Detroit Tigers: Is Cameron Maybin trade a troubling sign of things to come?

Aug 7, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers center fielder Cameron Maybin (4) in the dugout against the New York Mets at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 7, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers center fielder Cameron Maybin (4) in the dugout against the New York Mets at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /

With the Detroit Tigers getting so little in return for Cameron Maybin, is it time to worry that the rebuild movement is simply a salary dump?

The Detroit Tigers wasted no time enacting the first “changes” that general manager Al Avila stated were coming during a press conference last month. The first domino to fall was the trade of Cameron Maybin to the Los Angeles Angeles for minor league RHP Victor Alcantara. The move came less than 24 hours after the Chicago Cubs bested the Cleveland Indians in Game 7 of a classic Fall Classic.

To say goodbye again to Maybin, who quickly became a fan favorite in his second tour of duty in Detroit, has been tough for many Detroit Tigers’ fans. It may be the tip of the iceberg of tough moves to turn a bloated payroll more into line of what a market like Detroit can sustain.

A New Era

Remaking the Detroit Tigers from aging veterans on the verge of contention into a younger, cheaper team built for the future is not popular among most of the fan base used to winning over the last decade. Still, some pledged support for a rebuilding effort. After all, seeing the Cubs and Indians, in the middle or lower portion of the payroll standings, get to where they got this season, while the high-priced Tigers’ players watched from the sidelines, was frustrating.

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Over the years, the Cubs and Indians made shrewd moves, dealing fan favorites for highly regarded prospects from other organizations. Cubs’ fans likely understood that Theo Epstein was building toward something, but Indians’ fans were less understanding with struggling for many years, showing their displeasure with empty seats.

Here’s the thing about high prospects, a few become stars, some pan out and become serviceable major leaguers, but most never make an impact. In other words, for every four Steven Moyas, and two Nick Castellanos, there is only one Michael Fulmer.

Underwhelming Return

So while nothing is a surety, the rebuild crowd understands what the Detroit Tigers need to do. The first volley of what will be a tough offseason was nonetheless surprising. This is because Avila turned a guy who had a career year, granted he battled injuries but more from hard-luck (being hit on wrist in Spring Training) than from being injury-prone, into very little in return.

As Matt Snyder pointed out, Alcantara was just the eighth-best prospect in the Angels’ farm system, which was last in Baseball America’s 2016 rankings. This places him as the 23rd prospect in the Tigers’ system, which ranked not far ahead of the Angels, at  No. 26 overall.

Not only did Maybin have a career year, it was almost like his presence in the lineup sparked the team a little more. Detroit was 55-39 when he played, and 51-38 when he started, compared to 31-36 when Cam was out of the lineup. That’s what’s known as “intangibles,” something that can’t be completely explained on the stat sheet, but is still a distinct factor. Not only do the Tigers now have a huge hole in center, they’ll also have that to deal with as well.

Troubling Strategy

You want to believe that although no trades can be completed until the end of the postseason, Al Avila was doing his due diligence and shopping Cam around in the days before the World Series ended. They were up against a hard deadline because the team had to decide if they’d pay Maybin’s $9 million option or let him walk with nothing in return.

Perhaps this was the best Avila could do for the journeyman centerfielder, but its hard to fight the perception that Avila, instead of picking up the option and trading him later, needed to either trade him now or let him walk to get his salary completely off the books.

If that’s the case, it’s concerning what the Tigers may get for the likes of J.D. Martinez, Ian Kinsler, Justin Upton, and, if they are really desperate to shed payroll and blow this thing up, Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera.

When a Rebuild Becomes a Salary Dump

Martinez in particular is a curious case. On one hand, he has established himself as a perennial power bat and a serviceable outfielder while a reclamation project in Detroit. On the other hand, he has only a year left on his contract before free agency. Would a team be willing to give up a top five prospect, or multiple prospects, for a guy that could be a one-year rental?

Perhaps guys like Martinez and Maybin would receive a more lucrative return at the trading deadline when teams are more willing to take that risk. Yet, with the Tigers seemingly in full tear-down mode, they don’t appear willing or able to carry these guys onto the April payroll books.

Next: Tigers: What the Cameron Maybin Trade Means for 2017

Therefore, will Avila be more willing to settle for less for his marquee players? If that’s the case, this rebuilding movement just became an all-out salary dump. Meaning, hopes of a quick turnaround for the franchise to contend again within the next 4-5 years appear more and more remote.