June 24, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tigers have chips to bargain with as trade deadline approaches

With Jose Iglesias expected back in 2015, the Tigers might be motivated to move one of the infielders in their organization as the trade deadline approaches. (Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News)

By now, everyone in big league baseball knows the Tigersí tendencies as July and the annual trade deadline move closer to stoking conversation and, ultimately, trades.

The Tigers will be of a mind to deal. Dave Dombrowski is one of the better dealers in the game, as proved by past swaps for Miguel Cabrera, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, Ian Kinsler and others, who aided in putting a first-place 2014 Tigers team in position to win a fourth consecutive division title.

But it is neither clear five weeks ahead of the July 31 deadline what teams might be selling, or whether those teams will have the players Detroit will seek. (Big bats and relief pitchers would be welcomed at Comerica Park).

What is clear is the Tigers have trade chips. They have strong starting pitchers at their Single A stops, West Michigan and Lakeland, and at least one of those arms is a good bet to be shopped next month.

They also have a sudden glut of young middle infielders. And with Jose Iglesias expected back in 2015, as doctors predict, it is likely an infielder will be available as Detroit builds for a second-half playoff push and beyond.

It should also be noted that three catchers is one too many for most teams, and James McCann at Triple A Toledo has shown he can at least work as a part-time, or potentially front-line, catcher in the big leagues.

It is also possible the Tigers will try to trade an outfielder, given that Andy Dirks is expected back in as soon as three weeks after March back surgery.

It is by no means certain how the outfield situation will shake out, but if a trade is not made, it is probable Don Kelly, who has been used less and less in recent weeks as J.D. Martinez sees more at-bats, will be dealt, lost to the waiver wire or outrighted to Triple A if he clears waivers and chooses another stint in Toledo.

That scenario, now plausible, could be in shreds should another of the Tigers outfielders get hurt, as happened last week when Torii Hunter was shelved with a bad hamstring.

Too soon

Dombrowskiís view is that it is too early to discuss options or precise needs. But in a matter of days, as has happened every year, phone calls will increase, division races and roster needs will crystallize, and the Tigers, almost certainly, will be having conversations.

Of great impact, in the short and long term, is how the Tigers deal with their potentially heavy stash of infield trade chips. And how they sort out their best options rests in great part on a question that canít be answered until 2015: How will Iglesias rebound from this yearís season-killing stress fractures to each leg?

If Iglesias is fine, the Tigers, because of his game-changing skills on defense, would look at him as a probable starter. But they are delighted with the way Eugenio Suarez has played as the fill-in for Iglesias and shown them even before his call to Detroit this month that he had blossomed in ways they had not foreseen.

In short, a 22-year-old infielder got stronger, in a hurry, and not through artificial means, but by the simple fact he is a sturdy, 5-foot-11, 180-pound athlete who has a swing long enough, and quick enough, to hit for power.

Suarez can play multiple positions, including second base and third base. And such flexibility could make all the difference in how he is marketed, if Iglesias returns next spring and shows the flash and, even the offensive potential, the Tigers believed a 24-year-old shortstop possessed when they traded for him last July.

Also to be considered are two more infielders, Hernan Perez, 23, who is hitting .271 at Toledo and can play shortstop or second, and Devon Travis, one of the organizationís hotter prospects who plays second base at Double A Erie.

Keepers

How they progress during the second half will determine whether the Tigers can afford to trade one of the group. Or, perhaps, if the situation is overly promising, whether they could consider dealing Ian Kinsler when Detroitís outfield, starting rotation, and bullpen figure to need more muscle heading next season.

The Tigers have no offseason plans to deal Kinsler, even if he turned 32 on Sunday and is carrying a heavy contract (minimum $46 million from 2015-17).

Nor do the Tigers plan shifting third baseman Nick Castellanos to the outfield, where he worked for more than a year at Double A and Triple A. Castellanos carries the brand of bat big league teams want at third base, while his defensive skills, which are not glossy, are gaining polish from week to week.

The Tigers, to be sure, will have areas Dombrowski will want to upgrade when the phone lines begin heating in a few days. He has been dealing since spring training with a pogo-stick bullpen that has had as many downs as ups and would figure to be a Dombrowski focal point, even if Mayís big signing, Joel Hanrahan, or rookie hotshot Corey Knebel, are decent bets to help the Tigers during the second half.

But the Tigers will not be the only team hoping to turn a rosterís soft spots into playoff-grade cement. Dombrowski somehow almost always manages to make a heavy July deal. And he has trade pieces to offer as he and the Tigers work to win another division title and gird themselves for 2015.

lynn.henning@detroitnews.com
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