Posted by: Larry Smith Jr. | July 24, 2010

For the Tigers, What To Do About the Trade Deadline?

With one week remaining until the MLB trade deadline, one of the hot topics locally in Detroit is about what the Tigers should do at the deadline. Should they be buyers? Should they be sellers? Should they do neither? If they buy, who should they buy and at what cost? If they sell, who should they sell and for what return? One of the interesting and humorous tides that such talk has taken has come about due to the Tigers performance immediately following the All-Star break. Detroit lost their first six games following the break (making a total streak of seven losses, including their last game prior to the break) and all fans seemed convinced that the Tigers should give it up and sell while they still could. Two consecutive victories and a White Sox loss later, the popular consensus is that they should be buyers. Funny how that works.

In reality, it seems almost certain that the Tigers will be buyers. Whether the outlet is local or national, their name seems to come up the most often in talks of all kinds. They’ve been rumored to be in on Dan Haren for almost a month now, and even when rumors stated that Haren excluded the Tigers via his limited no-trade clause, it surfaced that the Tigers might promise to pick up the option year on his contract for 2013 in order to persuade him to lift the clause. Stephen Drew has also been rumored in links to Detroit for a month. They’ve been rumored to be in on Ted Lilly, Ben Sheets, and Jose Bautista. Rumors are just rumors, but when there’s smoke there’s usually fire and the Tigers have spent a lot of time smoking cigarettes in front of a bonfire under the “Smoker’s Association of Michigan” building over the last week. The trade that eventually gets done may not involve a big name, but it appears likely that the Tigers are going to make a move of some kind.

But should they make such a move?

It would depend on the nature of the trade, but speaking in a vacuum with endless possibilities ahead I’d lean towards advocating a “stand pat” approach to making deals at this year’s deadline. Obviously if another team can be fleeced or the “perfect deal” works out, then a deal should be made, but the Tigers should not try to force a deal in this spot. While I’m a champion of two axioms that would seem to lend themselves to the “go for it” way of thought (1. Play to win now because you never know when you will again be in position to win. 2. Just make it to the playoffs because playoff competition has almost completely random outcomes and each playoff berth is like the 1-in-8 lottery ticket.), in this specific year with the Tigers as an organization in their specific position I’m less inclined to support making a deal. It appears that Dave Dombrowski is attempting to “retool on the fly” with this team — Essentially making them a younger, more athletic, more versatile team without the lengthy rebuilding phase that would mean a long period of time being uncompetitive. To that end, he’s doing an excellent job, as the farm system appears to be improving and turning out “real” players, even if those players are of the backup variety. Even bringing on legitimate backups is advantageous for a team, and the Tigers seem to be poised to set up for a very strong team of young to middle-aged players in the near future.

In addition to the previous paragraph, this is an above-average but not great Tigers team. They have more than one hole, and moreover, more than one significant hole. They need help badly at Shortstop and Catcher. They need moderate help in the rotation and could use another reliable relief pitcher. While there are players that would help this team, there’s no one move out there that would make them any better than “above average”, which they already are today. The only moves available would make them “a little bit closer to good but still above average”. Conversely, the best moves available have the potential to ruin some of the positive momentum they have going for future years if they deal or jettison some of their younger players and/or prospects in the pursuit of making an above-average team a little bit closer to “good” than “average”.

Finally, barring big moves being made elsewhere in the division, the Tigers as currently constructed are good enough to beat the other above average teams (Chicago and Minnesota) that share the top of the division with them. They are not the favorites, and it is not a prediction, but it is a possibility and more than a small one. They’ve made it this far into the season and only find themselves two games behind the division leader. They’re a team that is too good to “sell” — That would be giving up on this year when they clearly have a chance. However, they’re not really good enough to “buy”, and their future looks too bright to consider risking it to buy when buying would only marginally increase their prospects for winning the division. It seems that if they absolutely had to make a deal, their best shot would come in one of two ways: 1. Making a minor deal of modest consequence. 2. Acquiring a player that would not just be a rental, but someone who could help the team in future years as well. Among players linked to the Tigers, Stephen Drew best fits this mold.

Drew will not be a free agent until after the 2012 season, though this year will be his first arbitration season. He’s 27 years old (entering or currently into his prime years). He’s a shortstop, which is arguably the Tigers greatest position of need. He’s played 150, 152, and 135 games the last three seasons (durable). He hits respectably for a shortstop and is a decent-to-slightly-below average fielder. He certainly isn’t the player that his draft position dictated, but he’s a decent, durable player whose best years may still be ahead of him. He also wouldn’t be a black hole in the lineup and would be a threat to hit for extra bases even if not home runs. Assuming the Tigers could make a deal in which they did not give up too much, a pre-free agency youthful player like Drew would be a deal that would make sense because it isn’t just a move for now, but a move for later as well. Any deal that has the mark of a “for-the-year” rental would be playing with fire, as the future for this team looks bright and the dogfight that has been the 2010 season thus far is not worth falling on the sword for what could set up to be a very good era of Tigers baseball.

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