We’re probably going to be hearing whispers all offseason long – as we did last year – about the possibility that the Tigers could deal a starting pitcher in order to address other weaknesses without going through the free agent market. Last season it was all about Rick Porcello (though apparently teams were more interested in Drew Smyly). This offseason there’s still a chance that Porcello could be dealt, but we’re also hearing rumblings already about dealing potential Cy Young winner Max Scherzer (who has only one season of team control remaining).
Before the offseason really gets underway, in earnest, what we’re going to be pondering is what trading partners the Tigers might actually have and what kind of deals could actually be swung. The first part of the equation is who wants what the Tigers have and would be willing to pay. We’re looking for teams in need of starting pitching that feel pressure to win now – they’d probably also need to be willing to add at least a little payroll, which does rule out some teams. The prime candidate there is the LA Angels. The Angels have a star-studded roster and a high payroll, but after missing out on Zack Greinke and dealing Ervin Santana for a song LA lacked the starting pitching to contend.
The Angels probably want Rick Porcello. The Angels probably want Max Scherzer a lot more. The question would be whether they could actually make the sort of deal that Dave Dombrowski would feel allowed the team to continue to compete today while strengthening the core of the team for the future – since no deal is going to get done that significantly weakens the 2014 club.
The big concern for the Tigers would be acquiring cost-effective players that could help prevent the Tigers from falling out of contention in 2016 and beyond, but that can actually contribute today. The Tigers also have specific needs that they would need to fill in order to justify dealing from rotation depth. We all know what needs those are: bullpen, left field, second base. You could make the strong case that just about any cheap and productive position player – in 2015 – would add value, as contracts for Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter will expire.
As far as farm system depth – the Angels are emphatically not a team with an abundance of trading chips. Like the Tigers, the Angels have been sacrificing their first-rounders for several years in order to snag big-name free agents, and it shows. The Angels have exactly one prospect in MLB.com’s top-100 list, 3B Kaleb Cowart at #77. Problem is, Cowart had an absolutely terrible season at AA and looks far from major-league ready. They had a couple of other solid (if not top-100) guys at AA – guys we’d be excited about if they were in the Tigers organization – but not guys you’d say are ready for the bigs or even blue-chippers by any stretch of the imagination.
The chips that the Angels have, and have stated a willingness to trade, are youngish big league position players. Specifically, OF Peter Bourjos, OF/3B/1B Mark Trumbo and 2B Howie Kendrick. All of these guys have value, though they’re not exactly stars, and might be expected to have more value to somebody else than they have for the Angels. Unfortunately, I’m not exactly sure that that “somebody else” is Detroit.
I’m guessing – and this is pure conjecture – that Rick Porcello could be enough to fetch any one of those 3. Possibly. Whether the Tigers would want to do that or not, I’m not sure. All of them are at least arbitration eligible, so they aren’t ultra cheap. Trumbo doesn’t do anything but hit home runs, and Comerica might be a bad place to try to do that. Kendrick is going to cost as much under his current contract as the Tigers would expect to pay for an Omar Infante extension.
It’s also possible that the Angels would be willing to trade away all three of those guys in order to get their hands on Max Scherzer. Adding all three doesn’t really make the Tigers appreciably better so IF that is actually the case I think what we would have to see, for such a deal to take shape, is for 3 teams or more to be involved – with Scherzer going to LA, Bourjos, Trumbo and Kendrick going to the far corners of the earth (though Kendrick might just stay in Detroit) and some top major-league-ready prospects going to Detroit. It’s likely that there are teams out there that want what the Angels have to offer, but it’s also likely that those teams don’t have or aren’t willing to part with the kind of starting pitching that the Angels want.