July 30, 2014 at 5:23 pm

Tigers keep looking at relievers as trade deadline looms

Boston Red Sox's Andrew Miller is a former Tigers first-round draft pick. (Michael Dwyer / Associated Press)

When Joakim Soria arrived in Detroit’s clubhouse seven days ago, his new team won, even if the latest Tigers back-end bullpen limelighter didn’t pitch.

The Tigers promptly lost their next four games. So much for thoughts that one player, or one July deadline deal, could be transformative, or even of instant help, for a playoff contender.

It has not stopped the Tigers and their front-office chief, Dave Dombrowski, from staying close to phones and conversations that might yet make the first-place Tigers a safer playoff bet.

The Tigers have been scouting left-handed relievers as thoroughly as they studied the right-handed Soria ahead of last week’s trade that brought him to Detroit from the Rangers.

And one left-hander they will surely consider ahead of Thursday’s 4 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline is a man they once owned, Andrew Miller, who — a year after he was a first-round Tigers draft pick — became one of the crown jewels in their 2007 trade for Miguel Cabrera.

It is not coincidental scouts from the Red Sox have joined Rockies and Mariners bird dogs by the collective bushel at Single A West Michigan, which has the strongest overall group of position and pitching talent of any Tigers farm stop.

The Red Sox, as ESPN’s Buster Olney and others have reported, are making the 6-foot-7, 210-pound Miller available, but only for top-tier prospects. It’s a steep price for a 29-year-old reliever who, as former Tigers manager Jim Leyland said, “looks like he’s throwing from 10 feet away.”

Miller’s statistics are extraordinarily good and the obvious reason why Dombrowski would appreciate Miller in a bullpen that has an abundance of left-handers but too few door-slammers.

In his 41.3 innings for the Red Sox in 2014, Miller has struck out 66, walked 13 (two intentionally), and allowed only 25 hits, good for a murderous WHIP (walks plus hits per inning) of 0.92.

The Tigers last week traded prospect pitchers Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel to the Rangers in the Soria deal and have other trade chips that would figure to be of interest to the Red Sox and assorted clubs.

Heavy on the list at West Michigan is shortstop Willy Adames, who could easily become the Tigers’ top position prospect in 2015. Adames is 18, has a solid right-handed bat that could become a middle-of-the-order weapon, and plays fine defense.

Also of interest at West Michigan are starting pitchers Kevin Ziomek, Jonathon Crawford (first-round pick in 2013), and Austin Kubitza. Buck Farmer, who like those three was an early-round college pick in 2013, is doubtless on some teams’ wish list and was transferred Wednesday from West Michigan to Double A Erie.

Another young position prospect, second baseman Javier Betancourt, could also be part of the West Michigan discussions.

Dombrowski has shown during previous July trade forays, when super-swaps have become his trademark, he is not averse to dealing young talent for veterans who can help push his team into October’s playoffs.

It is also possible the Red Sox and other teams are talking with Dombrowski about people above West Michigan.

Double A Erie features outfielder Steven Moya, 22, a towering (6-foot-6) left-handed batter who has hit 26 home runs for the SeaWolves. Erie also has a fine-hitting second baseman, Devon Travis, who might find his way into a Tigers trade package, either ahead of the deadline, or during the offseason when Detroit is expected to shop young talent, with emphasis on advertising a growing glut of middle infielders.

They could likewise consider dealing catcher James McCann, their top draft pick from 2010 who is having a strong season at Triple A Toledo (.299, and .371 in his last 10 games) and who, at the moment, has no place in Detroit.

The Tigers are not believed to be seriously chasing a left-handed batter for manager Brad Ausmus’ lineup, and all because of an acknowledged reality to the 2014 summer marketplace: No difference-making hitters are available.

A left-handed bat would be a potential boon to Ausmus. But with no practical trade targets in play, Dombrowski will likely wait for outfielder Andy Dirks to complete a rehabilitation stint, which is expected to happen in August, and join the team for his first at-bats of 2014. Dirks has been missing since March, when he underwent back surgery.

The Tigers are not necessarily looking at a deadline-or-nothing situation should they not make a deal Thursday.

In past seasons, they have been able to swing post-July trades when a player has not been claimed on waivers and the Tigers have made a claim ahead of working out a deal.

Aubrey Huff (2010), Delmon Young (2011), and Jeff Baker (2013) all arrived via the August waiver exchange.

But it is left-handed relief the Tigers are understood to be most seriously chasing as the clock ticks toward the trade cutoff. And it is another mid-summer chess game Dombrowski likely is playing with his fellow general managers as the Tigers try to lock up a fourth consecutive division title.

Lynn.henning@detroitnews.com
Twitter.com/Lynn_Henning