Justin Wilson is primary focus of Tigers’ trade appeal

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Detroit — Phone lines were ablaze Tuesday. And there was no sign flames were subsiding as big-league general managers continued their trade talk six days before the July 31 deadline.

It is known that Tigers general manager Al Avila has been dealing with multiple inquiries about three players: Justin Wilson, Justin Verlander, and Alex Avila, with Wilson the most heavily pursued because of his back-end bullpen prowess, contract status, and potential payoff for a playoff-grade team.

The attention is hardly mysterious.

Wilson has been a shutdown closer who rarely permits so much as a baserunner during his ninth-inning stints that most of the time are 1-2-3 frames.

Tuesday’s data told the story, empirically:

Wilson had a .153 opposing batting average in 41 games, sixth-best among American League relievers.

He had struck out 55 batters in 39 1/3 innings, walking 16 and allowing 21 hits.

Right-handers, who theoretically have an edge against left-handed relievers, were batting .125 against Wilson.

Wilson is 29 and isn’t eligible for free agency until the fall of 2019. It’s an important two-season window as GMs dream of adding him to their bullpen.

What, precisely, the Tigers might get in return for Wilson is difficult to assess, particularly when it is known so many bidders are crafting packages that ultimately will please Avila.

The Tigers are trying to parlay this month’s trade-eligible players into multiple prospects who can re-stock the Tigers farm with players who either are close to playing in the big leagues, or who project as down-the-road probables.

The Tigers are considering shedding Wilson at the point they have calmed fans — not to mention manager Brad Ausmus — with their first, no-worry bullpen closer in years.

But the team needs fresh talent at a point when they are assembling a promising corps of back-end relievers at Triple A Toledo and Double A Erie.

Joe Jiminez, the prized right-hander who pitched this season in Detroit, has a string of 14 consecutive scoreless appearances at Toledo. He has struck out 34 batters in 23 innings.

Jairo Labourt, a left-hander who could become something of a successor to Wilson, has pitched in five games for the Mud Hens since being promoted this month. And he has followed his 2017 script, allowing three hits in 6 1/3 innings, while striking out 10. Labourt has had some strike-zone issues since his jump to Triple A, walking seven, although Tigers coaches say the bases on balls were more tied to early nerves than to any serious loss of command.

Double A Erie is also helping Avila with some long-term plans. Bryan Garcia (13 games, 1.26 ERA), Zac Reininger (13 games, 1.74 ERA), and Gerson Moreno (15 2/3 innings, 22 strikeouts, 1.09 WHIP) are among the crowd Avila and his lieutenants believe will be arriving at Comerica Park as early as next season.

All of which has made Wilson a trade piece that, while painful to ponder losing, promises a brand of return the Tigers are targeting.