Well, that post from earlier this morning didn’t sit around for too long before becoming irrelevant – the Detroit Tigers have reportedly agreed to a five-year, $110 million contract with free agent starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann.
zimmermann and tigers have reached a deal
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) November 29, 2015
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) November 29, 2015
As I mentioned this morning, Zimmermann seems to be an odd fit for the Tigers, a team with plenty of large contracts already on its ledger for the future. The $22 million average annual value of Zimmermann’s contract from the 2016 to the 2020 seasons increases Detroit’s commitment to $145 million for eight players in 2016, $132 million for six players (and two buyouts) in 2017, $114 million for four players (and two buyouts) in 2018, $80 million for three players in 2019, and $52 million for two players in 2020. Those salary values also include the $6 million the team owes the Rangers for Prince Fielder’s contract.
And while Zimmermann is a good pitcher and this is fair market deal for him, Detroit is still an odd fit, future payroll chaos be damned. The Tigers lost 87 games last year, are starting young, flawed players at short, third, catcher, and left field, and are counting on aging veterans who dealt with injuries last year (minus Ian Kinsler) to pull them towards success.
Think about this for a minute. One Tiger starter qualified for the ERA title in 2015 – free agent Alfredo Simon, who had a 5.05 ERA. Anibal Sanchez ranked second on the team with 157 innings, and his ERA was 4.99 over 25 starts. David Price had the third-most innings with 146, and was traded to the Blue Jays in July. In fourth was Justin Verlander, who threw 133 1/3 innings, the first time since his 2006 rookie year that he failed to throw 200 innings (and the first time he had ever failed to make 30 starts). This isn’t a team that’s once piece away from success – Zimmermann will clearly help the rest of the Tigers rotation, but he’s not going to help Verlander pitch like his old Cy Young self, and he’s not going to help Sanchez actually stay healthy (which has always been the knock on him throughout his career).
When Dave Dombrowski left the organization over the summer, he got grief for turning the team into sellers instead of trying to contend for a playoff spot. Years of trading prospects for veterans and sacrificing draft picks to sign free agents had left the team’s farm system rather barren. Dombrowski’s trades of Price, Yoenis Cespedes, and Joakim Soria helped slightly bolster that farm system…and now Al Avila is taking the Tigers back to their old ways. He already traded for Brewers closer Francisco Rodriguez and now, he’ll be sacrificing Detroit’s second round pick to sign Zimmermann.
It’s not a stretch to see how this contract will work out poorly for the Tigers. My main question coming out of the signing is “what’s next?”, because the Tigers clearly aren’t going to be entering a rebuild. Will they look to upgrade their rotation or bullpen further? Will they stand pat with their outfield of Gose/Collins-Maybin-Martinez? Are Nick Castellanos and James McCann guaranteed starting jobs? Whatever ends up happening with the Tigers, one thing is definitely clear – the GM may have changed, but the philosophy is still the same.