Window Shopping: Pigs in the Pen

It’s July, which means it’s time for MLB teams to sort out their trade-deadline strategy. While fans distract themselves with All-Star festivities, general managers are preparing to execute player transactions in attempts to load up for a playoff run or, in acceptance of their near-term fates as noncontenders, build for the future.

In this context, the Detroit Tigers find themselves in a bit of a bind. After a very strong start, they’ve slid back to a .500 record and have been entrenched in the middle of the AL Central, never too far out of first place, but never really within striking distance. Would a first-place finish from this position be unprecedented? Hardly. Can they claim a fifth-consecutive division title without making a significant trade this summer? Almost certainly not. The Tigers’ record is not a product of underperforming their potential; instead, it likely is a reasonably accurate reflection of this team’s collective ability to date, warts, lower-body injuries, and all.

There is no question that the Tigers should be buyers this month, however thin their wallet may be with currency in the form of desirable prospects. I can’t say with any certainty whom Detroit should acquire this month– starting pitchers Johnny Cueto and Cole Hamels are the most valuable targets on the market, but the sellers’ prices may be too rich for the blood of the Tigers’ farm system– but I do agree with the prevailing preference for bolstering the pitching rotation. Shane Greene‘s floor proved too low to allow the team to continue to wait to see how high his ceiling might go, Alfredo Simon’s regressed to the very average levels we should have expected out of him as a starter, and, with appearances in just four games in 2015, Justin Verlander’s projected resurgence isn’t happening. The return of game-calling extraordinaire Alex Avila to his precarious post behind the plate can’t fix that many holes, and neither, I suspect, can J.D. Martinez‘s unsustainable home-run rate. Detroit needs to find another starter.

The trade-deadline attention on the pitching rotation represents a shift of attention away from their bullpen, the conventionally identified leading source of all of the Tigers’ problems. Continue reading

Flying Tigers: Closing Time?

Detroit sought The Answer once before, late in his life, but he brought only questions. Now, Joe Nathan is supposed to be Detroit’s answer to the clown show that was 2013 Jose Valverde. Through one third of the season, though, Joe is looking a lot like Jose.

Before Detroit canned him for the last time, Papa Grande pitched 19.1 innings for the 2013 Tigers. To date, Nathan has pitched 20.2 innings for the 2014 Tigers. Their numbers are eerily similar:

josenathan

(Click to enlarge. Numbers from BaseballReference.)

Last year, the team cut Valverde loose in the middle of the season, handing the closer job to the very capable former eighth-inning man, Joaquin Benoit. Could something similar happen this season? Joba Chamberlain has firmly grasped the eighth-inning reins at this point, and he could shift into the closer, perhaps once Joel Hanrahan is ready for big-league action. If Brad Ausmus doesn’t at least start to experiment with his approach to the ninth inning, though, Anibal Sanchez, who has lost two gems in one week due in large part to Nathan’s mistakes, may take matters into his own hands.

[Cross-posted at Bless You Boys. -Ed.]

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Previously
Flying Tigers: Closing the Book on 2013 – 6/2
Flying Tigers: Victor Martinez, Professional Hitter
 – 5/7
Flying Tigers: Actually Mad Max
 – 4/29
Flying Tigers: Waiting for Takeoff – 4/28