Should the Detroit Tigers be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline?
The race is close
Pro: the Tigers are just 6 back in the AL Central race, and 4 games back of Toronto for the top AL Wild Card seed. They are 2 and 1/2 games behind the Red Sox for the 2nd wild card spot. The right move could put them over the top.
Con: They are 1-11 against the Indians, and have been a streaky team all year. In fact, they were close last year, and traded three stars as opposed to acquiring more talent to help.
Summary: They are having a clear issue beating the Indians, who seem to have a better team all round. The Indians have outhit and out pitched them all year. And their up and down nature has meant that one series they dominate their wild card competition, then a week later, the reverse happens. This makes them a hard team to gauge.
The starting pitching is better than last year
Pro: Last year, it was David Price or bust, most of the year. The starting pitching was in shambles, and no one was reliable. Towards the end of the year, Justin Verlander improved, almost looking like his old self. This year, Jordan Zimmerman (9-4, 3.95) has been solid, Verlander (9-6, 3.74) has picked up where he left off, and rookie Michael Fulmer (9-2, 2.41) has been impressive. One more starter would settle the bottom of the rotation, and make this a team no one wants to play in the postseason.
Con: Zimmerman has been injured lately and was struggling prior to his injury after being the Tigers' best pitcher the first two months. Matt Boyd (1-2, 4.63) and Daniel Norris (1-0, 4.85), two more they acquired in David Price trade, have been inconsistent, and Mike Pelfrey (3-9, 4.79) alternates bad starts with hard luck. This doesn't even begin to discuss fill-in starters Anibal Sanchez (formerly the no. 3 starter, 5-11, 6.96) and Shane Greene (1-2, 4.37), who have struggled badly as starting pitchers. And to get a fourth starter, they'd have to give up either Boyd and/or Norris, two players they traded for last year. Fulmer is also having his innings monitored seeing as how he's a rookie.
Summary: Considering the cost of starting pitching, the lack of quality pitchers available, and how inconsistent the rotation has been all year, it could be argued that one starter won't fix the issues with this rotation, especially as the Tigers begin to limit Fulmer's innings.
The starting lineup
Pro: Cameron Maybin (.325 BA) has been solid, Castellanos (.297, 18 HR, 55 RBIs) is having a break out year. Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, and Victor Martinez are performing big as per usual. JD Martinez is proving he's not a fluke when healthy. And struggling starters Justin Upton, Jose Iglesias, and Brian McCann can't continue to hit well below their career averages can they?
Con: Maybin is hitting well above his career stats, as is Castellanos. While Cabrera is hitting like normal, he's struggling in the clutch, and doesn't have a hit with the bases loaded. Even Kinsler and Victor have been streaky. And JD Martinez has been hurt for awhile now. Justin Upton has seen his stats decline for the past three years, and Iglesias is known more for his glove than his bat, And opposing pitchers may have caught up to McCann.
Summary: Maybin is bound to come back to earth. The return of JD would help, but steal at bats from, at times, solid performances by rookies Tyler Collins and Steven Moya. With McCann the future, odds of Detroit trading a prospect for a stopgap at catcher is unlikely. And while there's a chance the always streaky Upton could catch fire, it's also likely he is as good right now as he will be all year.
"Highlights" from Detroit's 11th straight loss to Cleveland
Pro: After years of the madly inconsistent Jose Valverde and the way past his prime Joe Nathan, last year was Joakim Soria until he was traded, and the much overused pair of Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy. The Tigers had little else, and following the Soria trade, the bullpen effectively collapsed. Enter Francico Rodriguez, Justin Wilson, and Mark Lowe. K-Rod has been largely effective, Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy have been better with less use, and Justin Wilson has been improved as well. Bruce Rondon has stepped up after a rough year last year. And Shane Greene, and Anibal Sanchez, have been better out of the pen than in the rotation.
Con: Mark Lowe had been one of the better setup men in baseball. Until this year, where the curse of Tigers middle relief dating back to 1986 seems to have sucked him in. The bullpen has been as streaky as the rest of the roster, at times imploding late in games. And K-Rod has been part of that problem as well. In short, they can go an entire week without giving up a run, then suddenly get mauled for an entire series. The hope was this year the Toledo Express wouldn't be used as much for the pen, but the Tigers have dipped repeatedly into the Triple AAA affiliate because of injuries to starters, and ineffectiveness and overused arms in the bullpen.
Summary: What this team really needs is for Mark Lowe to return to form. Considering right now only Verlander consistently pitches past the 6th inning, it's only a matter of time before they wear out the Wilsons, Hardy, and Rondon trying to get to Rodriquez, If Zimmerman could get healthy, that would help the pen too, both by getting another starter who pitches at least into the 7th, and moving Sanchez back to the pen, where he's been more effective, and can go multiple innings.
The difference between this year and last
2015: Joakim Soria, David Price, and Yoenis Cespedas were all free agents. With the Tigers appearing mediocre most games, and none of the three seeming likely to return, Dombrowski made the right move in trading all three and netting several prospects in return to help a depleted minor league system..
2016: There aren't that many players with expiring contracts, mainly Cameron Maybin, who won't net much in return, and Shane Greene. (same problem) While trading Upton would open left field for either Tyler Collins or Steven Moya, he has a massive contract and no one is likely taking him. Kinsler would be wanted, but Detroit has nothing behind him, and his contract is not up this year, and is team friendly.
Summary: A fire sale seems highly unlikely. Detroit has no real incentive to trade away the few trade-able commodities they have,
Opening Day intros
Should the Tigers buy, sell, or stand pat?
I grew up watching the Tigers. From 1986 to 1990, the Tigers desperately tried to recreate the magic of 1984 by trading prospects for mediocre, usually past their prime, players. In 1989, this move collapsed to the worst team in baseball. Did the Tigers learn from this debacle? Sort of. Instead of trading their few prospects during the 90's for more veteran retreads, they instead increased payroll, with diminishing results. This inevitably led to the disastrous runs from the late 90's until 2006.
Fast forward to now. While dominating the Central for years, the Tigers continually traded away prospects for players to get them over the hump, ofttimes with poor returns. (Devon Travis for Anthony Gose, trading away half the farm system to get Miguel Cabrera (good acquisition) AND Dontrelle Willis (horrendous), etc.) Having depleted the minor leagues, we're now trying to buy a championship, and results have been....sporadic. No closer, heck no reliever, we've signed has been reliable. While some hitters have been solid, others have been bad. The starting rotation has been erratic in terms of results vs. pay and cost. And the bench is perpetually thin with some top prospects' paths blocked. (Part of the argument for trading Travis was that we had Kinsler, and Travis wasn't needed, for example)
As much as I think trading away someone like Upton or Lowe would benefit the team long term, no one wants their multiyear contracts considering the results. And we don't currently have the prospects to get the stud starting pitcher or reliever we need to win the Central.
So while I disagree with GM Avila that the solution to this team's problems are players returning to health, I do agree that the best thing for this team to do is stand pat. I just don't see this team getting past the wild card round, if they even make the playoffs.
Maybe we can get the roster building right next year.
As always feel free to comment below, but keep the comments civil.