Detroit Tigers: Considering Trading for Tyler O’Neill

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 01: Tyler O'Neill #41 of the St Louis Cardinals looks on against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on September 1, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Cardinals defeated the Reds 16-2. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 01: Tyler O'Neill #41 of the St Louis Cardinals looks on against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on September 1, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Cardinals defeated the Reds 16-2. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

The Detroit Tigers need outfield help. The St.Louis Cardinals need starting pitching. Enter Tyler O’Neill.

I went back and forth in the Motor City Bengals Slack channel about doing a Detroit Tigers trade ideas article.  For one, our site history has had quite a few past proposals that were too far fetched or unrealistic. The one approach I really liked was former MCB contributor Kristen Bentley, who is now the co-expert at Birds Watcher, our Baltimore Orioles site.

She kept things realistic prior to the Justin Verlander trade. I can hear the fans type out “WHY WOULD WE WANT TO TRADE OUR BEST PITCHER!” Chris Brown discussed ideas to trade Turnbull back at the trade deadline and kept it as realistic as possible.

So as we head into the off-season, we are going to try to keep things as realistic as possible when we release these articles about Detroit Tigers trade ideas. The reason why I am putting what sounds like a disclaimer in front of this piece is we want the readers to think about the idea and tell us if you think it’s a good or bad. Consider this Detroit Tigers trade court, and you are judging the value and the possibility of this happening. Now, to state the case.

Bag of evidence number 1: The Cardinals need for pitching

St. Louis got bad news when the season ended when they found out right-hander Dakota Hudson will be having surgery on his right elbow.  President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak indicated they will look at internal options like Matt Liberatore and Daniel Ponce de Leon, among a few others. As Redbirds Rant discussed, St. Louis has Miles Mikolas coming back from injury while Adam Wainwright may retire or sign elsewhere.

Why Spencer Turnbull? Recent history teaches us a lesson that trading players at their highest value goes a long way, and Detroit did not capitalize on the perceived value of Matthew Boyd at this time last season. Turnbull is not a free agent until 2025, so it gives the Cardinals a player with two solid years of production already who is under team control for four more years. There are 60 pitchers with more than 200 innings over the past two seasons, and among them Turnbull ranks 31st in fWAR (4.3), right between Jose Musgrove and Masahiro Tanaka.

Granted, with the uncertainly of Matt Manning and Alex Faedo having forearm issues, and Franklin Perez not even having a full season back from the minors yet, I can see why fans might not want to pull the trigger. But let me bring in my next piece of evidence.

Bag of evidence number 2: The Detroit Tigers could use some speed and power in the outfield

Tyler O’Neill hit .173/.261/.360 with a wRC+ of 70 this season, which is not the greatest slash line. I get it. But his numbers in the minors have been strong, with an ISO of .258 between Seattle and St.Louis. His strikeout rate is high, no doubt, but he also has a career minor-league walk rate of 9.1%.  Sounds like I am digging my own grave here, huh?

Well, allow me to present two stat lines that may help. One is O’Neill, and the other is an anonymous Tigers left fielder. Both have played over 150 games in the majors, O’Neill was drafted two years before this player but is a year younger than Player A.  Per Fangraphs:

Player A:  587 plate appearances, 15HR 59 RBI BB5.1% K24.9% ISO .150 .225AVG wRC+78 fWAR of -1.7

O’Neill: 450 plate appearances 21HR 58RBI BB7.1% K34.0% ISO .193 .229AVG wRC+91 fWAR of 1.9.

Tyler O’Neill struggled to hit the ball hard, with low rates across exit velocity, hard hit percentage, and xwOBA. But he offers strong secondary skills, too. Despite pedestrian stolen base totals, O’Neill rates as one of the fastest players in baseball, with sprint speeds consistently approaching 30 ft/ Granted, speed does not mean what it once did, but it helps when you play defense. His Defensive Runs Saved was 9 this year, the 4th best among outfielders, and the 6th best overall. If Joe Vavra is still the hitting instructor, he could tap into his power potential and help get his hard-hit contact numbers back up.

Bag of evidence number 3: Alex Reyes’s arm.

Alex Reyes is a reclamation project, but he still owns one of the very best arms in baseball. His fastball velocity, fastball spin, curveball spin, hard-hit rate, and expected batting average all ranked in the 90th percentile or better in 2020. With his lengthy injury history it may be a mistake to try him as a starter again, but the Tigers can afford to let him go out there and struggle in a way the Cardinals never could. And even if he can’t cut it in the rotation, he has closer-level stuff and could be a valuable bullpen piece. The Cardinals have several options for the back end of their bullpen.

Final words

This trade seems highly unlikely, but it gives Detroit plus defense in the outfield with a bat that has power potential. And with Reyes they get a pitcher with electric stuff. O’Neill it is not a left-handed bat, but he is built like a brick house and reminds me of former Tigers outfielder Gabe Kapler. If Detroit is going to rebuild, they will obviously need talent at every position, and they currently do not have anyone who can play left field at the major league level.

Starting pitchers are hard to develop, I get it. Many Tigers fans would be likely be angry to see Turnbull go, and if Reyes can’t start and goes to the bullpen, it’s hard to figure out who Detroit would roll with as a starter. Their current depth is concerning. But I don’t mind sticking my neck out there and with this trade idea. The upside potential is there to make the Tigers better.