With the Major League Baseball trade deadline less than two weeks away, plenty of speculation has centered around what the Detroit Tigers will do.
Only a 1.5 games behind Chicago for the Central Division lead, the Tigers could look to add a couple of pieces for a playoff run. The offseason acquisition of Prince Fielder showed that management is looking to win right now.
Could Detroit land a new pitcher? An outfielder? Or a second basemen? Record-Eagle sports writers James Cook and Mike Eckert look at some of the possibilities before the July 31 deadline.
If you were Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, what one move would you make?
JC: Second base. The Tigers have solid starting pitching with Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and a healthy Doug Fister. Rick Porcello is passable (barely) as a back-of-the-rotation guy, and surprising Drew Smyly will be coming back in a couple weeks. Second base plays every day, and a fourth or fifth starter doesn't do much for you once the playoffs come, when you cut down to a three-man rotation. With the addition of a capable bat as the second-sacker, it's not only an every-day player, but also hopefully a huge upgrade over the black hole second base had been for the Tigers this season (.197, two home runs, 24 RBIs through 92 games, with 84 strikeouts in 309 at-bats).
ME: The Tigers could've started Robinson Cano, the ghost of Charlie Gehringer — or both — at second base on Tuesday and it wouldn't have made a difference in a 13-0 loss to the Angels. They need help at second, but starting pitching is more of a need. Jacob Turner isn't ready to be in the rotation and as good as Drew Smyly has been this year when healthy, I can't say I'm comfortable handing him the ball for a pivotal start in September or October. Detroit needs another good arm, first and foremost.
What one player would you target?
JC: Darwin Barney, 2B/SS, Chicago Cubs. He's fairly young (26), is solid both defensively and offensively and won't cost a ton — maybe a mid-level prospect. He's a better — and younger — version of Ramon Santiago, plus he's not eligible for true free agency until 2017. I'd like to see the Tigers keep Casey Crosby, which could help give them that dominant rotation you're talking about down the road. If they can deal for Barney as well as get a good pitcher for Jacob Turner, that could be the jackpot. It's a distant possibility, considering the Cubs are also looking to ship out Ryan Dempster. Aaron Hill of Arizona would be great (he's hitting .302 with 12 homers and 42 RBI), but he's going to be more costly.
ME: Jason Vargas, LHP, Seattle Mariners. I'm hoping the Tigers duplicate last year's moves, in that they don't give up their top prospects in any trades. And if you're duplicating last year, why not make it three straight seasons of trading with the Mariners for a starting pitcher? While the marquee pitchers are intriguing, Vargas would add another good arm without the price. He leads Seattle in wins — over Felix Hernandez — with nine. His strikeout numbers are respectable and while his ERA is a bit high at 4.09, that shouldn't scare off the Tigers. If Vargas isn't available, I'd look at San Diego's Edinson Volquez as another possibility.
Who should Detroit steer clear of?
JC: Cole Hamels, SP, Philadelphia Phillies. The Tigers have targeted more reasonably-priced players in the trade market, and that shouldn't change this year. Hamels will cost far too much, and is truly only a rental that would be here for the rest of the season and that's it. He's also got a definite air about him, and I don't know how well that will play in the Tigers' locker room. The Tigers will pursue bargains — and Hamels won't a bargain. With the expanded wild card, there will be more teams thinking they are still in the hunt and the cost of acquiring players from a smaller pool of non-contending teams will be higher than in past years.
ME: Justin Upton, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks. A former No. 1 overall draft pick, Arizona is rumored to be shopping their young superstar. However, the price is going to be too much. Detroit would have to give up prized prospect Nick Castellanos, a handful of pitchers and who knows what else. Sure, Upton's bat would be a nice piece to use around Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, but I think Detroit has more pressing needs. With Brennan Boesch and Delmon Young heating up, Quintin Berry in the mix and Andy Dirks hopefully rejoining the team at some point, the outfield issues will settle themselves without adding anything. Unless Upton can secretly play second base, I'd stay away.
What does your gut tell you the Tigers will look like on Aug. 1?
JC: Jacob Turner will be gone. He's been shaky in a Tigers uniform (10.29 ERA this year and 8.53 the season before in limited innings), and it just looks like something is missing. He is the top pitching prospect in the system (he was the No. 11 prospect in all of baseball a year ago by Baseball America). He's a guy with enough hype surrounding him, despite his lack of success, that a general manager can move a key veteran for and his fans will be happy he got a top prospect back. That bodes well if the Tigers are hoping for one of the top starting pitchers available or a power bat a 2B.
ME: I agree, Turner will probably be in a new uniform. If he isn't, the rest of Detroit's pitching prospects will be. I think the Tigers will add a starter and an infielder — and probably overpay for both. They haven't backed away from trading big-time prospects in the past, and the mentality from Day 1 this year has been win at all costs. Hopefully, the pieces they give up turn out to be more like Andrew Miller and less like John Smoltz.