NOTE: The views expressed in this EDITORIAL do not necessarily reflect the views of Detroit Sports Nation or a majority of its writers and should not be misconstrued as such. The views contained within are the views of the author and the author alone.
We have already reached the All-Star break in 2016 and it’s about that time when the rumor mill begins to really churn regarding the Major League Baseball trading deadline, which is set for 4 p.m. ET on August 1.
The addition of a second wildcard spot for the postseason has presented an opportunity for more teams to think they have a chance of doing bigger and better things. Having said that, it also has forced teams to really change their thought process of how much each team should be buying or selling, with so many teams theoretically still in the hunt.
One of those middling teams that is at a fork in the road and is not sure if they should be buyers or sellers, is the Detroit Tigers. With arguably the most talented 25-man roster, on paper, many would suggest they have underachieved and they need to go out and address their needs ASAP.
At 46-43 they are well within striking distance, 6.5 GB of division leading Cleveland and 4 GB of a Wildcard spot in the American League and with more than two months of baseball still remaining, most teams are probably making phone calls as you read this piece. And Tigers General Manager Al Avila is likely one of those many baseball executives. Avila did a remarkable job addressing needs last off-season in a rather timely manner, but by and large the team is just treading water.
A lot of speculation has begun on whether or not the team should be aggressive once again at the trade deadline, or sell for a second consecutive season. However, I’m here to suggest that they have two options and only two options: Either they sell off tradable assets, or stand pat with the team they have. Buying is NOT an option.
So why would they stand pat with the team they have? It’s simple, really. This is a team by and large already built to win now. The lineup 1-9 is one of the best in baseball and they’re still not clicking on all cylinders with regularity. The bullpen has been vastly improved from past seasons (outside of a few outliers à la Mark Lowe), and we’ve seen only flashes of excellence from the starting rotation. But collectively through 89 games, they’ve been a streaky roller coaster.
There’s been days where they pitch well, but cannot hit enough to support the starters. There’s also been days where they hit the cover off the ball, but the pitching implodes first and basically neutralizes any offensive production. Only maybe a handful of games have Tigers fans seen where from start to finish in a single game, the team has done exactly what we expect from them. That’s just simply not going to get it done not only in this day and age, but also when the franchise has a recent history of being aggressive to win now.
*Note: scroll down on the following pages to avoid re-reading this introduction
It seems that in the last couple weeks that fans have seen what the rotation could look like down the stretch barring anymore injuries or things going horribly awry. A rotation that has quality stable pitchers like Justin Verlander and Jordan Zimmermann at the front, coupled with a pair of youngsters with serious potential in Michael Fulmer and Daniel Norris, makes for a very solid foursome.
And we can say what we want about Mike Pelfrey. Most people are probably upset with the way he has pitched in certain games this season because the team paid him $8M per for two seasons. The guy also posts a career 4.52 ERA in his 11 seasons. Apologies to those who expected better, but track record suggests that ‘better’ is unlikely to happen. I didn’t like the contract either, believe me, but unfortunately for Mike, it magnifies his mistakes.
He does represent a microcosm of how the team has done through the unofficial first half; showing glimpses of what he is capable of, but mainly inconsistent. Seeing a trend here?
What does make Pelfrey a weapon is his ability to induce a vast amount of ground balls, earning double plays and stranding runners in the process. Think of it this way, if the Tigers do find themselves in a playoff series – not the Wildcard Game, an actual series – Pelfrey would not be pitching in the rotation, he’d be a stretch reliever in the bullpen. He instantly becomes one extra arm in the bullpen that can dodge multiple bullets for a game or two if need be.
Now let’s look at the lineup? Manager Brad Ausmus has the luxury of tinkering with the lineup if need be if someone is going through a slump or a hot hitting streak. But the one constant is that he has majority of control of handling one of the most potent and scariest lineups in the sport.
But even this group has not given max production consistently enough for multiple weeks, or even one week. For some inexplicable reason, they are still prone to going through dry spells for multiple games in a row and it just leaves you scratching your heading, thinking, “Ummm…errr…what happened, guys?”
Ian Kinsler is good at the top, don’t mess with that. Cameron Maybin has slid right into the 2-hole and helped sparked the team somewhat. Check. Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez aren’t even playing like themselves quite yet, but they are easily one of the best 3-4 duos in baseball. The fact the Tigers have a third-year third baseman hitting .300 with 17 bombs in Nick Castellanos hitting anywhere between 5th and 7th in the lineup, speaks volumes of their depth. And let’s not forget the No. 8 and 9 hitters James McCann and Jose Iglesias have found a little more consistency at the dish towards the end of the first half.
Are you sensing a trend here yet? Consistency?
One could confidently argue that the bullpen has been not only the most improved, but the most consistent aspect of the Tigers through 89 games. And it certainly helps to have a reliable, veteran presence at the back end locking down games in Francisco Rodriguez. Here’s a little nugget: if you throw out the season numbers from Mark Lowe (10.05 ERA in 28.2 IP), the now-injured Drew VerHagen (7.11 ERA in 19 IP) and Blaine Hardy (5.84 ERA in 12.1 IP), the Tigers bullpen has a combined ERA of 3.51.
This alone should be a collective sigh of relief somewhat for Tigers fans, given the bullpen has been a dumpster fire over the last handful of seasons coming into this year.
So, if the rotation, offense, and bullpen can consistently click together and earn the team wins in bunches, they will do well. Sounds easy, right? Well if it were, they wouldn’t be just three games over the .500 mark.
SELL… BUT HOW MUCH?
Now if s— really hits the fan in the second half and they slowly dip down in the standings, Mr. Avila might be pressed to sell. How much he does in this case would also give an indication as to his plans for the team long-term.
They could simply sell a few pieces here and there if it means clearing up salary and/or bringing back a prospect of some level to help continue replenishing the farm system that was gradually run dry from all the moves former GM Dave Dombrowski made during his tenure. So what sort of guys would be tradable if it reaches that tipping point?
There are about a handful of Tigers that hit the free agent market either this coming off-season or the following that have some value in some way, making them expendable rentals for other teams. Guys like Rodriguez and veteran backups Mike Aviles and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are unrestricted free agents after this season and could be dealt. Cameron Maybin has contract that features a club option of $9M for the 2017 season. Should he join a team in need of stability in the outfield, it makes trading Cam all that more enticing. Then there are guys like Pelfrey, Lowe, and J.D. Martinez who are UFAs after the 2017 season. Pelfrey would be the most likely trade candidate here, Lowe has little value given the way this season has gone for him, and even though Martinez is injured, the Tigers I have to think would like to keep him if they can.
Now if they are really considering a full-blown re-build, this leaves about half of the team becoming expendable. Players who are UFAs after the 2018 season include: Victor Martinez, Anibal Sanchez (club option for ’18 season), Ian Kinsler (also a club option for ’18 season), Jose Iglesias, Justin Wilson and Andrew Romine.
There are a few wrinkles when you look at the year-by-year breakdown of the contracts for each individual on the Tigers roster. In addition to the club options that both Sanchez and Kinsler have in their respective pacts, outfielder Justin Upton has player options in years 3-6 of his six-year deal he signed this past off-season. Meaning if he is not content with his team and situation after next season, he has the power to opt out and become a free agent with a clean slate. The contract makes Upton potentially one of the more intriguing trade chips if the team is indeed considering that move.
So there you have it. The smartest move for the Tigers to make come the trade deadline is to either stay put and simply just perform better, or sell off pieces, either a little or a lot. Why won’t they buy?
NO BUYING IN 2016
If you ask me, it would completely disregard the moves they did a season ago to trade players like Yoenis Cespedes, David Price and Joakim Soria. Many people were not fans of Dombrowski in the end because “he killed the farm system during his time in Detroit.” True, but he did what he had to do to put the Tigers in a position to win a title. He was also smart in knowing where his team stood a year ago at this point and knew better, deciding to sell rather than buy.
And his last parting gift for the organization? Netting two potential long-term starters for Detroit in Michael Fulmer and Daniel Norris, as well as a potential super slugger and versatile defender in JaCoby Jones.
If the team were to make a big splash like they did in seasons prior to 2015, where they were forced to deal some of their top-tier prospects to land a quality big leaguer in order to help their push for a playoff run, they would be lying to and cheating themselves with regards to the outlook of the organization.
Let’s not beat around the bush, the team is not as good as they were from 2011-14 and they are also not getting any younger. They’re already financially-strained as it is. There is nothing wrong with cashing in your chips sooner than later if it reaches that point. Now, if GM Al Avila can somehow acquire a quality role player that does not require giving up high-end talent in the farm system, à la pitchers Beau Burrows or Joe Jimenez, or position players like Derek Hill, Christin Stewart, Mike Gerber and the aforementioned JaCoby Jones, then I’m all in favor of doing that.
The problem is that crop of players, most of them being mere rentals at this point, is not exactly plentiful and not worth giving up the type of players listed above. Now if they are vying for a multi-year controllable player moving forward, like the Texas Rangers did a season ago when they traded for Cole Hamels to lead the rotation, that’s a different scenario.
But if you ask me, selling whatever prospects we truly have for virtually two-month rentals to fight for a one-game Wildcard spot at the most, is just not worth it. Want to get the job done, Tigers? Just play better.