Paul: Tigers can’t afford to be anything but sellers

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — To buy or sell, that’s not the question anymore.

The Tigers must be sellers because they’re about four pitchers short of getting back into the postseason race, and they don’t have enough chips to get two.

The Tigers have an infield prospect (Dixon Machado) who would appeal to other teams and a catcher (James McCann). They can deal Machado, but can’t trade McCann, and Steven Moya and Derek Hill aren’t highly sought-after.

So you can see why they’re not going to be able to add Dan Haren to this rotation, let alone Johnny Cueto.

So, sell. Sell them all.

The Tigers are in a unique position in that they have six free-agents-to-be — including two elite ones in ace David Price and slugger Yoenis Cespedes. Closer Joakim Soria is a shade below.

They also have three pieces that could help the right contender in Rajai Davis, Alex Avila and Alfredo Simon.

The market this year is as rich with buyers as ever, and the Tigers are the seller with the most appealing inventory.

That’s why it’s hard to believe some people say the Tigers won’t be able to get anything for Price and Co. that would be better than the compensatory draft pick they’ll get when Price, in all likelihood, walks.

Precedent set

Price is a major asset, and will command a serious return. The same is true for Cespedes.

Either could put a contender — the Royals — over the top.

You better believe, then, the price should and will be significant.

■Last July, the A’s gave up Cespedes and a competitive-balance pick to get Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes, free-agents-to-be. Significant.

■Last July, the A’s gave up two top-100 prospects, including Addison Russell, and a major league reliever for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, free-agents-to-be. Significant.

■Last July, the Orioles gave up a top-100 prospect for reliever Andrew Miller, a free-agent-to-be. And now media outlets are calling lefty Eduardo Rodriguez the next big thing. Significant.

■In July 2013, the Rangers gave up three prime prospects, including then-No. 22 pick Mike Olt, Neil Ramirez (on the roster) and C.J. Edwards (on his way), all for Matt Garza, a free-agent-to-be. Significant.

Now, it’s true there are no sure things.

Olt, for example, hasn’t become the hitter with the Cubs he was projected with the Rangers.

But this much is certain: The Tigers could get no fewer than six or seven young, club-controllable players if they decide to sell all their pending free agents.

And that’s a lot beter than a 2016 pick who wouldn’t help the Tigers until 2017, at the earliest.

If team president and general manager Dave Dombrowski — whose status as a free agent himself will have no impact on the moves he makes this month — hits .500 on these trades, the Tigers will have done well.

Empty-handed scenario

The Tigers have about $105 million tied up in five guys next season: Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler and Anibal Sanchez.

You can understand, then, why they need to find some young, controllable talent that can contribute.

They’re trending in that direction already with the likes of McCann, Jose Iglesias and Anthony Gose.

But they need to find more cheap, young guys who can help this team. Doing so would give the Tigers more money to play with on the free-agent market so perhaps they’d have enough to sign Price long-term — even if they trade him — which they weren’t in a position to do with Max Scherzer last winter. Or they could bring back Cespedes. Or Soria. Or all three.

None of that will be possible, however, if the Tigers don’t deem themselves sellers at the July 31 trade deadline.

And it they aren’t sellers, they’ll get practically nothing for three of the biggest assets on the market, and then will face the daunting task of finding nearly an entire bullpen and rotation during the offseason.

That’s why they better get a head start on 2016 — now.

They’ve got the pieces, and those pieces will net plenty in return.