With the MLB Trade Deadline looming at 4pm Eastern Time on Monday afternoon the Detroit Tigers sit in a precarious position as they determine their next move forward with the power-laden Minnesota Twins also in town. It’s the question many clubs face. Buy, sell, or hold?
The Detroit Tigers are about to hit the halfway point if the 60-game slate currently sitting in 4th place in the AL Central at 13-16. They have almost no chance to finish in a top-two spot in the division to get in the playoffs.
However, in this crazy season, there will also be two wildcard slots to round out the brackets and those teams would merely need to win a best-of-three series to advance. The Tigers are currently only two games behind the Toronto Blue Jays for the second wildcard slot. Only the Baltimore Orioles sit between Detroit and Toronto.
A major reality check is about to hit them as the first place Twins cruise into Detroit. It’ll be the Tigers first matchup with Minnesota and it should give the Tigers a close up glimpse of what awaits them in any postseason appearance. Minnesota has the White Sox and the Tribe hot on their heels for 1st place, it’s a good bet the Twins will be highly motivated to use the 4-game series in Detroit to create some space in the standings.
The Tigers undeniably have a chance to get into the tournament as things presently sit. The question is how to invest in that chance. Do the Tigers value the 8th seed as any kind of prize? Do they see the pursuit of that position as a worthwhile growing experience for some of its youngsters? Do they care if it would bolster the spirits of their most loyal fans to put a playoff-stamp on this club after enduring a lot of losing baseball since 2015?
Oh, stop it!
The Tigers, at the major league level, aren’t a very good baseball team. They have a 2.1% chance to sneak into the playoffs via Baseball-Reference. They have the Pythagorean Record of a 12-17 team, so they haven’t been unlucky. They are on pace to have a historically bad starting pitching ERA and they have an offense that strikes out more than I did in college bars.
The idea they could catch fire in the playoff tournament if only they could get there is fun for anyone to contemplate…but there is no real hope for this unless owner Chris Ilitch can summon the ghost of Herb Brooks and conjure up the spirits of Lake Placid and the US Olympic hockey team of 1980.
The Tigers should sell. They should sell aggressively. They shouldn’t allow merely thirteen victories in twenty-nine games to talk them into anything else. The mission, ultimately, is to win a World Series. Failing to shop around for more young talent at every turn, for the time being, is only delaying the day they have the pieces in place to look at a legitimate run.
If the Tigers can actually win the Twins series it’s a safe bet Tigers GM Al Avila doesn’t go into sell mode over the weekend. The Tigers will likely take their shot in September at the Wildcard. This would still be a mistake as enjoyable as it might be for a few days to watch play out.
It’s more likely, given the Tigers’ struggles against AL Central opponents, the Twins win at least three out of four in Detroit and snuff out the Tigers hopes. A walloping delivered by the powerful Twins would give Avila little choice but to put his best wares on the market in hopes of landing a piece of the lineup for a contender in Detroit. The playoff dreams could definitely die by Sunday.
Really no player should be totally off-limits. Everyone has a price. Certainly, any player or package of players, who can land the Tigers a position player Detroit scouts and analysts believe can be a league-average or better regular must be marketed.
Austin Romine and Jonathan Schoop leap to mind quickly with short contracts to move. Both are playing to acceptable levels to provide a contending team some real depth.
The Tigers have Spencer Turnbull as a rotation piece to shop plus a few relief arms—yes, Gregory Soto among them—who might interest contenders looking to lengthen their relief corps.
Turnbull has shown some occasionally impressive stuff and he has stayed healthy. He’s cheap and has years of control left. Speculation around him often brings about interesting names in return.
Cutting to the chase, all relief arms should be leveraged for everyday talent when possible. Even the exciting Soto. He looks dominant at times but the shelf life on relievers can be short. This weekend could easily be the most valuable he’ll ever be.
Nobody seems to have a good handle as to how many buyers will be on the market this year. That’s understandable given MLB’s circumstances. The Tigers have some players to part with however that isn’t expensive. Teams worried about a payroll crunch shouldn’t flee talks with the Tigers on that front. This could be Avila’s ticket to a good deal.
Everyone wants the Tigers to win and contend. There is a path to contention has steps however and it’s best not skip over them too often. Right now the organization, despite improvements on the minor league level, is still short of talent in general and short of hitting in particular. Avila should take what surplus talent he has to move and look to blister the state of the offensive talent he had in his system to move forward into 2021 and beyond.