Ausmus says Tigers in better shape this time around
Chicago — Pretty good discussion in the manager’s office before Thursday's game against the White Sox.
The topic, as you’d expect, was the significance of this seven-game road trip through Chicago and Boston with the Aug. 1 trade deadline on the horizon.
Manager Brad Ausmus was asked how bad things would have to go for the Tigers to commit to being sellers at the deadline?
“I don’t think we’re going to be sellers,” he said. “I’d be really surprised.”
Then again, he was surprised when the Tigers were sellers at the deadline last year. Circumstances this year are different, though.
“Last year at this time, Miguel (Cabrera) was hurt and Victor (Martinez) was pretty much hurt all year,” he said. “And it wasn’t until about this time last year that Justin Verlander really started to turn the corner, and we didn’t know that he had until a couple of starts after that.
“I think we have a couple things better positioned than we did a year ago.”
Entering Thursday's contest, the Tigers are three games over .500, 7.5 games behind the Indians in the American League Central and 4.5 games out of a wild card spot.
Cabrera and Martinez are healthy, though they have struggled at the plate since the All-Star break. J.D. Martinez, who was healthy and thriving at this time last season, is on the disabled list and is expected back in early August.
“What it came down to last year for (then general manager) Dave Dombrowski was, he felt we needed another starting pitcher to make a run and we didn’t have the pieces to get one,” Ausmus said.
The Tigers were three games below .500 at the trade deadline last year. They were pretty much out of the race in the Central Division, but were only 3.5 games out of a wild card stop. In fact, they were even with the Blue Jays at the time.
Ausmus recalled the moment when Dombrowski informed him the club would be sellers and that David Price, Yoenis Cespedes and Joakim Soria were being shopped.
“We were in Tampa and Ver had just beaten Chris Archer, 2-1,” Ausmus said. “Dave had been kind of running parallel paths — whether we would be buyers or sellers. After that game I thought, ‘OK, now that Ver’s back on track, we have Ver and Price at the top of the rotation, we’re going to go after it.’
“That’s when Dave told me they were selling.”
It hit him hard. It hit the players hard.
“He explained it to me and it made sense,” Ausmus said. “But like any manager would, I told him it was a mistake. But I understood why he was doing it. He is a very savvy business executive and it made sense.
“But as a manager, you want to win. Trading away established major leaguers for players who might be major leaguers at some point isn’t something a manager looks forward to doing.”
Ironically, three of the players the Tigers acquired in those deals are part of the reason Ausmus feels the club in a better position to make a run — pitchers Michael Fulmer, Matt Boyd and Daniel Norris.
“We certainly feel better about our starting pitching now because Fulmer has come on the scene,” Ausmus said. “We’re going to get Jordan Zimmermann back healthy soon, hopefully. So Fulmer, Zimmermann and Verlander, that’s three pretty good guys at the top of the rotation.
“Then with Boyd, Norris, Anibal Sanchez and Mike Pelfrey — if we can piece together something for the last two slots you feel like you have a chance.”
Having a proven closer in Francisco Rodriguez is also an upgrade, as is the additions of Justin Wilson and Shane Greene in the back end of the bullpen.
“Like I said, I feel like we are in a better position this year,” Ausmus said.
Still, he’s not undercutting the importance of the 10 games that remain before the deadline.
“I don’t think it’s make or break,” he said. “But we need to play well. I would say that about any road trip, but there is more urgency now coming down to the trade deadline.”