Such was the intrigue at Tropicana Field as Friday’s trade deadline, and some potentially franchise-shaping decisions, loomed ahead of a series-opening game between the Tigers and Rays, which the Rays won, 5-2.
“Right now, we’re doing all we can to qualify for the postseason,” Dombrowski, the Tigers president and general manager, said on an evening when he was observing his 59th birthday.
There was no hint strategies had changed Monday following top-secret meetings between Dombrowski and his lieutenants: Al Avila, Jim Leyland, Scott Reid, Scott Bream, David Chadd, Sam Menzin, etc.
Dombrowski has maintained the Tigers are shooting for a playoff spot even if the Royals are safely in first place in the American League Central and even if a wild-card playoff spot, for a team with a 48-51 record, appears each day to be more of an aspiration than something attainable.
Not that Tigers players are buying ideas the team is a fringe postseason bet. David Price doesn’t agree. Even if he is one of the most-talked-about potential trade chips ahead of Friday’s 4 p.m. market close, Price sees the Tigers sticking to tradition.
“The Tigers are never sellers,” said Price, the one-time Cy Young Award winner who came to Detroit a year ago in a July deadline deal. “They’re always trying to add pieces.”
Price would figure to earn the Tigers a return package at least as hefty as the three pitching prospects the Royals sent to the Reds in Sunday’s trade for ace right-hander Johnny Cueto.
Price, though, insisted Monday “we can be playing in October.”
Should his boss, Dombrowski, have a change of heart ahead of Friday, Price said he would accept destiny as he did a year ago when the Rays sent him to Detroit.
“If I play baseball for the Tigers, fine,” said Price, who is 9-3, with a 2.31 ERA. “If I’m traded, home plate is still 60 feet, 6 inches. What I do doesn’t change.”
Another player, outfielder Rajai Davis, also could be mentioned should Dombrowski be open to conversations with other clubs as the Tigers deal with the twin tugs of playoff dreams and trade deadlines.
“I don’t even know what’s going on,” said Davis, who, like Price, is eligible for free agency in the autumn and who ranks as a player the Tigers might choose to deal. “I’m just trying to stay focused and do what I can do to get better.”
Davis was reported by Twitter hounds to have added 10 Cardinals players to his “follow” roster on Monday. The Cardinals, of course, have baseball’s best record and might choose to at least inquire about a player with Davis’ multiple skills.
Davis, though, shrugged when asked about his Twitter pickups.
“I don’t even remember what I did,” said a man who has been a two-season bargain for the Tigers since he signed a free-agent deal in December of 2013.
Big league scouts were more clear-minded why they turned out in plentiful numbers Monday to inspect the Tigers and Rays.
There could yet be a heavy cargo of playoff-clinching personnel available if Dombrowski and his boss, Tigers owner Mike Ilitch, decide the long term is as important for their team as any immediate playoff dream.
Yoenis Cespedes is viewed along with Price to be the most prized of Detroit’s possible trade candidates. He was in Monday’s lineup, in left field, batting second and carrying alluring numbers: .285 batting average, 15 home runs. His glove and fleet feet are among the reasons opposing scouts and teams will at least ask Dombrowski this week if another free-agent-to-be might be pried from Detroit.
But the general manager was having none of that Monday. He prepared for the “27th time” to say what he intends to repeat, at least publicly, about the Tigers and their July vision.
This team considers itself a playoff contestant. At least for now. At least until circumstances, or trade offers, lead to an altered course Dombrowski insists the Tigers aren’t pondering.