July 8, 2014 at 11:51 pm

Tony Paul

Tigers Mailbag: Joel Hanrahan's health will determine need for relief on trade market

Reliever Joel Hanrahan, who signed with the Tigers as a free agent in May, remains on his way back from Tommy John surgery, though the timetable for his return is uncertain. (Jim Rogash / Getty Images)

Detroit ó The Dodgers have been all too infrequent visitors to the state of Michigan.

This brief two-game set ó following a two-game set in April out in L.A. ó marks just the Dodgers third trip to Comerica Park, following three-gamers in 2003 and 2008.

The Dodgers swept in 2003 (duh) and the Tigers swept in 2008. So, odds are the Tigers, 14-5 winners Tuesday, win again Wednesday.

Baseball, after all, has a funny way of sticking to quirky trends like that.

Donít be surprised, of course, if the Dodgersí next trip to Detroit doesnít take another six years. It might only take a little over three months. These teams remain my World Series picks.

Now, onto this weekís Tigers Mailbag.

Question: Where the heck is Joel Hanrahan? ó Peter Tringali

Answer: Thatís a very good question, and on its surface, easy to answer. Hanrahan, the former All-Star closer of the Pirates, is in Lakeland, Florida. That much we are certain.

When Hanrahan arrives in Detroit, though, is anybodyís guess. Rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and then a hamstring issue, he still isnít facing any live hitters.

Remember, when the Tigers signed Hanrahan to an incentive-laden deal back in early May, the hope ó though certainly not the guarantee ó was that the right-hander would be in the Tigers bullpen sometime in early June. Now, here we are in early July, and nobody knows anything.

Given he hasnít faced the live hitters, let alone gone out on a rehab assignment, thereís a very good chance Hanrahan doesnít pitch in Detroit in July, either.

And thatís very problematic. The Tigers brass was hoping to get a good look at him well clear of the July 31 trade deadline, to help determine the teamís needs.

We all know they need one more reliever, outside Hanrahan, 32. The question was, and is, do they need to go trade for two?

Thatís looking more and more likely.

Fortunately for the Tigers, the reliever pool is mighty deep.

Question: Isnít the big worry now the offense? Three guys are hitting better than .300. Thatís not a champion team. ó Dave

Answer: Thatís funny, Dave.

How quickly you forget the 1984 Tigers. They had one regular who hit better than .300, that being Alan Trammell, who batted .314.

Those Tigers, of course, were a championship team.

Thatís because they had balance in their offense, and these current Tigers have balance too. But, no question, they need designated hitter Victor Martinez (side) in the lineup. He missed his fourth consecutive game Tuesday, and seven of the last nine.

Itís no coincidence the Tigers beat the Rays in the game Martinez started, then lost the last two games of that set when he didnít.

More than even Miguel Cabrera, Martinez is the engine of the Tigers offense, given how heís hit in 2014. Itís absolutely remarkable the Tigers swept the Aís without Martinez playing a single inning.

If Martinezís injury issue lingers much longer, the Tigers will have decisions to make ó issues far more important than whether he plays in the All-Star Game: a) Whether they put him on the disabled list, and b) Whether they add a left-handed bat to their shopping list.

Question: Would Carlos Gonzalez be a realistic trade target for the Tigers, or is Andy Dirks going to be the left-handed hitter they need? ó Colin Poulin

Answer: Realistic? Uh, no. Possible? Uh, I guess. Anythingís possible.

I have a couple big doubts here, though.

One, while I believe the Tigers have plenty of appealing trade chips, particularly in the pitching department in the lower levels of the minor-league system, I highly doubt the Tigers would be aggressive enough to get Gonzalez, when there are contenders who need offense much more.

Second, I am not all that convinced the Rockies would trade the five-tool outfielder. For starters, heís hurt and is having a rough season, so theyíd be selling when his stock is at an all-time low. Second, his contract is one of the great steals in the game, seven years for $80 million. Consider this: Alex Rios is in the final year of a seven-year, $70 million contract. Yeah, one of those is really good, the other not so.

I rank the likelihood of Tigers trades like this: 1) Bullpen help. 2) Starting pitcher, so Drew Smyly can go back to the bullpen. 3) Offense. But even if they add a bit, itís not likely to be the difference-maker Tigers fans seem to be craving.

Question: Do you think the Tigers will avoid trading for Joaquin Benoit since they let him go, or is his familiarity with the organization a big benefit? ó Tommy

Answer: No hard feelings here.

The Tigers set out this offseason to go get an established closer, and they settled, for better or worse, on Joe Nathan. They also had their eighth-inning guy, in Bruce Rondon.

So, Benoit no longer was a fit here ó given his salary demands, and the Tigers relief needs.

Well, little did the Tigers know last winter that Rondon would go down with Tommy John surgery. That injury, more than any other, mightíve hindered the 2014 Tigers.

Now, surprise, surprise, the Tigers need bullpen help, and you can bet your last nickel theyíll get some.

And Benoit would be a perfect pickup, given the year heís having (0.682 WHIP), his familiarity with the city and division, and his versatility. He can close, he can pitch the eighth inning, he can be a matchup reliever. Brad Ausmus doesnít have a ton of flexibility in his current bullpen, but with Benoit, heíd have a lot more.

Question is, can the Tigers meet the Padres asking price? Itís expected to be steep, especially since Benoit also is under contract for 2015 (for $8 million) with an $8 million team option for 2016.

Question: More important player to have a better second half ó Austin Jackson, Justin Verlander or other? ó Andrew

Answer: The Tigers would take either, or both, of course.

Jackson is a catalyst for this offense, and thatís why Ausmus has him hitting leadoff again ó in hopes heíll find something from years past that can help him now.

Verlander, heís on his way back. The strikeouts over his last few starts tell that story. I suspect heíll be just fine the second half, and into the postseason. While he had a rough first inning Tuesday night, his last five were splendid, against a lethal Dodgers offense.

But Iím going to throw another name out at you: Miguel Cabrera.

Sure, the big manís numbers still are good on the surface, at .312 with 14 home runs and 70 RBIs. But the eye test sure tells a different story. He hasnít been consistently driving the ball with nearly as much authority these days. Many balls heís hit that wouldíve flown rows deep in previous years are now dying on the track.

Cabrera knows it too. Thereís a reason heís skipping the Home Run Derby (yay, now weíre treated to Brian Dozier!). He doesnít feel right. This is the bigger issue than Jackson and Verlander, Iíd say.

Question: Is there any talk of a dual retirement of No. 11? ó Frank Redmond, via email.

Answer: Interesting question, Frank.

Sparky Andersonís No. 11 is retired, the legendary manager having led the Tigers to the 1984 title.

But another great Tiger wore No. 11, too: Bill Freehan. The longtime Tigers catcher was a stud in the 1960s and 1970s, and also was a big part of a Tigers championship, in 1968. Freehan might go down as the greatest Tigers catcher in history, with his 11 All-Star appearances and five Gold Gloves. He could hit his fair share, too, of course.

I would have no problem with a dual No. 11 retirement. Itís been done before in sports. The Yankees, for instance, have No. 8 retired for Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey, and will have No. 42 retired for Jackie Robinson and Mariano Rivera before too long.

The Tigers, though, are ridiculously strict here. Outside of Willie Hortonís No. 23, they require a Hall of Fame enshrinement to retire a number ó which is why Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell still wait.

Itís an absolutely absurd policy. But thatís what it is.

tpaul@detroitnews.com
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