Henning: Tigers waiting on trade chip from A's, but fans won't be thrilled

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Mike Fiers is 5-0 with a 2.72 ERA in seven starts with the Athletics.

Those are nifty numbers Mike Fiers has rolled up since the Tigers last month put him in a USPS overnight-delivery pouch and shipped him to Oakland.

He has started seven games for the A’s. He is 5-0. He has a 2.72 ERA since relocating, with an 0.93 WHIP.

Glad you miss us, Mike.

What’s amusing — well, in the same way poison ivy is amusing — is that there was no summer market for Fiers when the Tigers seemingly advertised him on eBay, Craigslist, and during Saturdays at Eastern Market in a bid to trade him for farm-system additives.

The Tigers got no serious shoppers: A casual phone call or two from the Brewers. One or two from the A’s. And that was it for a pitcher who today sits for the season with a 3.9 WAR and an overall 3.29 ERA spanning 28 starts, 21 of which came with the Tigers.

This is one nutso market big-league baseball has been erecting the past couple of years.

Upside-down market

Think of last summer. J.D. Martinez was sitting there, like beef tenderloin at a discount price, and one measly team — the Diamondbacks — had interest as the Tigers waited for a buyer. Martinez promptly steered Arizona into the playoffs with 29 homers in 62 games, a .302 batting average, and a 1.107 OPS.

This wrecking-ball of a hitter was so potent he increased his market interest by a whopping 100 percent. Two — yes, two! — teams were meaningfully interested in signing Martinez during the offseason as he hit free agency: the D-backs, and the Red Sox, who late in the winter got a guy who might deliver for Boston another World Series float.

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You must stop and think about this in the context of past baseball history. So many years, at least one-third of the teams in baseball would have been bidding or at least drooling over a Martinez.

Now, no one much cares. Teams prefer to keep their kids tight and their payrolls light. Dealing prospects for veterans is so 2014.

The Tigers’ bounty for swapping Fiers consisted of two men from that species known as players to be named later.

One of them has since been unmasked, a side-arm reliever named Nolan Blackwood, who probably is better than most fans appreciate: 92-mph fastball that can rise on occasion to 94, all from a drop-down angle.

The Tigers expect him to be part of their late-inning crew as soon as he graduates Double A.

The second player has yet to be revealed. Be prepared to look deep into the A’s top-prospects chart when this player is unearthed, which will happen in the next few weeks.

Not the package fans wanted, for sure, but it was as good as the Tigers were getting. Remember, this was a waiver-claim deal, after July. Had there been any appetite by the A’s or by any team for Fiers ahead of August, they wouldn’t have risked the waivers labyrinth.

They would have grabbed him in July and not taken a risk.

The Tigers, too, could have backed away from dealing Fiers in August. They were under no pressure to trade him, not when he’s still a year from free agency and could have been retained for the price of salary arbitration in 2019.

But the objective is to add players you believe can give you the most help for the longest stretch of time, which is why Blackwood today ranks as a better investment for Detroit than Fiers. If there’s a second piece that pans out — and don’t expect a player with as much initial promise as Blackwood — that’s gravy.

And that’s also where the baseball biz is in 2018.

Best investment

The fact Fiers has pitched well for the A’s has no bearing on the quality of return Detroit gets in that second PTBNL.

The list is formulated early, usually with three or four names a team can scout in the season’s closing weeks to get a better bead on upside.

But it wasn’t a name-brand list when the deal was made five weeks ago. There was no Austin Beck on it, no Lazaro Armenteros and not even an Eli White.

Nor was there any great expectation on any ballclub’s part that Fiers would be the difference during next month’s playoffs.

He begins to have issues the second, and particularly the third, times through an order. He knows it. The teams across baseball know it.

The Yankees have rotation needs and could easily have scarfed up Fiers. But they weren’t interested, and neither were any of the contenders, apart from Oakland, which all along wasn’t viewing him as essential, but merely helpful.

Once upon a time, you could spin a Doyle Alexander and get a John Smoltz. You could send Jeff Bagwell to the Astros and welcome 37-year-old Larry Andersen to Fenway Park.

But it isn’t happening anymore.

Teams are either smart, too smart for their own good, or not so clever in hanging onto kids and ignoring those proven showtime pros who anymore seem to have in 2018 all the retail allure of used Pontiacs.

On deck: Indians

Series: Three games, Friday-Sunday, Progressive Field, Cleveland

First pitch: 7:10 p.m. Friday; 1:10 p.m. Saturday-Sunday

TV/radio: All three games on FSD/97.1

Series probables: Friday — LHP Matthew Boyd (9-12, 4.11) vs. RHP Josh Tomlin (1-5, 6.63); Saturday — RHP Michael Fulmer (3-11, 4.56) vs. RHP Mike Clevinger (11-8, 3.16); Sunday — LHP Francisco Liriano (4-10, 4.65) vs. RHP Shane Bieber (10-3, 4.32).

Scouting report

Boyd, Tigers: He has really become a pitcher, with a strong sequence that seems to be better when he makes sure he's leading with his fastball.

Tomlin, Indians: He has dealt with his share of physical issues, and has been pitching mostly out of the bullpen. But he's back in the rotation, and he's vulnerable.