Where Tigers' trade candidates sit in 'flooded' market
Heading into a new Tigers season that looked as if it might be better-suited to crash dummies, in the dugout and in the stands, there was an early sense that the most entertaining month in 2018 would be July.
It’s when trades most often are made during the six-month game calendar.
That all changed a few weeks into April.
You could see the car-wrecks piling up: Baltimore, Kansas City, Chicago (White Sox), Florida, Texas, Toronto, Cincinnati, etc., and, as anticipated, Detroit.
There was going to be too much July merchandise clogging baseball's aisles. Worse for selling teams, prices were dropping by the week as clubs that might have been on the fence about buying or shedding began posting subtle messages that their guys were on the market and available to anyone but looters.
Except that looters seem to have smashed front-office windows and are making off with much of the booty (Oakland pretty much stole Jeurys Familia from the Mets) with one week to go until a trade deadline that doesn’t require waivers arrives.
It leaves the Tigers pretty much swirling in a soup of too many bodies and not enough elite, exclusive talent to sell.
“So far, lots of talk from clubs but no action,” Tigers general manager Al Avila said Tuesday, adding: “The market is flooded to the point we may not move anybody.”
Precisely as forecasted — once all the bad-team carnage emerged mid-way in spring.
Not that Avila won’t consider dealing at least one or two bodies by 4 p.m. next Tuesday.
But he understands any returns, on any trades, aren’t going to thrill fans any more than they’ll delight a GM who has slammed into baseball’s new consciousness, which began taking shape a couple of years ago when teams got suddenly stingy about parting with prospects and taking on grizzled guys, especially if they had heavy paydays remaining.
Even for those carrying soft contracts, there simply are too few shoppers looking for anything but either elite players (Manny Machado) or, more widely with seven days to go, inventory priced at about the same level as a retail business that’s closings its doors in a few days and has just raised a sign saying everything must go.
Here’s one guy’s list of a Tigers trade pecking order that isn’t seriously disputed by Detroit’s front office:
1. Mike Fiers, SP
How many past summers would contenders have been lining up for Fiers, with his 3.49 ERA, his 1.24 WHIP, and his one-year contract, which has less than $3 million remaining? Answer: Just about any other July. The Tigers would have gotten at least a single dandy prospect. But not in 2018. Not with the shelves loaded with pitching. A deal could still happen, with some form of defensible return coming Detroit’s way. This is probably a 50-50 call. But whatever price is paid for Fiers won’t exhilarate fans, or, probably Avila, who won’t play giveaway but who had hoped for more customers aching to add a nice rotation piece.
2. Leonys Martin, OF
This is the kind of stretch-drive guy the Tigers would have plucked back in the Bill Lajoie days of the 1980s when Sparky Anderson’s teams were always looking for a late edge from their bench. He has a left-handed bat with power, which teams typically crave. He plays center field and has an arm that can destroy baserunners. And there is, today, no serious demand, any more than there is for a guy who next year should contend for a batting championship: Nick Castellanos. It’s just a crazy, flooded landscape in which teams are doing business in July of 2018.
3. Francisco Liriano, SP
A couple of sharper July starts and Liriano might have been ahead of Fiers on any Most Likely To Be Dealt list. But a six-out first inning (defense, slip-ups, etc.) in Tampa on a night when a ton of scouts were scoping Liriano probably moved him to the bargain-cart, if in fact he’s even moveable ahead of next Tuesday.
4. Jose Iglesias, SS
The Tigers have been open to Iglesias bids for a couple of years. And there has been scarcely a bite. The big reason, as with Castellanos, is teams are pretty well set at short and in the outfield. Iglesias also has come equipped with a relatively plump contract ($6.275 million) and autumn status as a free agent. Teams typically figure they have better options. That could be the case again this month for a player carrying a 1.4 WAR.
5. Shane Greene, RP
He’s, at best, a wild card in the waning seven days. Too many relievers on the market to offer the Tigers an attractive trade price when Greene just made it back from the DL and when his season, while good overall, has been unremarkable: 3.86 ERA.
Michael Fulmer, of course, might have been the Tigers’ first-place trade chip had he not departed last week for the disabled list with oblique ills. But there wasn’t even then a market gestating that would have lured the Tigers into swapping Fulmer. Not at mid-year. Not with so much pitching being hauled through the trading post’s doors.
Fulmer needs to make it back next month, pitch well down the stretch, and reclaim luster lost during something of a setback season, all due to physical issues that soon should disappear. A guess here is that Fulmer will be at full sticker value a year from now. The Tigers and he are all better for waiting.
Castellanos is more problematic, in a good sense. He anchors the Tigers lineup. He plays steadily better in right field and has shaken any doubts about his defense, which has been surprisingly good from the day he moved to right 10 months ago.
A year from now, if he and the Tigers haven’t come to terms on a new deal that seems unlikely, he could fetch a price akin to what the Tigers got for Yoenis Cespedes three years ago, which happened to be Fulmer. But that’s all dependent upon some market shifts. Three years ago, teams didn’t mind forking over a Fulmer for a Cespedes, even when Cespedes was a two-month rental. Now they don’t make those kinds of deals.
Three years ago, there also wasn’t the freeway jam-up of bad teams all hoping to off-load their older cargo for younger flesh.
Twelve months from now there could, as these cycles run, be a bunch more contenders and a few less For Sale signs. But that isn’t the case in 2018. And no team understands it better, or more soberly, than the Tigers.