The Detroit Tigers are at a crossroads
The 2022 MLB Trade Deadline passed on Tuesday with a definitive whimper for the Detroit Tigers. Small predictable moves were made with unimpressive returns. Results added to the general disgust felt by many after a season holding some promise has now officially dwindled into a smoldering ash heap of disappointment.
The thing of it is, the Tigers didn’t really have a lot to deal and in many ways they probably don’t have the leadership on hand to create a market where there isn’t an obvious path to successful deal-making.
It’s perhaps the biggest indictment of the Ilitch/Avila front office in a year where everything has gone wrong at the major league level. A team which launched its major re-tooling project in the summer of 2017 found itself not only 20 games below .500 at the ‘22 trade deadline but at a point where it’s roster was devoid of multiple attractive players who could plausibly be dealt for future help. There is simply no excuse for it. It’s a cookie jar with mainly scraps and remnants of stale Chips Ahoy! left in the bottom.
We’re fairly positive Detroit had no sane ideas of dealing Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson. Those guys might be available in 2024…check back…but they’re staying put now.
There were whispers of a Tarik Skubal deal but those never seemed to have legs and then he left his last start early and all thoughts evaporated. Pitchers like Skubal rarely get dealt at the stage of his career as Chris Brown pointed out anyways.
Take those three out of the mix and then it seems no MLB club really felt a single Tiger was worthy of any offer much less a substantial deal that could alter any part of Detroit’s future. Avila didn’t have a savvy veteran catcher with a decent stick to market. Detroit didn’t have a single infielder having any kind of breakout season…or even just a slightly above average one…which could be marketed to a contender.
The outfield? Same story beyond Greene. Nobody with a lick of power or any above average skill. Starting rotation? Ravaged by injuries to multiple players, a no-show in Eduardo Rodriguez, and a general patchwork appearance of inexperienced depth.
How is a team rebuilding for six seasons so barren of marketable players to deal? The players who pushed the team slightly ahead in ‘21 all backed up in unison in a stunning display of sub-mediocrity. The free agent class brought in as a sign of a new era of hope mostly fizzled. The minor league organization didn’t have many choices to bolster the team’s hideous offense.
The Detroit Tigers are a smoldering ash heap because their house was set ablaze early in ‘22. Players dropped out seemingly every other day. Elbows. Shoulders. Restricted List. These issues all shelved important pitchers. A terrible run of bad health luck for pre-season acquisition Austin Meadows.
The Tigers have been most hurt by returning players underperforming. Jeimer Candelario went from leading the league in doubles to a ghost-like figure at the plate. Robbie Grossman had a career year at the dish and on the bases in ‘21. He backed up hard in ‘22 becoming a near automatic out from the left side of the plate. Jonathan Schoop rode a 5-week heater to a two-year extension last season. This season, while admittedly being ranked very high defensively, has regressed to a very quiet bat. Akil Baddoo went from exciting rookie sensation to packing his bags for Toledo for much of the year.
With the season in shambles, fans looked to the trade deadline as a possible source of hope for the future. If nothing else there was depth in the Tigers bullpen to possibly work with.
Detroit’s bullpen has been a season lone bright spot. A group with direct responsibility for many of the club’s wins protecting puny leads in low-scoring contests. Surely a couple of those players would attract suitors.
Gregory Soto with seasons of control left and triple-digit fastball paired with a nasty slider. The two-time All Star could upgrade any bullpen.
Michael Fulmer, Andrew Chafin and Joe Jimenez with varying skill sets for teams to choose from. All of them having good seasons. Fulmer completely shutting down right-hand batters. Chafin a tough lefty able to get righties out. Jimenez a former All Star storming back from hard times with a dominant season of high strikeout/low walk production (with a year of control attached).
These four relievers could bring back one desperately needed bat for the organization, right? Surely Avila could work the phones proactively and find new homes and good returns for a couple of them, no? Maybe he could be the third team in a deal to finagle something he wanted. Perhaps the Detroit Tigers could take on a contract a team was looking to dispatch with a good prospect attached.
None of that happened. Detroit passively watched the clock tick and the phones stay quiet. The four relievers were supposedly lost in the deep woods of a market flooded by relievers. Avila’s trade acumen secured Sawyer Gipson-Long, a pitcher a long way from MLB, from the Twins in exchange for Fulmer. Cue up the “Price is Right” loser theme.
Add Grossman getting flipped for a non-descript lefty reliever from Atlanta.
The Indictment of an Organization
Its not so much about the lack of deals Detroit made. It doesn’t seem fathomable Avila was armed only with relievers to trade. After all these years of rebuilding the Tigers were open for business but the shelves were empty. They didn’t have a marketable bat or live armed starting pitcher available to deal to help fix their future offense. It seems impossible to be in a such a sad predicament.
The Cincinnati Reds have a similarly awful team. Yet they were able to restock the system by dealing Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle, Brandon Drury, Tyler Naquin, Phillip Diehl and Tommy Pham. They had variable levels of assets on hand. Detroit had no chance to compete in the trade market at the Reds level. Envious of the Reds. How sad is that?
Restarting the fire
With the trade deadline yielding no help, the Detroit Tigers look forward.
They must soldier on through the final two months of the season. They’ll use that time to watch Greene grow up, evaluate some vets for viability moving forward, and nurse their starting rotation carefully to the finish line.
They’ll also try to massage Miguel Cabrera’s annual knee situation to some kind of acceptable outcome.
In the end, however, the future is boiling down to identifying what owner Chris Ilitch envisions as the direction of the franchise and the leadership team he’ll have in place. Will he stick stubbornly and loyally to Avila? Will he boot Avila upstairs and place a staffer on hand into the GM chair? Will he dip outside the organization for a fresh voice and a new course?
The winds seem to be blowing toward some type of change. The Tigers offense needs an almost complete overhaul. Who is most trusted at this time pull it off? When will Ilitch provide that answer?
In this space we’ve asked several times over the years…”is this the bottom?” Once again, as it has before, it feels like a low point. A rudderless ship. A crumbling foundation. A smoldering ash heap. Whatever you wish to call it. Who is the man or woman to fix it? When will the work begin? The current direction is off course.