Detroit — There’s a reason you wave the white flag.
And even in victory, you could see that again Tuesday at Comerica Park, where a holiday matinee crowd of 32,514 cheered the Tigers’ 5-3 win over the Giants.
One win to start the season’s second half doesn’t change the Tigers’ outlook in the standings. They’re still eight games under .500 and five games out of the final wild-card spot, tied for the second-worst record in the American League.
One win won’t change the long-term vision for the front office, either, as the Tigers continue this tricky tightrope walk over the next few weeks, trying to trim payroll while adding young talent without completely alienating a frustrated fan base.
But one more win for Michael Fulmer — one more impressive outing from the Tigers’ lone All-Star, who was acquired in that late-July sell-off two years ago — offers one more reason for Tigers general manager Al Avila to keep working the phones, listening and lobbying for more.
The trade winds are blowing, and the rumors will be swirling from now until the July 31 non-waiver deadline. In the last 72 hours, there were multiple reports the Cubs have expressed an interest in dealing for Justin Verlander, as well as catcher Alex Avila, though it’s far too early to tell how serious those talks — or any others — might get.
And while it’d be far too easy to get caught up in all that chatter, manager Brad Ausmus insists his team won’t, nor will he.
“I don’t look at it,” Ausmus said after Tuesday’s win. “Media members have their sources. My source is Al Avila. So my source I feel like is pretty safe, pretty solid, and I’ll know if something’s happening.”
But whatever happens this month, the Tigers better not be ready to surrender for less. They might not be holding a winning hand here — with an underachieving $200 million roster and attendance numbers headed for a 12-year low — but they can’t just fold, on the field or off.
Because when you drive a hard bargain — as Dave Dombrowski and the Tigers’ brass did in 2015 — this is what you can get.
Fulmer, in his first start since being named to his first All-Star team over the weekend, struggled out of the gate Tuesday, staking the Giants’ first three batters to 2-0 counts and giving up Hunter Pence’s tomahawk solo shot to right-center field in the first inning.
That was the first home run Fulmer had allowed since April, ending a 732/3-inning stretch that was the longest active streak in the majors. And it was just one of several hard-hit balls early off Fulmer, a stark contrast from the dominant outing he had five days earlier when he came up just shy of a four-hit, complete-game shutout against Cleveland.
Yet Fulmer, 24, proved again why he’s the Tigers’ new ace — Victor Martinez essentially said as much Tuesday — as he settled in and attacked a vulnerable Giants lineup, retiring 11 in a row at one point. He gave up another homer in the seventh but then rallied again and made it through eight before handing it over to closer Justin Wilson to seal the win.
That’s now 10 starts of seven-plus innings this season, and three in a row for Fulmer, who improved his record to 8-6 with a 3.20 ERA.
That makes him the exception to the rule in this Tigers rotation at the moment. (Verlander’s 4.96 ERA is the next-best in the bunch.) And that’s exactly what he is in the context of the trade deadline as well.
For every Fulmer that gets dealt in July, there are plenty more Jacob Turners that fans — and front-office executives — can point to with seller’s remorse.
So while only Chris Ilitch, perhaps, knows just how desperate the Tigers are to shed payroll in the short term, now is no time to panic. Not yet, anyway.
As Mike Rizzo, the Nationals president, told the Chicago Tribune last week, “The frenzy happens at the deadline — that’s why they call it a deadline. Come deadline, people are forced to make decisions.”
That deadline pressure is what finally brought Fulmer into the fold two years ago, as Dombrowski & Co. held out for more in a deal for Yoenis Cespedes and finally landed the Mets’ top pitching prospect 15 minutes before the deadline.
Even when the deadline arrives this time, the Tigers shouldn’t feel compelled to deal just because they’re out of the playoff picture. A trade involving J.D. Martinez probably has to happen, since he’s a pending free agent. Ditto the younger Avila, who seems like he’d be a perfect fit for the Cubs as a rental.
But unless the Tigers are ready to eat a tough-to-swallow a portion of Verlander’s remaining contract — he’s due at least $56 million over the next two seasons — they might have a hard time getting fair value in terms of prospects. It might make more sense to wait until the winter meetings, or possibly next summer. Ditto Ian Kinsler, assuming there aren’t any big-market contenders desperate for help at second base.
And while Wilson is still a fair bet to be moved — contenders are always in need of bullpen help, and a team like the Nationals just might be willing to pay a ransom — the Tigers don’t have to make a bad deal there, either.
“Even if we don’t make the turnaround we need, I could stay here,” Wilson acknowledged Tuesday. “Just because it is a business, and part of that is I still have another year of (team) control.
“I’d like to stay here. I’d like to win here. I think we have the right pieces. We just gotta put it together now.”
It’s probably too late for that, obviously.
But Wilson’s right about this, at least: The Tigers remain in control of what they’re willing to give up — and when. They’d be smart to hang on to that as long as they can.