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Ekonomi: Verlander trade shows Tigers finally embrace the rebuild, albeit entirely too late

Posted by On September 01, 2017

Verlander trade shows Tigers finally embrace the rebuild, albeit entirely too late

Verlander trade shows Tigers finally embrace the rebuild, albeit entirely too late

The Tigers have needed to enter this phase for some time, but they used big contracts to push it back

  • รข€¢ 5 min read

The Detroit Tigers went all in on their rebuild as only the Tigers can: With a simultaneous bang and whimper.

During baseball's second trade deadline, the Tigers unloaded Justin Upton and Justin Verlander to the Angels and Astros, respectively. The deals complement the Tigers trading J.D. Martinez to the Diamondbacks before the July 31 deadline, and they represent the shift to a true rebuild for Al Avila and the Detroit Tigers.

Flawed thinking

To be perfectly frank, the way Justin Verlan der's deal was handled was disrespectful to the team's fans. The Tigers not only turned into a pumpkin literally at midnight, they willingly scooped out their innards and made themselves into a jack-o-lantern -- a laughingstock -- simply by virtue of not understanding the way that negotiations in trades work. Ever since Dave Dombrowski was at the helm, the Tigers have allowed fan favorites to blind them to team necessities, inexplicably signing aging or just not-that-good players to nine-figure deals like the Miguel Cabrera extension and Prince Fielder deal.

Now, the Tigers have unloaded Justin Verlander and Justin Upton. Verlander was due $28 million a year until 2020, where he would face a $22 million vesting option (and would be 36 years old). Justin Upton was due $22.125 million until 2022, when he would become a free agent. Meanwhile, the Tigers will be paying Miguel Cabrera at least $30 million a year until he's 42, with his contract sitting at $28 million this year, $30 million in 2018-2021, $32 million in 2022 and 2023, and then $30 million vesting in 2024 and 2025. However, at least out of those three they've gotten some production. The Tigers are also paying Jordan Zimmermann between $18-25 million until the end of 2020, and they signed him this year.

The Tigers confused playoff appearances with being a contender, and the "anything can happen in October" mantra got into their head. They've gone through soft rebuilds year after year, thinking that they would add that "final piece." The question is exactly what success led to them thinking that they were just a piece away. In 2015, the Tigers went through the softest reboot since The Highlander, trading away pieces such as David Price, Joakim Soria and Yoenis Cespedes, all of whom had, if nothing else, played relatively well for them but didn't net huge hauls. It was the second year of Brad Ausmus's tenure, and with Dav e Dombrowski being let go and Avila being promoted, it felt as though the Tigers were finally embracing the reality that they weren't going to win a world series. Earlier that offseason, the Tigers had let Max Scherzer walk and traded perpetual negotiating piece Rick Porcello to net Cespedes and Alex Wilson. They then flipped that haul into a deal that ultimately packaged Cespedes for Michael Fulmer (perhaps the only shrewd move they've made in this span).

The future has been mortgaged

The Tigers also somehow ended up with Cameron Maybin back on their roster, which at the time was hailed as a solid move. The problem is, Maybin was drafted in 2005 by the Tigers. Which comes to the other core of their problems: The Tigers haven't successfully farmed a player since, arguably, Curtis Granderson (who they immediately dealt to the Yankees in a three-team deal that netted them Scherzer -- who ended up walking a few years later). Porcel lo never got an opportunity to flourish in Detroit because he was part of every trade deadline conversation, and he was punished for having a massive payday incoming by Tigers management. Justin Verlander was a can't-miss player that spent only one year in the minors, and all of the rest of their talent over the course of the past decade has been through trades and free agent signings. The Tigers don't value their farm system, they're negotiating pieces, which is why it's questionable that they'll even be able to say they came out on top of these deals when Upton and Verlander are done with baseball -- Franklin Perez, Jake Rogers, Daz Cameron and Grayson Long might not even be on Detroit's roster, victims of some other ham-fisted deal made to save face.

Notably, the Tigers made the World Series twice between 2006 and 2016 and, notably, they got slapped around twice. In 2006 the Tigers played the Cardinals, where they lost in a 4-1 series. Then the Tigers made it again in 2012, where they were swept out by the Giants like a spiderweb in no-man's-land outside. Both appearances were surreal, the Tigers seemingly stumbling through the playoffs and immediately finding themselves in way over their heads, but they invigorated the fanbase and, by extension, management. From 2013 onward, the Tigers outright neglected their bullpen, starting with the 2013 ALCS against the Red Sox where the bullpen completely collapsed (most notably blowing a four-read lead in spectacular fashion to lose Game 2). Jose Valverde had one good year and then utterly collapsed, and closing games became a thing of the past for the Tigers' relievers.

The Tigers simply haven't valued their assets or -- if they have -- they've valued the wrong ones. Management bought into the "Who's Your Tiger?" slogan that the team broadcasts to fans, the only issue being that the fans don't pen multi-million dollar contracts. The T igers had the fourth highest payroll in baseball coming into 2017 but the top three: the Dodgers the Red Sox and the Yankees have either success, a future, or both. The Tigers currently have neither, and unless they start to learn what a rebuild truly is, Tigers fans might be in for an early 2000s type of drought. If they go in that direction, management will quickly learn that the Detroit fan-base can only take so much. It was true then and it's true now -- winning heals all -- but the Tigers have a while before they can even think about healing anything.

So, is there still hope?

Maybe the Tigers lean into this rebuild and finally embrace what they needed to in 2014: They need help, and a lot of it. The Tigers came into 2017 with a chip on their shoulder, the passing of Mike Ilitch weighing heavily on the team. They have underperformed, however, and the lack of talent has been on display.

They added some nice options to their farm s ystem, but they need to build off of that and make a team, not an amalgamation of assets that they were able to pay. It's hard to say if Ausmus has gotten a fair shake -- the team has been in baseball limbo since he's arrived -- but if he's able to help build a roster the Tigers might not be stuck in dark ages for too long.

As things stand, however, it's hard to see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. The Tigers backloaded their future like NFL teams backload player contracts -- if it's not happening now, we don't have to pay ever -- but eventually time always comes to collect, and now the Tigers have interest to pay.

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