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Trade deadline deals mirror Detroit Tigers season

Vinny Esposito. Gulf Coast League Tigers West v Gulf Coast League Blue Jays. Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium. Lakeland, Fla. Aug. 24, 2018. (Photo by Tom Hagerty.)

Another July 31st has come and passed, and again Detroit Tigers fans have found themselves in what feels like a bad rendition of Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day.

Every time the deadline has passed over the last four years it has been the same refrain for the fans of the Tigers: what in the world is going on? Today’s deals, those for Shane Greene and Nicholas Castellanos, fit the same mold. Now, admittedly, the fact that Castellanos was moved was in and of itself a good thing, however diving deeper into the trade makes it a little less okay.

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The Tigers of 2019 have not been a pretty thing to watch or stomach. Their comedy of errors in the field, lacking offensive prowess, and gap-stop veterans now blocking performing prospects has been a drag on even the most arduous fans.

What’s the Problem with the Deals?

On the surface level, it is easy to clap for the deals because they got done. It would not have been acceptable for Al Avila to be left holding the bag after four o’clock yesterday afternoon having not improved the team. The question is, did the Tigers capitalize on the value they had with Greene to move their rebuild along?

My answer: No.

Quite simply: What’s the plan?

It has been well touted how strong the arms in our Minor Leagues are; the Tigers don’t lack for pitching talent. However, they do lack impact, Major League level position players (we’ll get to this problem later). Avila was in position today to add depth to a thin position group in the bushes, and, through proper negotiation, land a higher-level position prospect with Greene.

For Greene, a closer who has been very successful this season and arguably the best option available for contenders–assuming Filipe Vasquez didn’t get moved from the Pirates. He carried a 1.18 ERA and a 3.70 FIP. He racked up 54 saves over the last two seasons as the Tigers closer in 63 opportunities, representing the Tigers as their lone representative at the All-Star game this season. In short, there was value to be had.

He was traded to the Atlanta Braves, who have a better farm system than the Tigers do, according to Fangraphs. The left-handed pitcher we received in return, Joey Wentz, slotted into our system at #10. The sole position player we received today, Travis Demeritte, doesn’t even slot into our top-30.

So, again, what is the plan? Do they have one like they continue to preach? Or, are the Tigers just constantly spinning their wheels, making the deals they’re making digging deeper and deeper ruts, hoping to eventually come out of it? Three pitchers added to an already arm-heavy system, an overrated system based on the fact that Casey Mize is the #2 prospect in baseball.

Why Does This Matter?

Think the position player argument is overblown? Think about this. Right now, the Tigers rank 11th on the Fangraphs list of Minor League systems. That’s definitely improved from the mire the organization found themselves in within the last five years. But, there’s a caveat.

Most of the 36 prospects Fangraphs used to evaluate the Tigers system rank below Major League average future value (FV). In fact, of those 36 prospects, only four ranks at or above MLB average FV. Two are position players and two are pitchers. Casey Mize (60) and Matt Manning (55) have a future value over 50, which is the baseline for an average MLB player. The two position players, Riley Greene (50) and Isaac Parades (50) grade out as average MLB players. All other 29 prospects–note that the top systems (Rays and Padres) have over 60 prospects available for evaluation–come in with a future value of below-average MLB players, including those acquired today.

To take this a step further: not only are we not drafting or acquiring players that will be at least MLB average players, but there are also two division foes ahead of us the Minor League system ranking: the Minnesota Twins and the Chicago White Sox; also of note, the Cleveland Indians rank 12th on the list, nipping on the Tigers heels.

This is significant for a couple of reasons. The Twins are clearly a young team that is performing well this season and if they can stave off the Indians will win the division. The Indians unloaded Trevor Bauer and restocked while battling for the division with the Twins. And, the White Sox are clearly on the way up. The Tigers, meanwhile, sit at 32-72, 32.5 behind the Twins. Our Major League team isn’t good and our farm system still sits behind two of the top three teams in our division. That doesn’t bode well for a contending team, ready to spend money in 2021.

At the end of the day, did the Tigers really move their rebuild along? It doesn’t seem so. Which continues to beg the question, what is the plan? Is there a plan? All the platitudes that are championed from the front office will tell you today was a good day. But what was accomplished? Our hopes for this rebuild hang on the right arms of two pitchers in Double-A with a supporting cast of fringe, average MLBers.

Unfortunately, the trade deadline was nothing to get too excited about. It was another underwhelming trade deadline for the Tigers and their front office. Underwhelming to the point of chalking up another “L” in the loss column–something Tigers fans are seeing too much of lately.

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