a huge amount of cash… and most of that would probably be eaten up by the inevitable arbitration raises to guys like Jackson and Fister. The Tigers could make a big splash and push payroll close to luxury tax levels. Or they could try to fill those holes on the cheap. OR… they could move salary and add salary at the same time.
What makes the first option seem so attractive is Dierkes’ #1 from the class of 2014: Robinson Cano. Just by coincidence, the best available player plays the Tigers biggest position of need. Now, there’s really no reason to start dreaming of lineup cards with Cano in them: it seems awfully unlikely that the Yankees would let him get away. And… the 2014 middle infield group doesn’t have a huge amount of depth: if you want star Cano is it. The next best second baseman after him is likely our very own Omar Infante. After him you get old guys and guys that can’t hit and old guys that can’t hit. It doesn’t help that the Tigers will also be looking for a shortstop – and the shortstop options a year from now will be little better (and not much different) than this offseason. You’ve got Peralta, you’ve got Stephen Drew, you’ve got old guys and guys that can’t hit and old guys that can’t hit. One of those guys that can’t hit IS interesting: glove wizard Brendan Ryan of the Mariners. I’d be a little wary, first because teams have started to pay great gloves something closer to value and second because Ryan is teetering on the verge of becoming an old guy that can’t hit. Why is that a problem? Well… old guys don’t tend to be the same glove wizards they were when they were just a few years younger and if Ryan is only a slightly above average defender he’s a pretty terrible player.
So what do the Tigers do…??? If they want good relievers, there will always be good relievers to sign to replace Dotel and Benoit. Or they could just resign Dotel and Benoit. That’s not interesting. The VOID will be in the middle infield. Should the Tigers make a huge splash on Cano and hit implausibly high payroll figures? Only Mike Ilitch can say. Should the Tigers just re-sign the guys they already have at the positions? You’re not getting better, or younger, or cheaper if you do that. There is another option (or two). There are OTHER positions in next year’s free agent class that offer significantly more depth.
The primary position of depth looks to be – at this point – starting pitching. Barring injury that is something that the Tigers frankly do not need, the rotation is among the best there is already. But as the Cleveland Indians and others have shown, that isn’t necessarily the right way to go about thinking about your roster needs: every player that you have currently under contract has a market value equal to the difference between what they are getting paid and what an equivalent player would have to be paid on the market. The Indians traded Shin Soo Choo for (effectively) Trevor Bauer, Drew Stubbs and Nick Swisher.
The Tigers best option to fill the middle infield void – or at least one half of the middle infield void – might be to do the same with a starting pitcher. Available among the top free agents of the next class are Josh Joshnson, Adam Wainright, Matt Garza, Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum. The class isn’t particularly top heavy, there are a lot of talented guys in lower tiers too like Johann Santana, Edinson Volquez, Phil Hughes, Jason Vargas and more. The Tigers will have only one more year (under contract) of both Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer and unless one falls apart I would have to think that the team is unlikely to extend them both. Dealing one – or both – might be a good idea following the season if the right pieces could be had: namely young and talented middle infielders. If the right moves were made with the right timing we could see the Tigers trading Max Scherzer for a shortstop and Tim Lincecum.