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Detroit Tigers

Tigers sleepwalking to finish line

John Perrotto



(Photo by Jeff Chevrier/Icon Sportswire)

CLEVELAND — There may not be enough stamps in the world for the Detroit Tigers right now.

No, the Tigers aren’t collectively catching up on back fan mail in the final two-and-a-half weeks of the season. What they appear to be doing, though, is mailing it in for the final 17 games.

“I think everyone is pretty much ready for this season to be over,” a Tiger source said Monday night. “It’s been a long year.”

That was before the Tigers were swept in a three-game series by the surging Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. While the Indians increased their winning streak to an American League-record 21 games in a row with a win Wednesday afternoon, the Tigers’ losing streak reached four and they fell to 2-11 in September.

“Talk about a team that looks like they have just checked out,” a scout from a National League team said.

The Tigers will miss the postseason for the third consecutive season following a run of four straight AL Central titles. With a 60-85 record, Detroit is on pace for its worst season since 2003, when it finished 43-119.

Making matters worse: The Tigers are caught in the middle. They are trying to rebuild but have more veterans who need to be traded.

Furthermore, manager Brad Ausmus’s contract expires at the end of the season and his status for 2018 is questionable at best. He admits it is fair to wonder if he will be asked back.

Detroit effectively gave up on the season July 17, when it traded right fielder J.D. Martinez to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Then came the trade of closer Justin Wilson and catcher Alex Avila to the Chicago Cubs on July 31 before the Tigers offloaded right-hander Justin Verlander to the Houston Astros and All-Star left fielder B.J. Upton to the Los Angeles Angels on Aug. 31.

The trade of Verlander was enough to rip the heart of out any team. The six-time All-Star was one of the best in franchise history. He won both the AL MVP and Cy Young awards in 2011.

Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander tips his cap the crowd after the final out in the eighth inning of an interleague baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Detroit, Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The truth of the matter is that having Verlander would not matter now. The Tigers are going young and the older players who remain no longer fit, a group that includes first baseman Miguel Cabrera, second baseman Ian Kinsler, and right-handers Jordan Zimmermann and Anibal Sanchez.

The Tigers hold a $16 million option on Sanchez for next season but will almost certainly buy it out for $5 million and allow the 33-year-old to become a free agent. Kinsler, 35, will make $12 million in 2018 before becoming eligible for free agency.

However, Cabrera is under contract through at least six more seasons through 2023 — his age-40 season — for a total of $184 million. He also has vesting options of $30 million for 2024 and 2025 if he finished in the top of AL MVP voting the previous season.

Zimmermann, 31, had three more years and $74 million.

The huge contracts hurt the Tigers’ chances of getting much in return for Cabrera and Zimmermann. Their poor seasons complicate matters further for general manager Al Avila. Cabrera is hitting just .246/.329/.396 with 15 home runs in 121 games while Zimmermann is 8-12 with a 6.18 ERA in 27 starts.

Continuing neck stiffness has played a part In Zimmermann’s struggles. An accumulation of injuries seems to have finally caught up to the 34-year-old Cabrera.

“Maybe someone would take a shot on Zimmermann if the Tigers pay down most of his salary, because everyone needs pitching and he’s had success in the past,” a scout from an AL team said.

However, the same scout predicted that the Tigers won’t find much of a market for Cabrera this winter — it goes beyond his poor production.

“He’s always been a selfish guy, a me-first player and he’s totally quit on that team this year,” the scout said. “You can live with a guy like that when he’s an elite player, but he’s not an elite player anymore.”

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John Perrotto has been a professional sports writer since 1982 and has covered a multitude of sports, including MLB, NFL and college football and basketball. He has been a member of the Baseball Writers' Association since 1988, a Hall of Fame voter since 1997 and has covered 21 World Series and two Super Bowls. He is a graduate of Geneva College, the birthplace of college basketball, and lives in Beaver Falls, Pa,., the hometown of Joe Willie Namath.