Detroit — Hoping for a splash, the Tigers settled for a ripple. It wasn’t a surprise, nor a crushing disappointment, just the latest unspectacular moves in a weary rebuild.
GM Al Avila traded rightfielder Nick Castellanos and closer Shane Greene before the deadline Wednesday and received four mid-range prospects with uncertain upside. Based on the market and the circumstances, the Tigers weren’t going to get a haul. But do you wish Avila would somehow fleece someone at one of these deadlines? Of course. Until he makes an inspired move or two, and the Tigers show any modicum of progress, he remains squarely in the glare.
The best deal he made Wednesday was probably the one he didn’t. Avila hung onto left-handed pitcher Matthew Boyd, sticking to his plan that it’d take a ton to trade him. No one made that offer, so the Tigers will keep the strikeout artist who’s still young (28) and under team control for three more years. It always made sense to retain Boyd, who could become a larger trade chip in the future if he continues to rise.
And yes, it always made sense to trade Greene and Castellanos. Greene, 30, is having a career year with a 1.18 ERA, but based on his history, it could be considered a statistical outlier. Castellanos, 27, is in the final year of his contract, and while he’s a plus hitter (career .274 average), his fielding limited his appeal.
The Tigers didn’t get the biggest prospects in return, but they got some modest upside. In sending Greene to the Braves, Avila received 6-foot-5 left-hander Joey Wentz, who was Atlanta’s seventh-ranked prospect. He also got outfielder Travis Demeritte, 24, a former first-round pick who’s expected to play immediately in Detroit.
In exchange for Castellanos, the Tigers received two more right-handed pitchers — Alex Lange, 23, a former first-round pick, and Paul Richan, 22, a former second-round pick, ranked 23rd and 16th in the Cubs’ system. Avila admitted it was difficult generating interest in his three most-tradeable commodities, with a glut of relievers available. Asked if he thought fans might consider the return “underwhelming,” he shook it off.
“I don’t know what you mean by underwhelmed,” Avila said on a conference call. “I thought the return was pretty good considering the market for relief pitchers, and considering the competition and everything involved.”
The return was predictably unsatisfying, with some mild intrigue. All four prospects carry similar credentials as one-time touted picks who faltered for a variety of reasons.
Avila did nothing to change perceptions he’s struggling with the rebuild, but he didn’t make a glaring gaffe, and actually got something for Castellanos. This deadline never was going to deliver a bounty, not once the Tigers decided to set a lofty price for Boyd. In trades, it’s not just about ability but affordability, and that’s actually Boyd’s best asset. Although he’s pitching well this season — 6-8, 3.94 ERA — his career ERA is 4.82. Starters with longer track records, such as Zach Greinke and Trevor Bauer, drew much more attention.
The Astros landed Greinke from Arizona for a significant haul, while the Yankees, who desperately need starting pitching, again sat strangely immobile, and clearly wouldn’t meet the Tigers’ price for Boyd. Nobody seemed willing to even meet the low price for Castellanos, a two-month rental, until the Cubs agreed about 40 seconds before the 4 p.m. deadline, according to Avila.
“That’s the way the market was going, very difficult to negotiate in those situations,” Avila said. “Most GMs don’t bend, are pretty rigid with their prospects. … We had our sights on trying to get any kind of return on Nick, and we felt fortunate getting the prospects that’ll have a chance to get to the big-league level.
Richan, Lange and Wentz join a growing cache of pitchers in the Tigers’ farm system. It’s clearly the organization’s strength, so why load up on more? Sounds like Avila didn’t have many other options.
While the Tigers have an arm overload in the minors, they’re way, way short of position players. No, they’re not planning an eight-man rotation in a few years. They’re trying to collect as many decent prospects as possible, and Avila admitted it’s “a good possibility” he’d be able to use that pitching depth to trade for hitters.
This wasn’t a landmark day in the Tigers’ rebuild, although that was always a longshot. Castellanos and Greene are good players but marginal trade chips. The one thing Avila couldn’t do was get desperate and give guys away, and he said he wasn’t remotely tempted to deal Boyd.
“The amount of attention (the Boyd trade talk) was getting was overstated,” Avila said. “There was nothing even close coming across, to tell you the truth.”
So the Tigers muddle along with the worst record in the majors, churning toward another No. 1 overall pick. They can only hope the next one is as promising as their last No. 1, Casey Mize, now rated the second-best prospect in baseball.
This has been an embarrassingly awful season, and could be historically awful if the Tigers approach their own American League record of 119 losses in 2003. The dividends are still a long way off, although rookie catcher Jake Rogers hit his first major-league home run Wednesday. Rogers arrived in the trade for Verlander two years ago, and perhaps he can defy the long odds for prospects.
In the meantime, Avila will forge on, still looking for that elusive, eye-opening deal that gives people reason to believe this is going to work.