Next Steps: Complete Offseason Guide, Predictions for the Detroit Tigers
Despite three consecutive division titles, an AL Championship and two other ALCS appearances since 2011, not capturing a World Series flag with such a talented roster has to be a disappointment. But the window of contention is still wide open.
Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander aren't slowing down, and there is still a solid group of players surrounding them. The Tigers also have the means to retain their talent and continue to acquire more.
They will, however, need to start rebuilding their farm system or they could eventually face the difficult task of not having the young and inexpensive players ready to take on the load once their superstars do begin to decline during seasons in which they're still collecting big paychecks.
General manager Dave Dombrowski will likely have the ability to add to the payroll once again, but he could also explore a deal or deals that serve a sole purpose of restocking a farm system without much talent on the way.
Here's everything you'll need to know before Dombrowski and the front office get started.
With $107 million guaranteed to only six players and another six arbitration-eligible players, including Cy Young award candidate Max Scherzer (pictured), who could make a combined $40 million, the Tigers are already right around where they started in 2013 without accounting for more than half of the 25-man roster. According to Baseball Prospectus, the 2013 Opening Day payroll was $148,693,600.
Fortunately, they are a big-market club and have the resources to go much higher. Home attendance has climbed steadily each of the past few years, maxing out at 38,066 in 2013, according to ESPN. Three consecutive playoff appearances also help tremendously.
As they were when they swooped in and signed Prince Fielder a couple of offseasons ago, the Tigers are a threat to spend big dollars in free agency, so the high number of guaranteed dollars shouldn't limit them this winter.
Three players who were key to the team's success in 2013—closer Joaquin Benoit, second baseman Omar Infante (pictured) and shortstop Jhonny Peralta—are eligible for free agency.
Without reliable in-house replacements for Benoit and Infante, the Tigers could try hard to retain both players. Peralta, on the other hand, will be a popular free agent as both a shortstop and third base target, but the Tigers are set at both spots with Jose Iglesias and Miguel Cabrera.
The 31-year-old would like to stay with Detroit, according to John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press, but he'd have to be willing to play left field as he did late in the season when he returned from a 50-game PED suspension. With some very good outfield options available in free agency, it's unlikely that re-signing Peralta to play outfield is a priority.
A decision the Tigers will have to make in the near future is whether to exercise or decline the $3.25 million club option for reliever Jose Veras, who had a 3.20 ERA in 25 appearances after being acquired from Houston in July. If they happen to re-sign Benoit prior to the deadline for them to make a decision on a contract option, there's a good chance they could part ways. If not, they could play it safe and bring him back for another season at what is a reasonable price for a reliable setup man.
Backups Brayan Peña and Ramon Santiago are also eligible for free agency, as are relievers Jeremy Bonderman and Octavio Dotel. If any of the four return, it will be at a very cheap rate.
Holes to Fill
There aren't any major holes to fill for the Tigers, who won 93 regular season games and advanced to the ALCS before being eliminated by the Red Sox in six games. They're certainly not in a position to stand pat, though, so expect plenty of offseason activity.
Starting with a search for a new manager after Jim Leyland stepped down from his post, general manager Dave Dombrowksi could be looking to fill holes at second base, left field and the bullpen. The level of aggressiveness at which he tries to re-sign any of the team's free agents or pursues an upgrade through free agency or trade depends on what he thinks of his in-house options.
Those in-house options include infielder Hernan Perez, left fielder Nick Castellanos and reliever Bruce Rondon, all who spent time in the majors in 2013.
The 22-year-old Perez would form quite a defensive duo up the middle with Jose Iglesias but lacks much offensive firepower at this stage of his career. After Infante's terrific season at the plate (.795 OPS, 10 HR), it might be too much of a downgrade to replace him with Perez.
Castellanos, who came into the season as the team's top prospect, had an up-and-down year in Triple-A and might not be quite ready to take on a regular role. He'll be just 22 at the start of the 2014 season.
After entering last spring as the favorite to win the closer's job, the hard-throwing Rondon struggled in the majors early in the season. After a minor league stint, he helped to solidify the bullpen with a strong performance once he returned in late June.
In addition to those three potential holes, the team could be on the lookout for starting pitching help if they were to trade one of their current starters. Max Scherzer, who will be a free agent after the 2014 season, has been rumored to be a potential trade candidate.
Potential Free-Agent Targets
You can never count the Tigers out from making a big move. Last winter, it was the signing of Torii Hunter and the re-signing of Anibal Sanchez. The year before, it was Prince Fielder. Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit were signed prior to the 2011 season. The blockbuster trade that brought them Austin Jackson and Max Scherzer occurred the year before that.
There's no reason to think that things will change this time around, especially after failing to win a title during a run of three consecutive playoff appearances.
Here are some potential free-agent targets who could finally push them over the top.
Robinson Cano, 2B: Cano's potential $310 million asking price has been big news, as has the Yankees' interest in wanting to keep him in New York. What we haven't heard are which other teams aside from the Yankees could be interested in seriously pursuing Cano (pictured).
Now that the Dodgers are almost certainly out of the mix after signing Cuban second baseman Alexander Guerrero to a $28 million deal, the Tigers would appear to be the most likely candidate because of their need at the position and their abundance of resources.
Jacoby Ellsbury, OF: Austin Jackson had a solid season with a .754 OPS. He just wasn't nearly as good as he had been in 2012, when he posted an .856 OPS.
It doesn't mean the Tigers are looking for an upgrade so they could move him to the bench. But adding a center fielder/leadoff hitter like Ellsbury would allow the Tigers to move Jackson to a corner outfield spot and move him down in the order where he wouldn't be under as much pressure to strikeout less and get on base more.
Shin-Soo Choo, OF: Signing Choo would also allow the team to move Jackson down lower in the order, although he could stay in center field in this particular scenario. The on-base machine Choo might score 120 runs hitting ahead of Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, Fielder and Martinez.
Joe Nathan, RP: Shaky relief pitching in the playoffs has been an issue with the Tigers over the past two seasons. Signing Nathan, still one of the best closer's in the game at age 38, would put those concerns to rest.
With a strong five-man rotation in place and lefty Drew Smyly also deserving of an opportunity, the Tigers could look to make a deal this offseason.
Max Scherzer, who went 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA during the regular season, is entering his final season before he becomes eligible for free agency. With agent Scott Boras unlikely to negotiate a contract extension, he could become a trade candidate.
Replacing Scherzer with Smyly isn't going to make the team stronger. But it could help to add some much-needed talent to a very weak farm system. A safer move could be to trade Doug Fister or Rick Porcello (pictured), both of whom will make around $7 or $8 million next season in arbitration and would net the Tigers a decent return.
Signing a free agent outfielder could also open up the possibility of trading either Austin Jackson or prospect Nick Castellanos.
Here are some potential trade targets that could help at the big league level.
Brandon Phillips, 2B, Cincinnati Reds: The Reds could be looking to shake things up after a disappointing end to their season and the Tigers could be interested in accommodating them. Adding Phillips, who is still owed $50 million over the next four seasons, would give Detroit a veteran Gold Glove winner to partner with Jose Iglesias up the middle, as well as some more pop to the middle of an already powerful lineup.
Andre Ethier, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers: If the Tigers are willing to take on a good chunk of the $71.5 million remaining on Ethier's contract—it expires after the 2017 season—the price to acquire him may be affordable for a team without much to offer in young talent.
J.J. Putz, RP, Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs have a lot of money tied up in their bullpen, including $7 million to Putz. Since he didn't even finish as the team's closer after an injury-plagued season, it's likely the team is willing to part ways. The 36-year-old had a 1.25 ERA in his final 26 appearances so it appears he still has plenty left in the tank.