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2017 MLB Trade Deadline Preview: Detroit Tigers

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An underwhelming start to 2017 has the club in seller mode as July approaches.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

As we approach July 31, 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.

Detroit Tigers: 32-42, 4th in AL Central

The Tigers headed into 2017 with intentions of competing for a division title, despite a relatively quiet offseason that included only minor acquisitions of veteran catcher Alex Avila and Mikie Mahtook. Led by veterans Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, and J.D. Martinez, Detroit has avoided falling completely out of the Central race.

The good news: the Tigers are just seven games back in the Central and 6.5 games out of a wild card spot. The bad news: they’ve lost eight consecutive games, and currently sit 14th of 15 American League clubs in winning percentage as the 80-game mark approaches.

A breakout season from Avila has paced the Tigers’ lineup while others have struggled. J.D. Martinez, who missed over a month with a foot injury, has been phenomenal on the field for the Tigers this year, with a 155 wRC+ and 12 HRs in 41 games.

But outside of Justin Wilson, Detroit’s bullpen has been a disaster. Francisco Rodriguez (who was recently released and signed by the Nationals) surrendered 23 earned runs in 25.1 innings this year before his release on June 23. As a unit, the Tigers hold a league-worst 5.20 ERA and 1.60 HR/9.

What moves have they made so far?

Francisco Rodriguez’s release this month is the club’s only sizable transaction this season. Frequent promotions/demotions of Buck Farmer, Matthew Boyd, and Warwick Saupold have produced insignificant assistance to a struggling pitching staff that has been relatively healthy in 2017. The offense, however, has taken continuous hits from the injury bug, as Martinez, Cabrera, Kinsler, Jose Iglesias, and Victor Martinez have all seen time on the DL this spring.

Are they buyers or sellers?

The Tigers haven't won enough games to match their high payroll, the fourth-highest in baseball this year at $199.75 million. With Cabrera, Verlander, and Upton all earning upwards of $20 million annually until at least 2020, Detroit arguably has the core veterans in place to compete in a short window.

However, Detroit lacks young, cost-controlled stars at the big league level, aside from 2016 AL Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer. Paired with a bottom-10 farm system in baseball, Detroit has few assets ready to supplement an aging roster that could lose J.D. Martinez, Kinsler, and Iglesias to free agency in the next two seasons.

General Manager Al Avila hasn't declared the club official sellers, but has admitted the team is “open to trade inquiries now” and “will let the market dictate what happens,” as reported by Evan Woodbery of MLive Media Group. With the team struggling mightily, all signs point toward a rebuilding effort at this year’s trade deadline.

Who could they trade?

Every contending team could use bullpen help, and Justin Wilson has been consistent at the back-end of Detroit’s pen this year. In 28.1 innings this season, Wilson has a 2.86 ERA and a dominant 13 K/9. Controlled through 2018, Wilson is not simply a rental piece for a contending club, and should bring back a solid prospect return should he be dealt.

J.D. Martinez, who will hit free agent waters in 2018, is the most likely Tiger to be dealt before August 1. The rising star has hit consistently as a middle-of-the-order presence, putting up wRC+ of over 135 each year since joining Detroit in 2014. Finally healthy, Martinez would be a huge help to a contender like the Indians or Brewers, two teams that could benefit greatly from an outfield upgrade.

Another veteran who may be traded is Ian Kinsler, who has a club option in 2018 worth $10 million. But Kinsler’s contract allows him to block deals to 10 teams, and his desire for a contract extension may make him difficult to move this summer.

Backstop Alex Avila has emerged as a legitimate trade candidate this season, hitting .325 through 186 plate appearances, following an abysmal 2016 with the White Sox in which he hit just .213. Avila signed a one-year deal this offseason, and will attract attention from playoff hopefuls. His rental price won't force teams to move big-time prospects like Jonathan Lucroy at last year’s deadline, though it remains to be seen if his dad, the general manager, will deal him.

Predictions:

In an effort to build toward the future, the Tigers will aggressively seek prospect depth in exchange for rental players. With relief pitching always in high demand come July, Wilson will be heavily shopped after the David Robertson sweepstakes subside. J.D. Martinez will attract strong interest on the market amidst his continued offensive success, and will ultimately be moved to provide the top-tier prospect that Detroit’s farm system lacks.

Yet in a wide-open American League playoff race, Avila and the Tigers will be hesitant to move assets under team control like Kinsler and Iglesias. With the almost-immovable contracts of Verlander, Cabrera, and Upton cemented on the roster. Detroit can afford to move players at the deadline and still make a run at contention in 2018.

Wether that’s the right move to make, only time will tell. As of right now, only one thing is certain: trade rumors will once again be swirling in Detroit as direction of the Tigers’ franchise comes to a crossroads.