The longer the season goes on for the Detroit Tigers, in the fashion they have been playing as of late, the more they will play the role of sellers once more. After being among the top contenders in the American League — and really of a baseball — for a good four-year stretch, Detroit is facing the reality of being sellers for the second time in three seasons.
They’re current 32-36, and just one game out of a tie for last place in the AL Central Division. Amazingly, they’re still just 4.5 games out of that division lead and 3.0 games back of the second AL Wild Card spot, despite having the third-lowest win percentage through Father’s Day.
As June draws to a close, the talk of “buyers or sellers” will continue to vamp up. Should they waive the proverbial white flag, look for team general manager Al Avila to unload some guys, and these are the 5 most likely candidates.
This is the most obvious one, really since the start of spring training. It was going to be hard to iron out a deal with J.D. Martinez during the season, if one was ever in the works. And with his contract coming off the books after this season, he becomes a real sexy rental for someone.
Martinez since coming off his season-opening disabled list stint has played out of his mind. He’s hitting just a tick under .300 and flat out mashing the baseball, slugging over .650 with 11 homers and 29 runs batted in, in just 34 games played.
One could argue that he could have or even should have been traded already. There’s definitely some contenders who could use a high-impact, clutch bat from the right-side. As far as potential suitors, all three contenders in the National League West — Diamondbacks, Dodgers and Rockies — seem to have a need for a bat/outfielder of Martinez’s caliber, in some capacity.
Since returning to Detroit on a one-year deal worth almost nothing, monetarily speaking, Alex Avila has reminded Tigers fans and all of baseball what he brings when getting consistent reps and not dealing with nagging injuries.
The elder Avila, Tigers general manager Al Avila, may be forced to trade off his son sooner than later. The younger Avila is hitting over .320 in 46 games played, slugging over .600 with 10 homers, third on the team to only Justin Upton (13) and the aforementioned J.D. Martinez.
He’s effectively pushed his way into the starting lineup more often than not, aided by some minor injuries and hitting inconsistencies to incumbent backstop youngster James McCann. But Avila brings a ton to the table for a 2+ month rental: left-handed pop, elite plate discipline, can start or come off the bench, can spell at first base, veteran presence and handling of pitching staffs, all for just $2M.
You name any team that’s sitting atop their division or in legit contention for the playoffs, as it stands now, and they can all use Avila in some role.
If baseball has shown us anything in recent years, it’s that bullpens are of the utmost importance and of the highest priority with contending clubs. That’s where a power arm like Justin Wilson becomes supremely expendable and coveted.
The 29-year-old southpaw and recently-appointed Tigers’ closer is putting together one of his better seasons in his career. He’s allowed just eight earned runs in 27 innings pitched, good for a 2.67 ERA, and both his WHIP (1.04) and K/9IP (13.0) are personal bests over his first five full big league seasons.
Wilson is not just one of those “lefty specialist” arms out of the bullpen. He can come in and get a big strikeout whenever need be for one out, or close out a game, and has no problem facing both left- and right-handed hitters (oddly enough, he fares better against RHBs this season).
Contractually speaking, Wilson has one more year of control — third stage of arbitration in 2018 — after this season, making him a longer investment for a suitor. There’s a baseball team in the nation’s capital that is in dire need of some bullpen arms, so don’t be surprised if Wilson ends up in Washington at some point. But any team would love to have his services.
A resurgence in June coupled with the emergence of Dixon Machado has put Jose Iglesias’ name more squarely on the trade market.
Iglesias after a rough couple months to start the year has spiked his average back up to .265 through June 18. He’s hitting over .380 this month, which has upped his BA .039 points since the final day in May. He didn’t play on Sunday but his hitless game on Saturday was just the third time in 13 June games he didn’t record a hit.
It’s no secret what Iglesias provides for any club: elite defense, a quality at-bat almost every time, top or bottom of the order, and elite plate discipline. But here’s an added wrinkle to this particular situation: Dixon Machado. The youngster didn’t get a ton of playing time off the bench early on, but did when Ian Kinsler was placed on the DL. He fared very well and in his 29 games is hitting over .320 — .405 (17-42) since the beginning of May — with supreme plate discipline. Long-term control of Machado with a rebuild in the near future makes Iglesias very trade-able.
Now like Wilson, Iglesias has one more year of arbitration after this year. So he could go to a team that isn’t perhaps ready to contend this season but could in 2018 and don’t have a clear answer at shortstop (or second base even). This is all contingent on a team needing a guy like Iglesias, of course.
Okay, so there’s a lot of contingencies with this one but it’s why he’s listed at No. 5 out of our five most trade-able players.
Simply put, Jordan Zimmermann has not lived up to his contract in his first year and change with the Tigers. And it was looking pretty ugly early on. But he’s better significantly better as of late, albeit a small sample.
His last time out was arguably his best outing of the season, going eight innings and allowing two earned runs against a high-octane Diamondbacks offense. It’s not three consecutive starts he’s gone at least six innings and yielded two ER or fewer; four in the last five.
Now trading him away would require three very big factors: 1) he stays healthy; made just 18 starts in 2016, 2) his recent trend of drastic improvement largely continues, starting with his next start Tuesday in Seattle, and 3) Detroit pays a portion of his remaining salary (owed $74M for next three seasons after 2017). Otherwise, this is a no-go on all fronts. But for the sake of experimenting, let’s assume those three things hold.
While the salary is a red flag for many clubs, it becomes more acceptable when he’s pitching well enough and if the acquiring club doesn’t have to take on all of his salary for the duration of the contract. That long-term investment also opens the book on teams who may be interested, whether it be win-now or a couple years down the road.
Two teams that could fit that mold: Houston Astros and Milwaukee Brewers. Houston is one of the best teams in baseball this year, but are showing severe depth issues with their rotation due to injuries, and they lack a true durable veteran. Milwaukee meanwhile is in the midst of a rebuild, despite being in first place in their division through Father’s Day. Their rotation has little to no identity for the foreseeable future. Plus Zimmermann grew up just three hours away from Milwaukee in Auburndale, WI.
Both Houston and Milwaukee have money to spend and prospects to deal too, if need be.
6OTHER POTENTIAL TRADE CANDIDATES
- Justin Verlander: In a similar situation to Zimmermann, a lot of money owed over the next couple seasons plus some questions in terms of long-term performance could halt his trade value. We ultimately went with Zimmermann on the list, largely due to less money owed and being younger
- Miguel Cabrera: Similar to Verlander and Zimmermann with regards to potential decline with age and health, and a lengthy contract with lots of money left to be paid. Plus with a move to being a full-time designated hitter, it limits the number of potential suitors dramatically
- Francisco Rodriguez: Frankie would really have to turn things around real quick if Detroit wants to even consider trading him. His veteran presence to any bullpen would be more than welcomed, a huge bonus if he can contribute in a big way, regardless of role. But he’s got a long way to go for the Tigers to even let that cross their minds.
- Ian Kinsler: Ian can either be a rental or be invested for through 2018, with a club option for next year in his contract. No doubt he can provide Gold Glove-caliber defense and jump-start an offense atop the order, but he needs to get back to the level. An early-season injury has slowed him some so far
- Victor Martinez: The number of suitors who would be interested in Victor Martinez is perhaps even more limited than Cabrera, given Victor is (literally and figuratively) on his last leg in terms of health. He can still provide an adequate enough bat from both sides of the plate, if not needed to be relied on as “the guy” for offense, but being owed $18M next season could turn those few suitors away.