Tigers raring to buy in belief they’re still contenders

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Detroit — Buy or sell?

It’s a question Tigers fans haven’t had to face in almost a decade. But with a double-digit deficit behind the Royals in the Central Division race, and a widening gap for the second wild-card spot, it’s becoming a quandary for Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski.

On the heels of the All-Star break, the Tigers lost two of three to the Orioles, but hovering around the .500 mark leaves the door open to going either adding or trading key pieces before the July 31 deadline.

“As a manager, you want to win every day, so you hope you put the team in a situation where they think they can buy,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “You also have to be logical about it and understand the argument the other way. You can make the argument both ways.”

Heading into Monday’s game against the Mariners, the Tigers are below .500 for the first time since 2010. But given the veterans in the lineup and the eventual return of Miguel Cabrera from injury, possibly in mid-August, the Tigers rmeain optimistic.

That is, if they can get on a good streak before the deficit gets too large.

“This time of year, a couple wins in a row changes your whole perspective,” Ausmus said. “You come down to the trading deadline and if you lose a couple, you’re a seller; if you win a couple, you’re a buyer, especially if you’re in the neighborhood of the .500 mark.”

Although they’ve fallen into a lull in recent weeks, Ausmus is more worried about getting back to playing good baseball rather than what course Dombrowski will take ahead of the deadline.

“I don’t concern myself with whether we’ll buy or sell at all,” he said. “The players and coaching staff come here trying to win every single day. I wish I was sitting here telling you we had such a comfortable lead that we don’t need to buy but that’s not the case.

“Those decisions are made above our heads.”

During his playing career, Ausmus saw what each of the buy-or-sell philosophies can have on a team. Getting a star player can energize a team in a funk or can suck the life out of a team struggling to find its way.

He pointed to Houston’s acquisition of Randy Johnson in 1998.

“In that Randy Johnson trade, he went (10-1) after the deadline,” Ausmus said. “That was the ultimate perfect deal — you acquire a stud pitcher and he comes and pitches like a stud for two months.

“Sometimes you acquire a guy who has a track record and for whatever reason, he scuffles for the next month and a half.”

In the case of the Tiger, there might not be any sure-thing deals. But with the prospect of losing David Price, Yoenis Cespedes and other pieces to free agency, the inclination is to sell in order to restock the farm system.

Even if the Tigers look to buy, they may not have to make a big splash and go after a game-changer, who would cost them other valuable pieces that would further weaken their system.

But finding the hidden gem can be difficult and unpredictable.

“The diamond in the rough is hard to find because you have to dig through a lot of rough and hope you get lucky and find a diamond,” Ausmus said. “Sometimes it’s a diamond in the rough who’s an addition and all of a sudden he gets hot and he’s a huge pickup.

“Those are hard to come by though because when you acquire him, you don’t think he’s going to be a difference-maker; you’re thinking he’s a piece of the puzzle.

The riskier option could be to stand pat, with the belief the team as constituted could make a run.

“The problem with the trading deadline is sometimes the best move is not to do anything, depending on how the team shapes up,” Ausmus said. “It also depends on what type of availability there is out there or if you can match up with a team to make a trade.”