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2016 MLB Trade Deadline Preview: Detroit Tigers

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A look at what the Tigers will do in advance of the August 1 non-waiver trade deadline.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

As we approach August 1, we will preview what each team is projected to do in advance of the non-waiver trade deadline. For a complete listing of our previews, click here.
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Detroit Tigers: 43-38, 3rd in the AL Central

After the Tigers opened the season by winning 14 of their first 24 contests, it seemed they positioned themselves to compete with the Royals and Indians in the American League Central. However, Detroit then won only three of its next 14 games.

Quickly, manager Brad Ausmus, who is in a contract year, seemed to be on the hot seat, which he admitted to reporters about halfway through May. The Tigers have since turned things around, though, and despite a handful of injuries, the club sits just 6.5 games behind the Indians in the division and a half-game back in the AL Wild Card standings.

Detroit has been forced to overcome a string of injuries, starting with Jordan Zimmermann’s groin strain at the end of May. Shane Greene spent time on the disabled list with a blister on his throwing hand, Mike Pelfrey and Mark Lowe have had difficulty throwing strikes, Anibal Sanchez was forced to move to the bullpen and J.D. Martinez spent time on the disabled list with a bone fracture in his elbow.

Considering the circumstances, it’s notable the Tigers are still in contention. Since there is some uncertainty with regard to its pitching staff, Detroit will likely be active leading up to the trade deadline.

What moves have they made so far?

While the Tigers have been mentioned in numerous trade rumors since the end of May, the organization has made only a pair of minor moves. On May 3, the club acquired lefty Chad Bell, who has pitched to a 3.48 ERA over 44.0 innings in Triple-A Toldeo since the trade.

About a month later, the Tigers decided to trade some of their pitching depth, sending Jose Valdez to the Angels in exchange for cash considerations. Valdez logged nine innings with the Tigers before the trade, pitching to a 3.00 ERA and 6.47 FIP.

It’s unlikely either move will have much of an impact for the Tigers, though Bell could be called upon if Detroit wants to add a left-handed option to its bullpen.

Are they buyers or sellers?

It’s often hard to predict how teams close to .500 will approach the trade deadline, because things can change so quickly. At least to this point, it seems the Tigers will at least have to consider buying given their position in the Wild Card standings.

Although Detroit hasn’t had success against Cleveland this season, the club could quickly gain ground in both the division and Wild Card standings by improving its pitching staff. Over 80 games, the Tigers’ rotation has posted a 4.65 ERA, which ranks 17th overall and eighth in the American League. The bullpen has pitched to a 4.42 ERA, which ranks 23rd overall.

Detroit hasn’t received much help behind Justin Verlander and Zimmermann, with Pelfrey pitching to a 5.02 ERA and Sanchez moving to the bullpen. Michael Fulmer has posted a 2.17 ERA over 70.2 innings and Daniel Norris is receiving an opportunity as Detroit’s fifth starter, but the back end of the rotation could still benefit from an upgrade.

Francisco Rodriguez has had success closing games, but Detroit’s middle relief options have been inconsistent. Sanchez’s 6.05 ERA is the highest in his career, and Greene’s 5.08 ERA is not much more impressive. After signing a two-year, $11 million deal, Lowe has posted an inflated 10.44 ERA over 25.0 innings.

There almost certainly won’t be a ton of pitching available before the deadline, but the Tigers’ starting and relief units could both benefit from the addition of at least one effective arm.

Who will they target?

Since the Tigers were reportedly interested in James Shields before the Padres traded him to Chicago, they will likely be focused on available starting pitchers.

Tampa Bay is expected to sell before the deadline, and Jake Odorizzi could be an option for the Tigers. Odorizzi won’t be a free agent until 2020 and might be the ideal option for the back end of Detroit’s rotation.

The Rays could also move former Tiger Drew Smyly, another opportunity to start in Detroit might help the left-hander, who has pitched to a 5.63 ERA over 96.1 innings with Tampa Bay this season. He posted a 3.11 ERA over 12 starts last season, though.

If the Padres are open to moving Drew Pomeranz, he too could be a starting option. Over 88.0 innings, he’s pitched to a 2.76 ERA.

San Diego set the market for relievers by acquiring a Class-A prospect from the Marlins in exchange for Fernando Rodney, but the Tigers don’t necessarily need a back-end of the bullpen arm.

When J.D. Martinez is activated from the disabled list, Detroit will have a crowded outfield. The club could opt to move an outfielder, potentially Steven Moya or Anthony Gose, in exchange for starting pitching.

Predictions

Assuming the Tigers remain competitive over the next few weeks, it’s reasonable to think they will add to the major-league roster. However, since they are a game back in the Wild Card standings with the roster as it is, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Tigers aren’t very aggressive.

If the Tigers feel they wouldn’t be sacrificing much in a deal for a starting pitcher, improving the rotation should be the priority. Adding another starter to the mix would allow the Tigers to consider moving Pelfrey or Norris to the bullpen.

The Tigers will add at least one arm at a reasonable price but won’t do much more. They’ve proven they can compete to this point but should remain focused on winning in 2016.