Tigers could get creative with WM moves

As Winter Meetings approach, Avila looks to keep Tigers competitive

Tigers could get creative with WM moves

DETROIT -- The last time the Tigers went into an offseason looking to trade established talent with payroll in mind, their masterpiece came at the Winter Meetings. It was the three-team trade that sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees, Edwin Jackson to the D-backs, and Max Scherzer, Austin Jackson and Phil Coke to Detroit.

It happened in 2009 in Indianapolis, the last northern city to host baseball's Winter Meetings -- until next week, when executives, managers and other baseball officials gather near Washington, D.C.

Dave Dombrowski was the Tigers' general manager then, but Al Avila was his top assistant. David Chadd, John Westhoff and Scott Bream were on his staff, too. Now, with Avila in charge, this is the team tasked with trying to create some financial maneuverability while remaining competitive in a division that has produced the past three American League champions.

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MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2016 Winter Meetings from the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center outside Washington, D.C. Fans can watch live streaming of all news conferences and manager availability on MLB.com, including the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 8 at 9 a.m. ET.

The Tigers will pay more than $3 million in luxury tax this year on a franchise-record $216 million payroll. They knew they would be paying the tax when they signed Justin Upton back in February. With $173 million in guaranteed contracts on the roster for 2017, not including a $6 million payment to Texas to cover part of Prince Fielder's contract, the Tigers will pay luxury tax again -- this time at a higher rate -- unless they trade away some of those salaries.

They already made one such trade this offseason, sending Cameron Maybin and his $9 million contract option to the Angels for pitching prospect Victor Alcantara. They'll surely do something bigger at the Winter Meetings, though what exactly that is remains to be seen.

The Granderson deal, an unpopular trade of one of Detroit's most popular players, laid the groundwork for the Tigers' four consecutive AL Central titles from 2011-14. Ironically, the contracts that came out of those years are partly behind the deals that Detroit must do now. Avila and his advisors would love to do something similar to that Granderson trade, but it'll be easier said than done.

The most likely Tiger to be traded -- and the easiest path to a lower payroll for 2017 -- is All-Star right fielder J.D. Martinez, a potential free agent next winter under contract for $11.75 million in '17. The Giants and Dodgers have already been linked in reports. Ian Kinsler's contract situation -- $11 million this year, followed by a $5 million option for '18 -- makes him the next-most appealing candidate, though he has a 10-team list of clubs that require his approval for a deal. That includes the Dodgers, who reportedly held preliminary talks but would have to pick up Kinsler's option plus sign him beyond '18 for his approval.

Tigers could deal J.D. Martinez

Expect both of those names to come up a lot next week, as well as closer Francisco Rodriguez, whose $6 million option was exercised by the Tigers a few weeks ago. The potential wrinkle to these Meetings will be if the Tigers have serious discussions on franchise pillars Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, who formed the foundation of the Tigers' winning ways this decade but also hold the biggest contracts.

Neither is likely to go, for financial as well as competitive reasons. However, history shows that when general managers get together and talk in person rather than by phone or text, teams can get creative, and deals once barely imaginable become reality. And if the Tigers are serious about their payroll concerns, they have incentive to get creative.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.