The upcoming non-waiver trade deadline, July 31, doesn’t generate the same level of excitement in Detroit Tigers fans it did a few years ago, when the team was in contention and Dave Dombrowski had free reign over Mike Ilitch’s wallet. Now operating as (at least would-be) sellers in the current trade market, the Tigers don’t have any obvious candidates to ship out, which further limits the already diminished excitement that typically surrounds this time of the baseball year.
[T]he trade deadline wasn’t so packed with action a year ago, and it might be even slower this season.
The trade deadline just might not matter that much anymore.
Teams knew early last year whether they were buyers or sellers. They’ve known earlier still this season. They also know the deadline doesn’t typically provide much impact.
. . .
What this means is the game doesn’t need July 31st to spur action and decisions between buying and selling status. More and more, the contenders and sellers know their status earlier in the season and sometimes even before the season. Moreover, in a game loaded with rebuilding clubs, non-contenders are perhaps more incentivized to beat the market. There is incentive for activity to begin — if it is to begin — earlier. That makes for a less dramatic deadline.
It may be worth pausing here to ask why this is happening. I don’t think it’s better information that now is providing teams with knowledge of their relative positions earlier in the season. While the new analytical approach may lead teams that do trade at the deadline to act more conservatively and uniformly and avoid badly imbalanced trades, it doesn’t make sense that that would inform teams’ earlier knowledge of their contention positions. The cause should be something new, and I suspect that cause is intentional tanking. Teams used to “find themselves out of contention” by early July; now, they begin the year that way, purposely designed to fail. This is part of the method that helped the Cubs and Astros win championships, so it’s hard to be too upset about it right now. Like other copycat strategies, though, this one soon should begin generating diminishing returns, which is why I’m glad the Tigers have chosen a more traditional rebuilding model.
To the question at hand: which current Tigers might be trade targets this month?
- Michael Fulmer: Two seasons removed from claiming AL Rookie-of-the-Year honors, Fulmer is the Tiger who’s most been the subject of public discussions about trade targets. From the Detroit perspective, the things that make him desirable to other teams– his early success as a hard-throwing starting pitcher and the fact that he’s under team control until 2023, for example– are the things that explain why Detroit should keep him. Additionally, the factors that might limit what the Tigers otherwise would hope to receive in return for a player with a ceiling like Fulmer’s– an ERA that’s rising to match his FIP and, currently, the highest DRA of his brief career– likely are the types of negatives the Tigers are better-suited to absorb now as Fulmer’s developmental growing pains rather than through a reduced prospect return. In short, Fulmer is exactly the sort of player Detroit should be looking to acquire and retain, not send away for three younger players one of whom might turn out to be another Fulmer.
- Leonys Martín: The Tigers’ new outfielder (and new U.S. citizen), already a veteran of eight MLB seasons at age thirty, is having far and away his best season at the plate in 2018. His offensive numbers (.257/.327/.431, .271 TAv, 104 OPS+, 106 wRC+) make him essentially an average hitter, which is way better than what he’s been in the past. Coupled with a strong arm and the ability to cover center field, this makes Martín an attractive pickup for a contender looking to add robust depth. He’s on a one-year contract ($1.75 million plus incentives) with the Tigers and is eligible for salary arbitration next year, so he’s cheap. He’s also hurt. A left hamstring injury sent him to the disabled list on July 1, and the team has not issued a definite return timetable, but they have indicated they’re hoping he’ll be back late this month. Prior to that, he had been Detroit’s best player this season by fWAR. If they receive a good offer for Martín, the Tigers should listen.
- José Iglesias: Another defense-first player who’s shown periodic flashes with his bat and recently became a U.S. citizen, Iglesias continues to make highlight-reel plays at shortstop (broadly defined). His power at the plate remains low and he doesn’t walk much, but he hasn’t been striking out much either, so teams may appreciate his ability to put the ball in play. Iglesias, who left a game last week after being hit on the left hand by a pitch but was back in the lineup by Saturday, will be a free agent after this season. I see no reason why the Tigers shouldn’t trade him this summer to one of the disappointed Manny Machado suitors.
- Shane Greene: Detroit’s official closer spot– the current and two prior managerial regimes all have employed fairly rigid bullpen roles– is a bit like the drum chair for the band Spinal Tap. Greene currently occupies that seat, and you can’t say he’s holding it down worse than any of his predecessors, which mostly means he knows how to make fans’ hearts skip a beat during a save opportunity. Like others on this list, he’s recently spent time on the disabled list, in his case for shoulder inflammation, but he was activated a few days ago and made two appearance in the Houston series, including closing out the Tigers’ 6-3 win in Justin Verlander’s first appearance against his former team on Sunday. Greene’s contract with the Tigers is up after this season, but he won’t be arbitration-eligible until at least next season, which should make him a financially attractive option for other teams. And while the Tigers are forever in need of bullpen help, the arrival of Joe Jimenez probably makes it easier for them to let Greene go. His pitching line so far this year: 41 games, 40.0 IP, 19 saves, 4.05 ERA, 4.19 FIP, 3.38 DRA, 0.7 WARP.
- Francisco Liriano: Detroit signed the veteran pitcher to a one-year contract ($4 million plus incentives) after the Astros let him hit free agency this past offseason. He’s been an unspectacular middle-rotation arm for the Tigers, which could offer some appeal for a contender looking to add pitching depth. Liriano left his start yesterday with back tightness, though, and he previously missed time this year due to a hamstring injury, so the thirty-four-year-old may pose too much of an injury risk to find traction in the trade market.
More on this in a future post, I expect, but something I’ve been watching this season is FanGraphs’ WAR leaderboard. At the All-Star break, no member of this Tigers team appears among the top fifty players on that list. Nicholas Castellanos (#63, 2.5 fWAR), Martín (#76, 2.2 fWAR), Iglesias (#109, 1.9 fWAR), Jeimer Candelario (#121, 1.8 fWAR), and Jordan Zimmermann (#143, 1.6 fWAR) are the only ones to make the top 150.
Meanwhile, Detroit’s only All-Star selection, Jimenez, has a 2.72 ERA, 2.51 FIP, and 2.74 DRA across 46 games (43.0 IP) and three saves.