Henning: Tigers make sense as Mariners' trade partner

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

In a bid to satisfy their desperate need for even a modest-hitting catcher, the Mariners are shopping for help, and an old Seattle trade partner — the Tigers — might be their target.

Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports reported Wednesday that the Mariners are "close to trading for a catcher," though Mariners beat writer Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times reported Wednesday afternoon that multiple sources have told him no deal is close.

No corresponding team or player was mentioned in Morosi's report, but the Tigers and Alex Avila would make sense.

The Mariners have a surplus of starting pitchers that could help a Tigers team in need of shoring up its back-end rotation. Avila, who has missed much of the season because of a bad knee and is set to become a free agent this autumn, could upgrade Seattle's catching tandem of Mike Zunino and Jesus Sucre.

Seattle has a pair of impending free agents, either of whom it could afford to deal: J.A. Happ, a left-hander, or Hisashi Iwakuma, a right-hander and former All-Star who has made only five starts in 2015 because of a torn tendon in his right hand and, later, a strained muscle.

The Mariners also have a left-hander stored at Triple A who reflects Seattle's starting pitching depth: Roenis Elias, 26, who in 13 starts earlier this season for the Mariners had a 4.27 ERA and solid 1.24 WHIP.

Avila is by no means an upper-tier hitter, but compared with the Mariners' duo, he and his left-hand bat could be a significant boost to manager Lloyd McClendon's lineup.

Avila is batting .195 in 30 games for the Tigers, but he has a career OPS of .748, built on a .345 on-base percentage and a .403 slugging percentage. Despite his low batting average in 2015, he maintains a .346 on-base clip due to his batting eye and ability to draw walks.

Zunino is batting .160 in 81 games, with a basement-hugging OPS of .515. His backup, Sucre, is 1-for-26 in 13 games for the Mariners.

The Tigers and Mariners have been past midseason trade allies in pulling off July deals that brought to Detroit starting pitchers Jarrod Washburn and Doug Fister, and last year, David Price, as part of a three-way deal Tigers front-office chief Dave Dombrowski and Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik arranged in partnership with Tampa Bay.

Dombrowski does not discuss trades ahead of time, nor does Zduriencik, and neither GM was talking Wednesday.

Dombrowski could be shopping Avila because of his approaching free agency and the Tigers' relative strength at catcher. James McCann, a rookie, is the team's future mainstay and showed during Avila's two-month absence that he can handle everyday work.

Bryan Holaday, now at Triple A, is a competent backup the Tigers believe is a better resource at the big-league level.

The Tigers have been dealing with acute rotation problems after Shane Greene withered and was sent to Triple A for repairs. Greene's loss was compounded when another rotation regular, Alfredo Simon, ran into June-July issues that have turned many of his most recent starts into disasters.

The Tigers and Mariners could, conceivably, decide swapping autumn free agents is a remedy for two teams' most serious problems.

Happ, 32, has a 4.14 ERA and 1.38 WHIP for the Mariners. Last week he was optioned to Single A Bakersfield as part of a short-term move designed to put Jesus Montero, a former catcher now playing as a first baseman, into Seattle's lineup.

Happ has pitched previously for the Astros, Blue Jays, and Phillies, and in 2009 was runner-up for National League Rookie of the Year in Philadelphia.

Iwakuma, 34, has a 5.22 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in five 2015 starts. He has pitched in the U.S. only since 2012. He was third in American League Cy Young Award voting in 2013 after he as 14-6, with a 2.66 ERA and 1.01 WHIP.