Now less than a week away from the trade deadline and rumors are swirling about what the Detroit Tigers will do. While most fans are looking for the team to add an arm, the focus could be behind the plate rather than in front of it.
After a sweep to start the week, the Detroit Tigers are back in the thick of things in the American League Central race. A lot could change in terms of standings between now and the August 1 trade deadline but as for now the Tigers are winning and the Cleveland Indians are not. Now only 2.5 games back in the wild card standings and four games behind Cleveland in AL Central, it is time for General Manager Al Avila to go to work.
Up until a few days ago, it was the consensus among Tigers fans that if the team was going to buy, they would need to add pitching. Since the All-Star break however the starting rotation has pitched much better, causing the focus in the front office to shift. After an offensive slump out of the gates of the second half, the Tigers are now one of several teams interested in Milwaukee Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy.
Lucroy, 30, is considered one of the best players available on the trade market this summer. He is the owner of a .301 batting average with 13 home runs and an even 50 RBI’s in 2016. The two-time All Star has a club option for next season and has the potential to be the best catcher in a deep backstop market next season.
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The idea of adding one of the games top young catchers is sexy, but is it savy? Lucroy would provide the Tigers with an intimidate offensive upgrade at catcher. The powerful backstop is used to hitting in the middle of the lineup for the Brew Crew and would slot nicely in the fifth or sixth spot in the order. His addition would allow J.D. Martinez to slide back into the number two spot and give the Tigers two players at the bottom of the lineup (Cameron Maybin and Jose Iglesias) who have the .300+ batting average potential. The obvious question, as asked by Fox’s Ken Rosenthal, would the Tigers have enough to pry Lucroy away from being dealt to other teams?
Yes Ken, the system is thin. But not as thin as some think. While the Tigers farm clubs are not as lavish as those of the Boston Red Sox or Cleveland Indians, there are some hidden gems. Top prospects Joe Jimenez, JaCoby Jones and Christin Stewart would all be names that would need to be involved in talks to acquire Lucroy.
Even with the lack of depth on the farm, the Tigers are rich with young talent at the Major League level. To get a deal done, Avila will need to get creative. Names such as James McCann, Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd and Shane Greene would have to be on the table. Although he has stated his reluctance to deal young arms in the past, all young players not named Michael Fulmer will need to be on the table if Avila is serious about getting a deal done. If he is comfortable giving up some years of control on a player like McCann while packing him with some young arms and minor league talent, acquiring Lucroy may not be all that far fetched.
The Indians and New York Mets have much deeper minor league systems than the Tigers. If they will be willing to part with some of their top prospects is yet to be determined. Should the Tigers acquire Lucroy it will also help them from the standpoint of blocking him from the Indians. Much like the Ubaldo Jimenez situation in 2011, the Tigers and Indians are both battling for the same player on the trade market. The Indians have a glaring offensive hole at catcher and are aiming to fill that void by trading for the best catcher on the market. If they fail, the catching market is extremely thin after Lucroy and would likely leave the Indians to stand pat behind the plate.
Trading for a player just to keep him from your division rival should not be the sole reason to make such a gamble. Look how that worked for the Indians with the afore mentioned Ubaldo Jimenez. The Tigers should look to their pitching staff’s performance since the All Star break as reason to go all in for Lucroy. In the 12 games since the All-Star break the teams ERA is down more than a full run. Even the Tigers monthly is down from 4.56 in June to 3.86 in July.
There is still a need for pitching depth in the system. If that truly is the focus, including some of their top young arms may not be the best option. For now, the focus on the field is continuing to gain grown in the divisional race. The front office, no matter what they do, cannot stand pat if they want to put themselves over the top and reach the post-season.