Second half: Tigers trust darkest hour is right before the dawn

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Kansas City, Mo. — Don’t think it can’t get any worse. Because it can. Of course it can.

The Tigers limped into the break, pun intended, with eight players still on the injured list, including four starting pitchers, the opening day starting catcher, second baseman and center fielder. They went 16-47 since April 23.

And in less than three weeks they might be trading away two or three or four of their best players.

So, yeah, it can get worse.

It is assumed Spencer Turnbull (shoulder fatigue) will be activated from the injured list on Friday.

That’s not to say, though, there won’t be some interesting and significant developments taking place in the next three months. That’s not to say there’s no reason to stay tuned. Organizationally, in terms of the team’s rebuild, these next three months are pivotal.

The team’s get-back in the presumed trades of Shane Greene, Nick Castellanos, Matthew Boyd and possibly Joe Jimenez could accelerate or decelerate the process, depending on the haul. These next three months will be the final evaluation time for players who are barely hanging on at the big-league level, players who are barely hanging on at Triple-A and for a large batch of younger prospects who reach Rule 5 status this offseason.

The club has to decide if they want to protect players like Jake Rogers (they certainly do), Derek Hill, Cam Gibson, Jose Azocar, Anthony Castro and many others by putting them on the 40-man roster. These next three months is put up or shut up time for a lot of players throughout the system.  

Here is some of what will be sorted out in the second half.

Starting pitching 

It is assumed Spencer Turnbull (shoulder fatigue) will be activated from the injured list on Friday. That gives the Tigers four starters — Boyd, Jordan Zimmermann, Daniel Norris and Turnbull.  And even that feels thin.

Besides the possibility of Boyd being dealt, Norris (90 2/3) and Turnbull (89 2/3) are both at 90 innings. The Tigers have not publicly set any innings limits, but it’s doubtful, given their history of injury and limited service time, they’d extend either beyond 170-180 innings.

And there is still no timetable for Tyson Ross’ return.

So, the vacancy signs in the rotation might stay up for the rest of the season.

For now, that fifth spot might be used as a rotating audition. As general manager Al Avila said before the break, they need to make some final assessments on players like Ryan Carpenter and Tyler Alexander. Maybe Drew VerHagen is brought back again as a starter.

They want to determine where best to use Gregory Soto — as a starter or reliever.

And, they desperately want to get prospects Kyle Funkhouser and Beau Burrows back on track and get their feet wet at the big-league level in September, at the latest.

Trade deadline

Greene probably has the most interest of any of the trade pieces, but not as a closer. Contending teams, with the possible exception of the Red Sox, see him as a set-up man. And that impacts the return the Tigers can expect for him.

In other words, they aren't likely to get as much as they'd hoped. 

There hasn’t been much of a market for Nick Castellanos going back to last trade deadline

There hasn’t been much of a market for Castellanos going back to last trade deadline. If the Tigers (and possibly Castellanos, too) could get a do-over, they might’ve worked harder at doing a two-year deal before last year — similar to what they did with J.D. Martinez — keeping him signed through 2020 and letting him hit the free agent market at age 29.

There was a brief time this spring when both sides thought an extension was not only possible, but likely. But the Tigers pulled back, Castellanos changed agents and hired Scott Boras. Now the Tigers are stuck trying to peddle a rent-a-player who, despite the improvements he’s made defensively, is still viewed throughout baseball as a one-dimensional asset.

Boyd, with three years of team control remaining, is the Tigers’ most valuable trade chip. There are a lot of teams that like, want and need Boyd. Interestingly, among those tracking Boyd are the analytically savvy teams like the Dodgers, Braves, Astros and Tampa.

That has to give the Tigers a pause. As much as they have stepped up their analytical game, they are still lagging far behind those teams. So what are those teams seeing in Boyd that maybe they haven’t been able to see? And how does that affect the package they are seeking in return?

Would it be smarter to hold on to him and try to unlock whatever it is they are seeing? The risk involved there, though, is a repeat of the Michael Fulmer saga. 

The Tigers’ initial ask for Boyd was a big-league ready hitter and at least one top prospect (Double-A and up). You wouldn’t expect that price to drop too much.

Coming in September

The expectation is that shortstop Willi Castro, center fielder Daz Cameron and catcher Jake Rogers will be getting regular playing time for the Tigers in September.

The hope is that Funkhouser and Burrows will already be up.

Reliever Bryan Garcia is a possibility, too.

But the Tigers can’t bring a busload of players up here because there’s too much still to evaluate with players on the active roster.

Jake Rogers

Third baseman Jeimer Candelario, center fielder JaCoby Jones and catcher-first baseman John Hicks had productive, encouraging stretches heading into the break. All three were on the verge of playing themselves out of the long-range plans.

The Tigers are going to give them every opportunity to sustain what they started. Harold Castro, who has played everywhere except pitcher and catcher and been one of the team’s most consistent hitters — and a left-handed hitter at that — has earned the same opportunity.

Christin Stewart is going to continue to get most of the playing time in left field, unless the Tigers decide to move him to right field (less ground to cover) if Castellanos is traded. If that happens, Victor Reyes might end up playing a lot in left.

In terms of wins and losses, it could get ugly these next three months. But wins and losses don’t always determine the quality of the storylines. Stay tuned.

On deck: Royals

Series: Three-game series at Kauffman Stadium

First pitch: Friday – 8:15 p.m.; Saturday – 7:15 p.m.; Sunday – 2:15 p.m.

TV/radio: Friday-Sunday – FSD/97.1

Probables: Friday – RHP Spencer Turnbull, tentative (3-8, 3.31) vs. LHP Danny Duffy (3-5, 4.28); Saturday – LHP Matthew Boyd (6-6, 3.87) vs. RHP Brad Keller (4-9, 4.47); Sunday – RHP Jordan Zimmermann (0-6, 6.29) vs. RHP Homer Bailey (7-6, 4.80).

Scouting report

Turnbull, Tigers: This isn’t set in stone, obviously, since he has been on the injured list with shoulder fatigue. But the Tigers were hopeful he could be activated right after the break. If he is, then he will have missed 13 days, essentially just one start before the All-Star break.

Duffy, Royals: He beat the Tigers in Kansas City on June 12, allowing two runs with seven strikeouts over seven innings. He finished strong going into the break, too, allowing three runs or fewer in his last three starts with opponents hitting .228 off him. @cmccosky