What the Hell Should the Detroit Tigers Do Before the July 31 Trade Deadline?

By Mike Cardillo
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Tuesday became Detroit Tigers speculation day on the Baseball Interwebs after USA Today’s Bob Nightengale wrote that the team is ready to sell off pending free agents David Price, Yoenis Cespedes and others ahead of the July 31 trade deadline next Friday. In an unrelated — but well-timed — piece, Hardball Talk’s Craig Calcaterra went to Comerica Park two separate weekends in July and documented the team — and fan base’s — changing tenor from win-now to sell everything.

Since I’m a fan of the now 46-46 team, a couple stone cold facts are needed so you can get a grasp of what’s going on, as the team could end up holding the biggest domino about what’s going to happen over the next month:

  • As of Tuesday morning, the Tigers trail the Royals by 9.5 games in the AL Central and the Astros by four for the second Wild Card spot.
  • The Tigers have won the AL Central each of the last four seasons.
  • Team owner Mike Illitch turned 86 on Monday.
  • By most accounts, the Tigers have one of, if not the worst farm system in baseball.
  • Detroit already has $110 million committed in salary for 2016 for Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, Anibal Sanchez, Ian Kinsler and Victor Martinez.
  • Cabrera, the team’s best hitter, is out until sometime until mid/late August.
  • The Tigers sport a team 4.33 ERA, 27th in baseball. Take Price out of the equation and their starters’ ERA is 5.22.

Add it all up and it’s a mess and why last August I worried this team was morphing into the American League version of the Phillies — now a commonly held belief in the sport.

Meanwhile, Dave Cameron of FanGraphs paints a somewhat rosier picture for Detroit’s chances. Cameron establishes the Royals, Yankees and maybe Angels are in good shape to win their respective divisions. That leave the Tigers among the likes of the Blue Jays, Orioles, Indians and Twins for the second AL Wild Card spot. Here’s how the FanGraphs chart looks in graphic form.

That’s well-and-good. A team that is four games out of a playoff isn’t exactly down for the count.

Consider these two following tweets that help illustrate how rotten all non-David Price pitchers (with the occasional exception of Sanchez) have been as of late for the Tigers. To say Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon have been awful is an insult to the word awful. Detroit is far removed from the days when its rotation included Max Scherzer and Doug Fister, among others.

Thanks to J.D. Martinez’s power surge the Tigers offense has been great in July, producing the fourth-most runs in baseball. Due to lousy pitching, the team is only 7-9 in the month, failing to make up any ground — in fact falling closer to Cleveland and Chicago in the division than chasing down Kansas City or Minnesota.

Realistically the Tigers could make the playoffs — albeit of the do-or-die, one-game variety. In order to do so, GM Dave Dombrowski needs to dip into the team’s already barren farm system to acquire a reasonable starter. Detroit doesn’t even need to target Johnny Cueto, someone like journeyman Aaron Harang would help their dreadful rotation. Sitting and waiting for Justin Verlander — last seen allowing seven runs on Sunday to the Orioles — to suddenly return to his 2012 form is foolish.

Detroit is in the worst place to be: no farm system, lots of long-term contracts and not dead enough to completely call it quits on 2015. This presents two unappealing options: stay the course, hope the team gets hot over the next 10 days and pray if they somehow make the Wild Card playoff it’s Price’s turn to start the game (and get compensatory draft picks when he signs elsewhere this winter) or sell off everything, including Joakim Soria and Alex Avila and hope the return yields 2-3 players who can contribute — at low, team-control costs — for the next five years or so.

Neither sound too appealing. The heart says they still might have a shot in 2015, but the brain says this team is going nowhere fast and it’s best not to compound an already grim future. Adding a couple viable prospects for players who likely won’t be around Comerica Park next summer is the only logical play. The chance for the recent version of the Tigers to win a World Series closed the moment Torii Hunter tumbled into the Fenway Park bullpen in October 2013.

RELATED: An Important Conversation About the Second Half Major League Baseball Season 2.0

[Photo via USA Today Sports Images]

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