Could the Tigers be convinced to part with Nick Castellanos during the Winter Meetings? (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
Next week will be a stroll into baseball's Time Machine. Last time the Tigers went to Nashville, Tenn., for the Winter Meetings, in 2007, they had a couple of untouchable prospects named Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller who weren't going to be pried from Detroit's paws in a deal for anyone — unless, of course, you wanted to discuss Miguel Cabrera.
So, with that precedent in mind, fans want to know how quickly Nick Castellanos, Avisail Garcia, and Casey Crosby will be peddled for Giancarlo Stanton now that the Marlins have decided to enlist everyone but Century 21 in their quest to sell off a roster.
Here's why it's doubtful — merely doubtful — the Tigers will make a blockbuster trade next week involving their royal-blue trade chips.
Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers' front-office general, understands that in most cases his prospects hold more value at the July deadline.
The evidence is obvious. When he traded 16 months ago for Doug Fister he was able to package talent that had taken on greater luster through the first half of the 2011 season: Francisco Martinez, Chance Ruffin, and Charlie Furbush in particular.
Four months ago, he was able to market a red-hot catcher named Rob Brantly, along with Jacob Turner and a budding left-handed pitcher, Brian Flynn, and grab two guys that helped put the Tigers into another World Series: Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante.
Two years ago, similar story: Jhonny Peralta from the Indians for a then-decent left-handed pitcher named Giovanni Soto.
Prospects tend to carry greater trade value at the point teams begin thinking about next year. And teams in position to win who are making intelligent choices on Draft Day (the Tigers qualify) can often better market those prospects in July than in December when veteran talent goes for premium prices.
You can always raise a fabulous counter-argument as the Tigers get ready for next week's flesh feast at The Opryland Hotel.
Castellanos is a third baseman undergoing a sometimes-strained transition to left field. It's not an ideal relocation when good-hitting third basemen are Louvre-grade treasures.
The Tigers could be enticed, at least theoretically, to make Castellanos the centerpiece for a megaton deal that might deliver Stanton, or Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus, or Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton, or some such haul that would make the Tigers an even heavier favorite to crack next autumn's World Series.
But what fans don't always appreciate is the price, the exorbitant price, selling teams command during that peak-value period in December. Clubs are pushing full-throttle toward 2013 and sellers have a single advantage: multiple bidders for their prime cuts of beef. If, that is, they really want to trade those prizes, and in the case of the Rangers and Andrus, there doesn't appear to be great motivation to peddle him for anything this side of Fort Knox in trade gold.
Dombrowski understands there can be even greater merit to holding onto prospects when they are as good as Castellanos, and even Garcia, stand to be.
You are building rosters not only for next season but for ensuing seasons. Staying competitive over the long term means you can steal multiple championships, as the Giants and Cardinals have done in winning four of the past seven World Series.
Castellanos, more than Maybin, equates to a long-term, game-changing, middle-of-the-order bat. More than Miller, he is a star who can be projected to perform like a star, or even a superstar.
Selling out for a go-for-broke push to win a single World Series is foolhardy. It has a high-percentage chance of blowing up, all because baseball's variables (health, pitching, etc.) can be so extreme.
Does it preclude a whopper of a deal next week?
Nope. But it's probably a longer shot than it even appeared to be five years ago when the Tigers were getting ready for a nice, quiet week at The Opryland.
Shopping will be expensive next week, and for the immediate future. It was with huge dollar signs in mind that agent Scott Boras reportedly phoned Tigers owner Mike Ilitch on Monday attempting to market bullpen closer Rafael Soriano, who in step with Boras turned down the Yankees' offer of $13.3 million for 2013.
Boras has always loved the phone call to Ilitch, bypassing a Tigers front office that didn't have the payroll authority to sign Pudge Rodriguez, or Johnny Damon, or Prince Fielder.
This time, it's likely Ilitch listened to his front-office generals, who likely said: We can probably handle that closer's job with Bruce Rondon and our current cast of back-enders. We might submit that there are better allocations for your funds, beginning with a new shortstop.
So much marketplace is in flux six days before the Winter Meetings kick off. And, for now, so many reasons why the Tigers will probably be careful about peddling any kids who next summer figure to carry an even higher sticker price.
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