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A Tigers rebuild isn’t here yet, but it will be eventually

Saturday’s Say Hey, Baseball includes Detroit’s strategy, top prospects, and a 1999 infield.

Kansas City Royals v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

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Earlier this offseason, it looked as if we might see not one, but two, AL Central clubs try to kick off the rebuilding process this year — with the Detroit Tigers hinting that they would potentially start unloading some of their best (and priciest) players alongside the Chicago White Sox.

Back in November, general manager Al Avila said the team was "open-minded" on all trade scenarios, including those involving Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera. Of course that didn’t happen, and the Tigers are set for another season with one of the highest payrolls in baseball, even though their window for contention seems to be barely cracked, if not already closed.

But the Tigers reportedly want the monster contracts that have defined them for the past several years to officially be a thing of the past as soon as possible, rather than a recurring trend. Avila told the Detroit Free Press yesterday that he wants to cut spending after this season: "Our situation, really, it’s a tough situation. Everybody’s looked at our payroll, and it’s over $200 million. This will be the second year we’re going over the luxury tax; we certainly are not going to go over the luxury tax for a third year."

That’s not at all surprising (the new collective bargaining agreement has harsher penalties for teams over the luxury tax), but it’s also much easier said than done. J.D. Martinez, Anibal Sanchez and Mike Pelfrey will become free agents for 2018, along with a few others. But the biggest culprits here — Verlander and Cabrera—are under contract until 2020 and 2024, respectively. Throw in the pricy contracts of Victor Martinez (set until 2019) and Justin Upton (2022), and it’s really not a pretty picture. With this set of albatrosses around their neck for a while yet, major changes in the composition of the team are still a ways off. But changes in front office strategy and intention look like they might be coming soon.