He’s 86 years old, and looks like a shell of himself. Sometimes, when you look at a person, it appears as if they look exactly as they will when they are lying in a casket. For Mike Illitch, his pasty complexion and poorly-matched toupee provide this image. He’s celebrated as the man most responsible for bringing success to city of Detroit; not only for the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers, but also for the work he has done to create a globally-recognized pizzeria in Little Caesar’s, as well as the ownership of the Fox Theatre (along with his wife owning Motor City Casino).
As the years have crept up on Mr. Illitch, the checkbook seems to have expanded more for his sports teams; especially the Detroit Tigers. In 2016, the Tigers are responsible for a payroll of over $200 million. The top four contracts that are being paid-out this year belong to Justin Verlander ($28 million), Miguel Cabrera ($28 million), Justin Upton ($22.1 million), and Jordan Zimmerman ($18 million). Verlander and Cabrera are being paid for years that came in the past; both have won the American League MVP, Cabrera is a triple-crown winner, and Verlander is a Cy Young winner.
This year, Verlander has been more impressive than last, but is still only 8-6 with a 4.07 ERA. He has 120 strikeouts, but the fastball velocity still isn’t what it was as recently as three years ago. Cabrera is having an All-Star-worthy year, but not typical Cabrera numbers. He only has 18 homeruns, hitting .293, and 53 RBIs. He’s continued to slow down on the base paths as age and injuries have crept up on him.
Upton is only batting .235 with nine homeruns. Although most of his production has occurred within the last four weeks or so, these aren’t the numbers that seem worthy of making over $22 million. Then, there’s Jordan Zimmerman. He got off to a hot start, going 19 1/3 innings without giving up a run. Now, his ERA is up to 3.96 in 95 innings pitched. His 1.24 WHIP is above his career average of 1.17, and he is currently resting on the disabled list.
Then, there’s on-again, off-again Anibal Sanchez. His season has been far less than impressive; boasting a 5-10 record, 6.75 ERA, and only 71 strikeouts. He has been so underwhelming that he got moved to the bullpen, and only receiving time as a starter again because the Tigers have had injuries with Zimmerman and rookie Daniel Norris. At $16.8 million, the Tigers were expecting the type of production they got from him three years ago when he won the ERA title for the American League.
Despite the fact the Tigers are in second place in the American League Central and second place in contention for the final Wild Card spot, that doesn’t mean this is a team that is close to making the playoffs, or even succeeding in the playoffs. They are still four games out of that second Wild Card spot, and 6.5 games behind rival Cleveland Indians; a team the Tigers have only been able to beat once in 11 attempts.
Players like Mike Aviles and Mark Lowe have been abominations. While Jarrod Saltalamacchia has been a decent back-up to James McCann, his early production has slowed as his consistent playing time decreased.
With all of these factors being weighed, it may be time for Mike Illitch to wave the white flag and become sellers for the second straight year. The Tigers traded Yoenis Cespedes, David Price, and Joakim Soria last year. Now, they have young talent (such as Daniel Norris and Michael Fulmer) who can continue developing into budding stars for the team as a result.
It would be easy to assume it would be in the best interest for the Tigers to attempt the same strategy again this year. J.D. Martinez and Steven Moya will be two of the Tigers top trade pieces, but even they probably wouldn’t bring in enough talent to make a serious impact to the Tigers. With the Tigers large contracts, they are in a predicament where they might not be able to make very many moves at all at the off-season, and be stuck riding the season out with the team that they currently have.
If this is the case, the Tigers will need to up their production in the three key elements of their game (starting pitching, relief pitching, and offense) if the Tigers are going to make any serious traction in pursuit for a championship that has been eluding owner Mike Illitch for many years now. Otherwise, they may not win one before it’s too late for their owner to see his dreams come true.