I’m not totally crazy, I promise. Why would the Tigers trade an 11-time All Star, 4-time AL Batting Champion, the first Triple Crown winner in 45 years — Basically, a no-doubt first-ballot Hall of Famer? Well, I can’t speak for Tigers GM Al Avila. However, I can at least try and convince him, and you, to have an open mind.
Why would the Tigers trade him?
The first question that needs to be addressed is why in the world should the Tigers even consider trading Miguel Cabrera? Speaking to local reporters, Avila said, “We want to get younger. We want to get leaner. We want to run the organization without having to go over our means. We want to stay competitive, but at the same time, this organization has been working way above its means for some time.”
The exigence of the Tigers’ organization can benefit the Mets. Cabrera, who will celebrate his 34th birthday in April next year, has eight years left on his contract. He will be paid $28M in 2017, $30M annually through 2021, then $32M through 2023. He has options for 2024 and 2025, but they only vest if he finishes in the top 10 in MVP voting the year prior, but if they do vest, they include an $8M buyout. He fits the description of the aging, highly paid player the Tigers are looking to shed, but at the same time, he still has value. Why would the Tigers trade him and not some of their other huge contracts?
Let’s look at the other huge contracts the Tigers currently have. Justin Verlander, 33, has four years and $106M left on his contract. He had a great year this year (16-9, 3.04 ERA, 254 Ks), which is exactly why the Tigers won’t trade him yet. After him, Jordan Zimmermann, and Michael Fulmer, they don’t really have much of a starting rotation. Mike Pelfrey started 22 games for them last year, and that says a lot. They do have prospect Daniel Norris who saw some time in the Show this past season, but he is still relatively unproven.
The Tigers will probably be looking to add a starting pitcher this offseason, not trade one. This will probably mean they also retain Jordan Zimmermann, who is only 30 years old and is still under contract for 4 years and $92M. Another huge contract they have is Anibal Sanchez, who still has 2 years and $32.8M on his contract, however it would be very difficult for them to trade him because of his ineffectiveness. From 2015-16, he went 17-23 with a 5.42 ERA and a 1.369 WHIP.
I don’t see the Tigers trading outfielder J.D. Martinez, who is only 29 and is under contract for one year and $11.7M. 29 year-old outfielder Justin Upton still has 4 years and $88M on his contract, but again, he is young. Second baseman Ian Kinsler, 34, just had a phenomenal year, and they still owe him only 2 years and $21M. The only other huge contract they have is 37 year-old Victor Martinez (2 years, $36M), and the trade market for him would be limited to the American League because he can only DH.
So, that eliminates all of the Tigers’ huge contracts other than Miggy, the biggest of all. With those other big bats in their lineup, their offense would be just fine without his production. It seems like if they realistically want to unload a lot of money while bringing in a good haul in return, and remaining serious contenders, trading Miggy would be the way to go.
What would it take?
So, what would it take to bring him to New York? The Tigers have what is widely considered one of the worst farm systems in baseball. More specifically, they don’t have many if any first base prospects to replace Miggy. If the Mets put together a package with prospect Dominic Smith as the centerpiece, it might get their attention. Smith, 21, is a .296 career minor league hitter and had a phenomenal 2016 in Binghamton, slashing .302/.367/.457 with 14 home runs and 93 RBIs in 130 games.
Just Dominic Smith is obviously not even close to enough. As he might not be totally ready for the bigs, the Tigers might want a stop gap at first base. Enter Lucas Duda, who is only under contract for one more year and will be paid somewhere in the neighborhood of $8M. There has been speculation that Michael Conforto will try his hand at first base this coming spring, and Miggy or not, that would spell less playing time for Duda anyways.
Duda, who hit 57 home runs in 2014-15 but missed most of last season with an injury, could be attractive to the Tigers. All of their starters are right handed (except switch-hitter Victor Martinez), so having Duda’s lefty bat in the lineup would be beneficial to them. He’s only under contract for one year, so he would be a Tiger until Dominic Smith, also a lefty, is ready, either after the 2017 season or, perhaps, at the trade deadline.
Like I mentioned earlier, the Tigers would be in the market for a young starting pitcher. Barring any setbacks, the Mets should come into the spring with a bunch of young healthy starters including Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, Seth Lugo, and Robert Gsellman. Many fans, including myself, also would love to see Bartolo Colon return to the Mets for 2017. There’s a saying that you can never have enough pitching, however there’s also a saying that you deal from your strengths.
The Mets would certainly love to avoid trading Thor, deGrom, or Matz. Wheeler’s trade value is greatly diminished right now, and Harvey’s is practically non-existent. However, adding 26 year-old Seth Lugo (5-2, 2.67 ERA) or 23 year-old Robert Gsellman (4-2, 2.42 ERA) to the trade package would peak the Tigers’ interest a little more. They both showed that they can be very effective at the Major League level, especially during a Wild Card race. The Tigers have a strong top of their rotation as I mentioned earlier, with Verlander, Zimmermann, Fulmer, and maybe young Daniel Norris, however the fifth spot in that rotation could use a serious upgrade. Again, Mike Pelfrey? Really?
So far, we have a package including Dominic Smith, Lucas Duda, and either Seth Lugo or Robert Gsellman. If the Mets were to take on Miggy’s entire contract, the Tigers might ask for less in return because, as Al Avila said, they’re spending too much money. That being said, however, I still don’t think those three players will be enough.
The Tigers could also be in the market for a catcher. Their catchers Jarrod Saltalamacchia and James McCann hit .171 and .221 respectively in 2016. Travis d’Arnaud, who made only $542k in 2016 and is not in line for a major pay raise, would sweeten the deal some more. While he has seemingly underperformed, his current numbers are better than the Tigers’ 2016 catchers, and his potential would make him more attractive to the Tigers.
So, to recap, the Tigers get Lucas Duda, Dominic Smith, Travis d’Arnaud, Seth Lugo / Robert Gsellman, and most likely a mix of some other prospects. In return, the Mets get Miguel Cabrera and take on most if not all of his contract, and possibly some low-level prospects. This frees up $20M for the Tigers in 2017 and $30M from 2018-2020 While bolstering their farm system some.
Why would the Mets want to do this?
The dude can hit. Like, he’s really good. If you don’t know just how good he is, let me try and articulate it. He is an 11-time All Star and 6-time Silver Slugger. He is a 4-time batting champion and has hit over .300 in all 13 of his full seasons except 2008 when he hit .292. Since 2004, he has averaged 187 hits, 33 home runs, and 115 RBIs a season. He is a career .321/.399/.563 hitter, good for a career .961 OPS, with 446 home runs. In 2012, he hit .330 with 44 home runs and 139 RBIs, winning the first Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. The list goes on and on.
He would make a fantastic addition to the Mets lineup, or any lineup for that matter. He would provide the consistent offense the Mets need while deepening the lineup. Assuming Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce return, the top of the Mets lineup would be quite formidable with Jose Reyes and Asdrubal Cabrera at the top with Miggy, Yo, and Bruce behind them. Without considering the financial aspect, the reasons for trading for Miguel Cabrera are obvious. Unfortunately, though, consider the financials we must.
As was stated already, Miggy has 8 years and $212M remaining on his contract. The Mets have been increasing their payroll each season in recent years, so it is logical to assume they could add his contract. If they were to trade Duda and d’Arnaud in this deal, the Mets would “only” be adding $20M for 2017. To relieve that, they could trade Jay Bruce, who is in line to make $13M, assuming the Mets pick up his 2017 option.
The money would obviously be there if Yoenis Cespedes walks and the Mets don’t resign him, however if the Mets were to tell him that he could be hitting behind Miguel Cabrera, that would be an attractive prospect to him. There would be many times that other teams pitch around Cabrera to pitch to Cespedes, creating a lot of RBI opportunities for him.
As for 2018-2020, that’s a different story. 2017 is the last season Curtis Granderson is under contract, so after next year, the $15M he’s being paid will finally be off the books. Asdrubal Cabrera will be paid $8.25M in 2017 and has a $8.5M option for 2018, but that has a $2M buyout. By then, the Mets could have a cheaper option for shortstop, possibly Matt Reynolds or Gavin Cecchini.
As a Mets fan, I don’t like confronting this possibility, but there is also the possibility that David Wright‘s injuries become too much to play through, forcing his retirement. From 2017-20, he is slated to make $20M, $20M, $15M, and $12M. If he opts to retire before the completion of that contract, that would free up a lot of money.
That addresses a bunch of money coming off the books, but there will also be a lot of money coming onto them. The Mets have a lot of home grown pitchers that will eventually have to get paid a lot of money, some sooner than others. Jacob deGrom should see a significant pay raise this year, with Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler eventually following suit. However, we’re talking about a long period of time and pitchers with vast injury histories and major trade value, it’s tough to say exactly what will happen.
Obviously $30M a season is a ton of money. However, Miguel Cabrera is an incredibly durable and consistent hitter who is also widely known to be a fantastic clubhouse personality. Having him around would almost certainly help the development of the Mets’ young hitters, as well as bolster the lineup on a daily basis.
Now, I’m not saying this should happen, per se. However, the fact remains that the Mets want to win now, and the Tigers need to cut commitments. 2015 saw a great deadline deal that worked out very well for both of these teams, when Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Fulmer were swapped. This trade would bring a hitter to New York who would immediately go down as one of the best to ever wear the orange and blue, right up there with Mike Piazza and Willie Mays. Would I do this if I were the Mets GM? Probably not. Will it happen? Probably not — But it’s fun to think about.
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