What can Tigers get back? Here are the possibilities
Detroit -- To quote legendary White Sox broadcaster Ken "Hawk" Harrelson, it's ov-ah.
And one impressive game against the Rays can't possibly change that.
The Tigers had the smallest of shots to get back in this thing coming out of the All-Star break, and they've failed miserably, splitting a series with the mediocre Mariners, and losing series to the underwhelming Orioles, awful Red Sox and blah Rays.
The Tigers haven't won a series in three weeks.
Any argument that the Tigers should remain buyers is gone like Donkey Kong now -- and not just because of their rotten place in the standings, but more because of how they've looked. Bad. Very bad. The Tigers, pleading two weeks ago for the front office to buy reinforcements, blew it. Even the most optimistic fans can't see this team getting the job done this year, not with a rotation that's the worst in the league, and a bullpen that's not much better.
So, the time has come to sell, obviously, ahead of Friday's 4 p.m. trade deadline.
And here's the kicker: That's OK.
If done correctly, Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski could land enough young pitching that, combined with a few wise moves in the offseason, could put this team in position to contend again in 2016, even if Dombrowski, himself, is a goner. That speaks to the extreme value of the commodities the Tigers are getting ready to spin off.
Let's take a look at all the great possibilities.
The starting-pitching market is essentially down to Price and Cole Hamels, and they're similar pitchers but far different commodities -- Price being the free-agent rental, Hamels under contract through at least 2018. So the Hamels package could be crazy big.
But the Price package should still be very appealing, especially given the ransom the Royals paid the Reds for Johnny Cueto.
Speaking of that, the Tigers might've blown it in waiting so long to sell. Clearly, the Royals checked in on Price before Cueto, and Dombrowski and Co. weren't ready to wave the white flag last week. The Tigers could've landed Brandon Finnegan and two other pitching prospects, but the Reds benefited from the Tigers' indecisiveness.
There still will be serious suitors, of course, ready to pony up far more than the Tigers would get if they kept Price and reaped just a compensation draft pick when he departed as a free agent.
It has to start with the Blue Jays, who have a Murderer's Row lineup, made better by acquiring Troy Tulowitzki from the Rockies, but they need pitching, big-time. Blue Jays lefty Daniel Norris, a top-20 prospect in baseball, would be front and center in these discussions.
A close second contender might just be the Dodgers, even as they were zeroing in on Mat Latos on Wednesday. The Dodgers have to love the idea of going into the playoffs with a rotation led by Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Price. They have the pitching prospect, in lefty Julio Urias, the Tigers might covet most, but they're not getting both Urias and third base / outfield prospect Corey Seager, which is fine. The Tigers might want pitching, and only pitching, in all of their trades.
The Yankees, a stunning contender, need rotation help and aren't afraid to pay big in prospects, and the Cubs might join the fray, too, though there's a debate in that front office whether this is the year they want to go all in, when they figured 2016 might be their year -- and they appear the front-runner to sign Price this winter, thanks to his former manager, Joe Maddon.
The Royals, meanwhile, could still want Price, 29, as they needed starting pitching even before Jason Vargas went done, and thus still need some even with Cueto. But after the prospects they gave up in getting Cueto and Ben Zobrist, they might not have enough left that piques the Tigers' interest.
Prediction: Blue Jays
YOENIS CESPEDES, LF
If Price is the best pitcher available, then Cespedes is the best batter available, having the best season since he was a rookie.
Some of his success might have to do with hitting in front of some very menacing bats in Detroit's order. But he's extra valuable because of his defense, particularly his arm, which might be the strongest in baseball for an outfielder.
Again, the Royals would've figured to be interested once Alex Gordon went down in July with a groin injury that could keep him out of action until September. In fact, a Price-and-Cespedes-to-Kansas City blockbuster would've made sense, but the timing wasn't there it seems. And now they've got Zobrist, so they're good on offense, even if they still need starting pitching.
The Rays could be a fit, if they still fancy themselves buyers. Trading David DeJesus away this week doesn't tell us much about their thinking.
Take a long look at the Pirates here. They upgraded the offense in bringing back third baseman Aramis Ramirez earlier this month, but they could use some more thump, and have an opening for a corner outfield, with Gregory Polanco not yet living up to expectations.
And the Astros might be interested, to give Preston Tucker more time to develop. But their front office might go after starting pitching instead.
No team, however, might be more desperate than the Mets, who don't know when they're getting Michael Cuddyer back -- nor what he'll be able to do, even when he does return. If the Mets would dangle lefty Steven Matz, the Tigers would be very interested.
Cespedes, 29, can't be made a qualifying offer if the Tigers keep him, so no draft-pick compensation is tied to him. So there's added incentive to deal him, even if they're very interested in signing him long-term this winter, just as he's interested in coming back. A trade wouldn't change that.
JOAKIM SORIA, RP
This is a tricky situation here, for a number of reasons.
For starters, while Soria has had a good year overall, he has showed some vulnerability over the last couple months, particularly when it comes to home runs. Second, the market for closers isn't very strong, especially now that the Mets (Tyler Clippard) and Nationals (Jonathan Papelbon) have made their moves.
That doesn't leave a ton of suitors for Soria, 31, unless a team wants to take a shot on him as a setup man, a role he has done before.
The Tigers acquired Soria last July, and had no role for him -- and the uncertainty, as well as a nagging injury, seemed to affect his performance. He's open to doing things other than closing, so long as it's clear to him from Day 1 what those things will be.
The Giants might have some interest, given their closer, Santiago Casilla, hasn't exactly been perfect this season. He's walked too many, and the Giants, looking for a fourth World Series title in six years, might be wise to have some insurance, as their fallback plan, Sergio Romo, hasn't had a great season.
The Twins, Dodgers and White Sox all could use relief reinforcements, too, even if they're each probably all set at closer.
Given the lack of suitors, Soria could be a candidate to be used in a trade with Price or Cespedes, perhaps in an effort to bump up the return in either of those respective packages.
By himself, you may get a top-100 prospect in return, but most likely someone in the 80-100 range, like Giants right-hander Kyle Crick, a live arm with control issues.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Rajai Davis, OF
This turned out to be a heck of a signing by the Tigers two offseasons ago, at two years and $10 million. But with the emergence of Anthony Gose, Davis isn't a candidate to return to the Tigers next year, as evidenced by his substantial drop in playing time this year.
Davis, 34, could help a contender, however, particularly one that could use some bench help against left-handed pitching.
That would include teams like the Mets, Orioles, White Sox and Cardinals, with the Giants possibly a fit, as well.
Teams that could use a late-inning, base-stealing threat could join the bidding, as well, including the Dodgers and Angels.
Alex Avila, C/1B
Fans will argue he couldn't fetch a bag of baseballs in return. Fans are wrong.
As much as fans want to gripe about Avila and his sub-.200 batting average, he still plays elite defense at catcher, has added first base to his resume, and walks enough to pump up his on-base percentage, particularly against right-handed pitching.
The Angels have a .200 catcher of their own in Chris Iannetta, who bats right-handed, so Avila could be a fit for a platoon, as he could with the Twins.
There's another element to this story: If Dombrowski is, indeed, moving on this winter, and Al Avila, Alex's father, is in line to become Detroit's next GM, trading Alex now could spare Al the unenviable position of having to cut bait with Alex during the offseason.
Alfredo Simon, P
No doubt, his stock has plummeted severely -- with his 8.65 ERA over his last starts, and that includes a decent start his last time out.
That was the reputation Simon brought to Detroit -- strong in the first half, awful in the second half, as he was as a starter last season for the Reds.
Simon, 34, wouldn't net a huge return for the Tigers, but still could be of interest to a contender seeking some back-end rotation depth, or a hybrid guy who could make starts if needed, or pitch out of the bullpen, which is considered his strength.
A team on the fringe of contention might be the best fit here, say a team like the Diamondbacks or the Blue Jays.
Like Soria, Simon's value could best be bumped by being part of a package deal.
Ian Kinsler, 2B
Here's a name making the rounds, if only on the periphery. There are a couple reasons for that. First, since he's under contract for at least two more years, he would figure to command a pretty good haul, especially with his offense perking up, and his defense remaining at Gold-Glove level.
The Tigers also have Dixon Machado on the verge of playing in the major leagues, and he could help the Tigers payroll moving forward.
That said, Kinsler, 33, has a contract that doesn't handcuff the Tigers. In fact, the money owed goes down in the coming years, from $16 million to $14 million in 2016, and $11 million in 2017. The club option is for $12 million in 2018.
The Tigers might be OK with that money moving forward.
Victor Martinez, DH
If the Tigers wanted to shop him, he might become the most coveted bat on the market, even if he does have three years remaining on a four-year, $68-million contract signed last November.
If a big name under contract is to be moved by the Tigers, this would be it, because his injury history -- Martinez, 36, missed all of 2012, and a chunk of this season -- might give Detroit the willies moving forward.
Moving him, though, also would force the Tigers to find another bat this winter who could provide some protection to Miguel Cabrera, and that's no small thing, unless they're convinced J.D. Martinez, after a second consecutive amazing season, is up to the task.
Justin Verlander, SP
Hey, Tigers fans can dream, right?
This is the contract that threatens to severely limit what the Tigers can do moving forward -- as he's owed $112 million from 2016-19.
I'd say there's no way Dombrowski can find a buyer, except I said the same thing about Prince Fielder two winters ago, and he was able to pawn off that mega-deal on the Rangers, while only paying $30 million of that contract.
So, who knows? Stranger things have happened, and there might be a team out there desperate enough to give it a shot, based off the last two starts by Verlander, 32, including a 10-strikeout, four-hit masterpiece Wednesday against the Rays.