It’s always tricky, balancing supply with demand.
But a year after he sold off major pieces at the trade deadline, Tigers general manager Al Avila may have trouble selling much of anything this summer.
That’s true with respect to the fans demanding more red meat – in the form of blue-chip prospects – now that the rebuild is officially underway in Detroit. And it’s true of the pennant-chasing teams looking for the kind of difference-makers Avila supplied last summer.
Avila doesn’t have a Justin Verlander or J.D. Martinez up for auction this time around. He doesn’t even have a lefty reliever having a career year like Justin Wilson.
And as another deadline looms — Major League Baseball’s non-waiver swap meet ends three weeks from today — the prospects for another summer blockbuster in Detroit simply aren’t all that encouraging, not that anybody should be surprised to hear that.
For starters, it’s a buyer’s market, and one needs only to look at the stratified American League standings to understand why. The Red Sox and Yankees are playoff locks atop the A.L. East, the Indians are running away with the Central, and the defending champs in Houston remain the class of the West. Even the battle for the final wild-card spot seems like a lost cause, with Seattle still 6 1/2 games up on Oakland entering Monday’s play.
The National League races are a bit more intriguing, with tight races in all three divisions and as many as seven other teams arguably in the wild-card hunt heading into the All-Star break next week. Still, only six N.L. teams have better than a 20 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to Baseball Prospectus. And frankly, the bigger problem for a team like Detroit right now is the supply side of MLB’s economy. With so many teams in rebuilding mode — or bracing for a demolition like the one fans watched here last year — the shelves would appear to be well-stocked in just about every aisle.
Baltimore is a whopping 40 games under .500 and everything must go, starting with All-Star Manny Machado, who’ll probably be the biggest prize at this year’s deadline. Kansas City’s ready for a fire sale of its own, with third baseman Mike Moustakas the biggest draw among several rental options.
But there are other teams that didn’t expect to be also-rans so quickly that now find themselves looking for a reset button. Teams like the Pirates and Mets and Rangers and Blue Jays and Twins, whose manager Paul Molitor acknowledged last week, “Everyone kind of understands this is where we’re at.”
The good news for the Tigers is they’re about where they expected to be. And because of that, Avila insists his hand won’t be forced this July.
“I don’t have a mandate to trade anyone,” he says.
If Avila isn’t shopping the major-league assets he has on his roster then he’s not doing his job, and he knows it, despite what he might say publicly. But there’s a difference between entertaining offers for Michael Fulmer and looking to unload him. Ditto Nick Castellanos, who is having a career year at the plate but won’t hit free agency until 2020. There’s “open-minded” — Avila’s words — and then there’s desperate.
When Avila said last month, “we have to play it out,” he was talking about the big picture, but it offered a window into his trade-deadline plans as well.
Fulmer’s a year removed from his first All-Star appearance, and only two years removed from winning AL rookie of the year honors. He’s also 10 months removed from elbow surgery, but he’s looking like his old self the last month, with a 3.10 ERA and 1.11 WHIP with 36 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings over his last six starts. And for a 25-year-old front-end starter who is under club control until 2023, anything close to a fair-value trade seems unlikely to play out this summer, especially with so many other options available for teams like the Yankees, Dodgers, Mariners and Brewers.
No, the better bet to get dealt from the Tigers’ staff is Francisco Liriano, a left-handed starter the Blue Jays sent to the Astros last July for Teoscar Hernandez. Just don’t expect a similar return this summer for a guy who struggled in another audition Monday night in Tampa — 41 pitches and five runs in the first inning wasn’t much of a sales pitch — and someone who figures to be a spare part in the bullpen for a contender, anyway.
Same goes for Mike Fiers, a veteran righty Avila signed with the deadline in mind and a guy who has pitched well for most of this season. Or even for shortstop Jose Iglesias, a rental who might make sense as a defensive upgrade for a playoff team with a stacked lineup.
Avila’s best trade last summer might’ve been the deal with the Cubs, sending Wilson and a backup catcher — his son, Alex — to Chicago in exchange for a pair of top-10 prospects in the Cubs’ system: Jaimer Candelario and Isaac Paredes. The former has already shown his major-league ability, and the Tigers remain bullish on the 19-year-old Paredes’ offensive upside as a middle infielder.
But while playoff contenders are always looking for bullpen help — 8-10 relievers get dealt at the deadline most years — teams like San Diego and Cincinnati and Minnesota appear have more enticing relief options to offer contenders than Avila does this summer with closer Shane Greene. Even names like Tyler Clippard and Joakim Soria probably sound like safer picks to GMs looking for veteran bullpen help, particularly with Greene on the disabled list at the moment.
He and newly-minted All-Star Joe Jimenez both ranked among the league leaders in appearances in the first half of the season, and one can’t help but wonder if Greene was over-used, especially after his velocity dropped, his shoulder started to hurt and he went for an MRI to rule out any structural damage. It did, and Greene, who was scheduled to throw a bullpen session Monday in Tampa, could be activated from the DL later this week.
That would give him perhaps a handful of opportunities to show other teams he’s healthy before the deadline.
But with Greene still under team control for two more years, it’s probably another case where Avila will decide patience is the more prudent approach.
On balance, it’s hard to argue otherwise.
Al Avila was named general manager of the Tigers in August 2015. Here are some of his most notable transactions since.
Nov. 18: Traded 2B Javier Betancourt and a player to be named later (C Manny Pina) to the Brewers for RP Francisco Rodriguez.
Nov. 30: Signed SP Jordan Zimmermann as a free agent.
Dec. 6: Signed SP Mike Pelfrey as a free agent.
Dec. 9: Traded SP Luis Cessa and SP Chad Green to the Yankees for RP Justin Wilson.
Jan. 20: Signed OF Justin Upton as a free agent.
April 23: Selected C/1B John Hicks off waivers from the Twins.
Nov. 3: Traded OF Cameron Maybin to Angels for RP Victor Alcantara.
Jan. 18: Traded a player to be named later (RP Drew Smith) to the Rays for OF Mikie Mahtook.
July 18: Traded OF J.D. Martinez to the Diamondbacks for 2B Dawel Lugo, IF Sergio Alcantara and IF Jose King.
July 31: Traded C/1B Alex Avila and RP Justin Wilson to the Cubs for 3B Jeimer Candelario and SS Isaac Paredes.
Aug. 31: Traded OF Justin Upton to the Angels for SP Grayson Long and a player to be named later (SP Elvin Rodriguez).
Aug. 31: Traded SP Justin Verlander and a player to be named later (OF Juan Ramirez) to the Astros for SP Franklin Perez, CF Daz Cameron and C Jake Rogers.
Nov. 14: Signed UT Niko Goodrum as a free agent.
Dec. 5: Signed OF Leonys Martin as a free agent.
Dec. 8: Signed SP Mike Fiers as a free agent.
Dec. 13: Traded 2B Ian Kinsler to the Angels for SP Wilkel Hernandez and OF Troy Montgomery.
Dec. 14: Selected OF Victor Reyes from the Diamondbacks in the Rule 5 draft.