The MLB trade deadline is looming and talk naturally turns to “buy or sell” all around baseball, including the Detroit Tigers. Perhaps given the events of this summer and talk of contract extensions by fans it’s better to ask, “ring or no ring for these players?”
"Sweet, sweet burn of sun and summer wind, and you my friend, my new fun thing, my summer fling. – K. D. Lang"
The 2021 Detroit Tigers are a fun and unexpected summer fling. They’ve been playing winning baseball since May 8th, despite the sweep suffered in Kansas City over the weekend. It’s been enjoyable to see them win some games and give hope they’re emerging from the darkness of the past few years.
But make no mistake, this is a summer dalliance, and every summer writes it’s own story. This run of success isn’t signaling a marriage proposal. The team’s front office must realize this and act accordingly.
Let’s face facts. This is a club likely to be sitting somewhere around 65 to 75 wins by the time this season concludes. The future prospects for this overall crew don’t merit a long engagement.
Realistically, there are about 6 players who might be part of a core group of roughly 15 players who will propel this team to its next playoff run. This team is being fueled in part by mediocre players having career highlights at the same time.
"The dreamy days and sticky nights of summer were already calling, as if anything could happen.C.J. Carlyon, The Cherry House"
We’ve yet to flip the calendar to August, so anything could still happen this summer. The looming trade deadline will be an excellent test to see if the Detroit Tigers are committed to the current roster, or if they are willing to move players for more parts to the puzzle.
GM Al Avila has said the tear down is done and the build up is on. If so, that’s great. But it still means aggressive moves must be made, and certain moves and commitments are ones that are the easy way out.
Jonathan Schoop will be an excellent test case. There is a sect of fans who want a full-blown marriage proposal made to Schoop. They want the club to give Schoop an extension to make him part of the core.
Others want to look at the two great months Schoop has produced since June 1st and compare that nice run to his career wRC+ of 100, making him a precisely league-average hitter over his 3,700 career plate appearances. This long track record of being “okay” is not a match to his current heater of homers and clutch hits.
In the end, it just seems Schoop (and Robbie Grossman for that matter) is a player where you enjoy what he’s given you lately as a summer fling. Fun times with an end date. The Detroit Tigers are likely better off to get what they can for Schoop now and then challenge themselves to find a better replacement this winter.
Relentless Challenge to Improve
The Detroit Tigers have put together a likable cast of misfits to win some games. But it’s not good enough, and I think deep down even the most optimistic Tigers fan knows it.
Al Avila must embrace the idea that only a handful of players on his roster are good enough right now. Everyone can still be moved because the search is on to get better. A run at .500 is not a final destination.
The Tigers must not yield to the temptation that this current group just needs more time to keep coming together and wait on the prospects to help. No…this is about as good as it gets for this crew without sustained efforts to weed out the weak.
Eric Haase is a wonderful story and easy to root for. But he’s not starting on the next contender. Derek Hill is a defensive sub/pinch running 4th or 5th outfielder on a good team. Victor Reyes is playing in Japan the next time Detroit contends. Zack Short is a utility guy. The Castro’s are fighting for bench jobs.
The Tigers must embrace the mission of relentlessly challenging themselves to improve at all these and other spots. Even small incremental steps ahead add to the momentum of getting up the mountain toward the ultimate goal.
The Tigers desperately need Chris Ilitch to fulfill his promise to spend and prove he has the “fire inside to contend” he touted about himself. Hinch has hinted it will happen. Avila has been saying it’s time to build.
Okay. Prove it. Add to the payroll this winter. Find the shortstop everyone is clamoring for daily. The Ilitch family should not be a small payroll “have not” team. It’s time to be big dog who gets off the porch for Ilitch.
Waiting for the right team to come along
No matter how the ‘21 season ends the Tigers are taking small steps to building a winner. Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal are getting established. Matt Manning might get there as well. If they don’t trade Gregory Soto, he’s under control for some time and has the electric stuff to build around if he continues to harness it. Akil Baddoo has shown he could possibly have a future on a playoff team. Jeimer Candelario is playing to the level of a supporting component to a good lineup. That’s six guys. Steps are left to take. Steep ones.
Taking a pass on a free agent market soft on competition last winter means Spencer Torkelson, Riley Greene, and Dillon Dingler are the three most important players in the organization right now, despite being minor leaguers.
Winning over the next few seasons in Detroit is based strongly on the development and health of these players. They have to be lineup stalwarts in order to give Avila a base to his lineup to add free agents and trade targets around.
The Detroit Tigers need these youngsters to develop, Avila to find the right pieces to add around them, and then the Ilitch’s must loosen the purse strings significantly. Then a contender is possible.
Enjoy this summer. Most summer flings carry at least a few great memories. But don’t mentally visit the preacher to get hitched to this merry band of Tigers.
The rise from “pathetic” to “mediocre” has been fun, but really not that challenging. The real challenge comes next, getting from 75 wins to 95 wins will be very hard. The climb gets steep at the top of the mountain. The team ready to make that ascent is the one to put a ring on its finger.