Trading Tarik Skubal would be a loser-mentality move for the Detroit Tigers

You can squint and make it make sense, but in the real world it's not really that easy for the Tigers to come out the winners of any trade involving Tarik Skubal.
May 17, 2024; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Detroit Tigers pitcher Tarik Skubal (29) throws against the
May 17, 2024; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Detroit Tigers pitcher Tarik Skubal (29) throws against the / Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

We're a little more than a quarter way into the season. The Detroit Tigers have a .500 record. Naturally fans' minds turn to ... trading the Cy Young favorite?

Yes. The talk on social media Friday was whether the Tigers should trade Tarik Skubal. The short answer is "no." The longer answer is "probably no."

Where the argument for the Tigers trading Tarik Skubal arises from

It's fair to begin with the argument for why trading Skubal could make sense.

1. Injury history -- In 2022, Skubal underwent flexor tendon surgery on his pitching elbow. Years earlier, he underwent Tommy John surgery in college. The fear is that as good as he is, he could end up on the shelf again for a lengthy period of time at some point. Memories of holding onto Michael Fulmer rather than trading him dance in peoples' heads.

2. He's going to cost a fortune to sign to a lengthy deal -- If Skubal avoids the injury bug, his value will only go up and up. That's going to make keeping him in Detroit difficult with an owner who doesn't like spending money. In the meantime, he has plenty of surplus value.

3. This Tigers team is unbalanced -- We see near nightly that it can pitch. But the lineup struggles in recent weeks have frustrated with the Tigers posting a sub-.500 record because they were unable to take advantage of the strong pitching. The argument goes, you've got to give something to get something.

4. No one is untouchable, it just depends on the package -- This is certainly true and the gist of things. If another team wants to give up more than Skubal is "worth," why not just say "yes"? The goal is to put together the best team, not just have the bests player.

When you lay that out as an argument, you can begin to see where it makes sense. You've got a pitcher with a lot of value right now, whose value could suddenly collapse, and an imperfect team that needs improvement. If you get the opportunity to make the team better, you should do it.

Why trading Tarik Skubal would be a bad idea for the Tigers

It's a lot easier for that argument to hold up in an academic sense than in the real world. On paper it makes sense. In the real world, well, the devil is in the details. It would take quite a bit for the idea to make sense.

Usually the team who acquires the star player wins the trade. It's possible for both teams to "win" when a top prospect pans out, but there's a large gulf of talent between being a potential major league star and actually being one. When teams trade for prospects, they're just hoping one of them is able to match the quality of the star they're giving up. Trading for prospects is a gamble, and prospect-ranking fever can take over these debates quick. Potential success does not equal actual success.

It might make sense when you're moving a player in the last year of his contract who you don't expect to have return. It's better to get someone who might turn out rather than nothing at all. But trading Skubal doesn't fall into that category.

Making that kind of deal would almost certainly be a loser of a trade for the Tigers. The most likely outcome is that fans would watch Skubal go off to do great things elsewhere, like Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and even Rick Porcello before, while grumbling over a never-ending rebuild themselves.

To make a deal that makes more sense, the Tigers would need to be assured of getting another established young star at a different position in return, or multiple above average major league players better than anything they could add on the free-agent market after 2024. While probably not impossible, the likelihood of this seems rather low.

This team is in position to wait this out. Nobody expected the Tigers to make the playoffs in 2024. The team started hot and has great pitching, but that shouldn't change the longterm plan. It's May. The Tigers are .500. The team has just gone through a bit of a bad stretch, but it would be ludicrous to use that as an excuse to give up on them already.

The fact is, they don't need to do anything right now. That's a luxury. If some kind of unicorn deal falls into their lap, of course they should consider moving Skubal if it makes them better now and in the future. Short of that, however, the idea has far more potential to burn bridges with fans and players alike while extending the length of a rebuild seven years in the making even longer.

That is a price they can't afford to pay.