Tigers Mailbag: Tigers feel dearth of major league-ready prospects

Tony Paul

Detroit — Well, it’s happened again.

Heather Nabozny, the Tigers head groundskeeper, waited years for the ballclub to pony up and replace the Comerica Park sod that’d been ruined by multiple concerts, from Kid Rock to Jimmy Buffett.

And there it was again Tuesday night, the mismatched-colored grass in the outfield, thanks to two days of Eminem/Rihanna debauchery over the weekend.

The Tigers were a bit of laughingstock in recent Octobers, when their Tetris-like grass was very visible on national broadcasts in October.

Yet, they’ve allowed it to happen again — meaning the almighty dollar means more than image.

And that’s too bad.

Where’s Clint Eastwood — “Get off my lawn!” — when you need him?

Let’s get to this week’s Tigers Mailbag.

Question: Why don’t the Tigers ever have any prospects to call up like other teams do? Where is the Tigers’ Javier Baez? – Nick Sak

Answer: That’s a tough question to answer. OK, kind of.

Nick, of course, was among the legion of Tigers fans freaking out over the Anibal Sanchez setback Tuesday. And rightfully so. There’s a chance Sanchez misses the rest of the season. Even if he’s given a clean bill of health in two weeks, there’ll be no minor-league outpost for him to get himself back into game shape, so would there even be enough time to get back on the mound for the stretch run?

The simple answer is this: The Tigers haven’t drafted well under Dave Dombrowski. Yes, he drafted Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly, among others. He’s struck gold — or silver — on his fair share of pitchers. He should. After all, the Tigers have been extremely pitcher-focused in the drafts.

The record on everyday position players isn’t as good. Now, it takes just one guy to change that perception and, who knows, Nick Castellanos might be that guy.

The answer is complicated by the fact the Tigers have turned several bad drafts into several marquee stars, via unbelievably lopsided trades, like for Miguel Cabrera, Sanchez and a slew of others. Surely for that, Dombrowski deserves a heap of accolades.

But when the time has come for the Tigers to rely on kids from the minor leagues, it’s been problematic. Like now, for instance. They have no rotation depth, and their major-league bench is bad. At least the bench will get a boost Sept. 1, when right-handed-hitting catcher James McCann gets the long-overdue callup. But the rotation will remain thin, and the bullpen awful.

Other contenders have been dealt blows recently, namely the Angels (Garrett Richards), Orioles (Manny Machado) and A’s (Sean Doolittle). Their depth is better, though, so the repercussions could be somewhat limited. The Royals also will skip Yordano Ventura (back) at least one start. So the Tigers aren’t alone in their untimely injury issues. But their peers are better prepared, and that’s on Dombrowski, David Chadd and Co.

Now, the Tigers low-level minor leagues are said to be loaded, even after trading hot-shot shortstop Willy Adames to the Rays. Everybody you talk to says so, as a result of a couple praised drafts. The Tigers need those to pan out, far more than the last several.

Because throwing cash on the catastrophe isn’t going to be an option forever.

Question: What do you think about bringing up one of the young hitters early to be eligible for the postseason? — David Faes

Answer: Good question, David. And it’s worth clarifying for folks that don’t understand the postseason-eligibility rules. Not long ago, I was one of them.

The Tigers don’t need to bring anybody up before Sept. 1 to make them playoff-eligible. Given the Tigers injury issues, they can replace any injured player with anybody as long as they were in the organization by Aug. 31. In the organization, of course, means with the Tigers or with any minor-league outpost.

That means the Tigers don’t need to rush promotions of McCann, Steven Moya, Hernan Perez or Tyler Collins — the four most-likely position players to get a promotion — for fear they wouldn’t be able to play in the playoffs.

All four of those guys are likely to be among the slew of callups Monday.

Even so, none of the four are likely to be on any Tigers playoff roster. McCann would be most deserving, since he’d be a great platoon option for Alex Avila at catcher. But the Tigers, by continuing to leave McCann in Toledo, have made perfectly clear that they are just fine with Bryan Holaday as that guy. And I give Holaday a little credit. He’s hit some lately. But there’s a big drop-off defensively when Holaday catches; it probably wouldn’t be the case with McCann.

Now, if the Tigers want to make a trade and have that piece postseason-eligible, they’ll need to do it by Sunday. Any player they acquire in a trade from Sept. 1 on will only be able to play for the Tigers through the end of the regular season, as was the case with left-handed slugger Matt Stairs in 2006.

In other words, the clock’s ticking if they’re gonna replace Sanchez from outside the organization.

Question: Chances of Tigers going to a four-man rotation? — explenture

Answer: Slim and none, and that’s being kind to “slim.”

There are two problems with that, neither of which will please the old guard of Tigers fans who remember the days when Mark Fidrych and Mickey Lolich were throwing complete games like they’d lose their job if they didn’t.

Today’s game is different. Yes, a lot of it is motivated by money. These guys make more, therefore teams protect them like investments. So we’re in the world of the five-man rotation, and every Tigers starting pitcher — every team’s starting pitcher today — has pitched his entire career in the era of the five-man rotation.

The quick thought, of course, is the Tigers would be better if only David Price, Max Scherzer, Porcello and Verlander were making starts the rest of the way, rather than throwing in a spot starter every fifth day — outside the few stretches a day off will help them avoid that — to take Sanchez’s place. It’s not that simple. These guys aren’t used to that heavy workload, could easily tire under that scenario, and you’d end up doing more harm than good. In short, you’d take seven great Price starts over eight or nine OK ones.

There’s also this: Scherzer is a free agent at year’s end, and one who stands to earn a $200 million contract. And there’s absolutely no way the players association, the most powerful union in North American sports, would allow the Tigers to treat that golden right arm like a rag doll, thus risking injury and the Mega Millions-like payday he’s worked so hard for and, frankly, deserves.

Interesting theory, the four-man rotation, and one I’ve heard from a few others. But it’s just that. It’s not going to happen.

Question: Is there any chance the Tigers make the playoffs without acquiring a starter to replace Sanchez? — Evan Milefchik

Answer: Of course there’s a chance. The Tigers remain a very good team, albeit one that now has some questions all over the diamond — in the rotation and bullpen, and on offense and defense.

But I’ve gotta be straight with you: The odds just got a lot longer. I’ve maintained for some time the Tigers would find a way to win yet another American League Central title. They’ve tended to rise to the occasion before when things got tough in the regular season. But that stance hinged on all the injured guys — Verlander, Sanchez and Joakim Soria — getting healthy. So far, only Verlander is back — and nobody knows just how much he’ll give you down the stretch — there’s a chance Sanchez doesn’t pitch again this year, and there’s been no definitive word on when Soria’s going to rejoin the bullpen.

That’s why the Tigers brass probably is feeling extreme pressure to make a move, and probably is willing to overspend to do it. Hey, desperate times call for desperate measures, and few teams are most desperate to make the playoffs and get that ring than the Tigers. They just need to be careful they don’t mortgage a significant part of the future by chasing the mirage of a World Series championship.

I was going to wait until Sept. 1 to make my final call on the Tigers. But it’s coming early, and you’re the first to hear it.

The Royals will win their first AL Central — and the Tigers will sneak in with the wild card.

Too bad the Angels are getting the other one.

Question: Does this mean Bartolo Colon is a Tiger then? — Matt McClain

Answer: Colon, the2005 Cy Young winner who continues to churn out quality starts, seemed to be the vote of the majority of Tigers fans Monday afternoon. But it’s not that simple.

Yes, Colon cleared waivers. So, yes, the Mets now can trade him to any team, without restriction.

There are a couple issues, though:

* Are the Mets going to actually trade him? They didn’t in July, when there were offers, and they have him under contract for next year, when they believe they’ll finally be ready to win the National League East again.

* If the Mets are going to trade him, why would they do it now? The percentage bet is Colon would draw a far bigger haul in return during the offseason, when more suitors would seemingly be interested — particularly the dozens of teams that won’t be able to afford to even use cell-phone minutes to contact the agents of Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields?

* Would the Tigers even be able to match another team’s offer — the Angels have a big-time need, too, among others, remember — and would Colon actually put the Tigers over the top? We don’t know those answers yet.

A far more intriguing solution might see what it takes to get not just reliever Chad Qualls but also starter Scott Feldman from the Astros. The Tigers put a claim in on Qualls, and Feldman cleared waivers like Colon.

That price tag figures to be even higher than Colon’s, though, given you have another uninspired seller. We’re about to find out just how inspired a buyer the Tigers are.