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Would the Detroit Tigers be playoff contenders if they could reverse these 5 trades?

Tigers rebuilding after decade-long run of contention

The Detroit Tigers made several trades during their decade-long run of contending in the American League, so some of the moves were sure to come back to haunt them (Getty Images).
The Detroit Tigers made several trades during their decade-long run of contending in the American League, so some of the moves were sure to come back to haunt them (Getty Images).

DETROIT – Don't look now, but baseball season is right around the corner. The Detroit Tigers will play their first spring training game next week, and fans are going into the year with an unfamiliar feeling.

After a decade of pushing to win a World Series -- which included four division titles, five playoff appearances and two American League pennants -- the Tigers have closed the door on an era.

General manager Al Avila pulled the trigger on a full-blown rebuild last season, and the focus this year will turn to the development of young players, rather than a win-at-all-costs attitude.

The Tigers' method of getting to the top was flashy, but trading for big-name players and dishing out enormous contracts is inherently more risky than building through the minor leagues.

So here we are. It's time for the Tigers to pay the price for all the moves they made to get to -- well, very near -- the top.

But what if they could reverse some of those moves?

Dave Dombrowski made some masterful trades as the general manager of the Tigers, such as landing Miguel Cabrera and offloading Prince Fielder's contract in exchange for Ian Kinsler.

Some of the moves didn't work out as well, however, and while the Tigers obviously can't go back on the deals, it's a perfect demonstration of how trading prospects can backfire.

The Tigers made five trades over the past five years that have come back to bite them. Here's a look at the overall impact of those moves.

Robbie Ray-Shane Greene trade

TRADE: Tigers send SP Robbie Ray and INF Domingo Leyba to Arizona, Yankees send SP Shane Greene to Detroit, Diamondbacks send SS Didi Gregorius to New York

What they lost

This is shaping up to be a trade that haunts the Tigers, as Robbie Ray turns into a top-of-the-line starter for the Diamondbacks.

Dombrowski dealt Ray after just six starts and 28.2 total innings as a Tiger in 2014. The fan base was outraged by the decision to trade Doug Fister for Ray, and when he struggled in his first short stint, it seemed as if the Tigers had given up on him.

Robbie Ray was the second-most valuable pitcher on the Diamondbacks as they marched to the postseason (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images).
Robbie Ray was the second-most valuable pitcher on the Diamondbacks as they marched to the postseason (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images).

That has since backfired, as Ray posted elite numbers as a 25-year-old in 2017. In 162 innings, Ray struck out 218 batters en route to becoming one of the 10 most valuable pitchers in the game.

In 28 starts, Ray compiled a 1.15 WHIP and held batters to a .199 average and .646 OPS. He posted the second-best strikeout rate (12.11 K/9) among MLB starters, whiffing even more batters than Max Scherzer.

And he did it all in the third-most friendly hitter's park in baseball. Chase Field yields more runs than every stadium except Coors Field in Denver and Globe Life Park in Arlington. It's also the fourth-friendliest home run park.

Ray has only had one great season at the MLB level, but his strikeout rate was elite in 2016, hinting at his elite potential. It looks as if the Tigers gave up a top-of-the-rotation left-handed starting pitcher in his mid-20s, which is the most valuable commodity in baseball.

What they got

When the Tigers acquired Shane Greene, they expected him to be a member of the starting rotation. He posted good numbers as a rookie starter for the Yankees, striking out more than a batter per inning.

But his only season as a Tigers starter was disastrous. Greene finished 2015 with 83.2 innings pitched, allowing 103 hits and striking out just 50 batters. His 1.55 WHIP and 64 earned runs allowed made him much worse than a replacement-level player.

The Tigers decided to cut their loses and move Greene to the bullpen, where he was awful in 2016 before turning things around last season. He finished the year as the team's closer, though he blew four of 13 save opportunities.

Greene enters 2018 as the team's best relief pitcher, but at 29 years old, he'll likely move on before the Tigers are ready to contend for the postseason again.

Comparison

Robbie Ray (26 years old): 162 innings pitched, 218 strikeouts, 71 walks, 15-5 record, 1.15 WHIP, 2.89 ERA, 5.0 WAR.

Shane Greene (29 years old): 67.2 innings pitched, 73 strikeouts, 34 walks, 9 saves, 14 holds, 1.24 WHIP, 2.66 ERA, 2.4 WAR

Last season, Ray was worth about 2.6 more wins than Greene.

Eugenio Suarez-Alfredo Simon trade

TRADE: Tigers send SS Eugenio Suarez and P Jonathon Craword for Cincinnati for SP Alfredo Simon

What they lost

Before debuting in 2014, Eugenio Suarez was the Tigers' No. 5 prospect. He struggled as a 22-year-old in 2014, but showed flashes of his potential with 22 walks and 14 extra-base hits in 244 at-bats.

Eugenio Suarez has hit 60 home runs in three seasons with the Reds. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images).
Eugenio Suarez has hit 60 home runs in three seasons with the Reds. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images).

Since the trade, Suarez has improved drastically. He was a 0.8 WAR player in 2015, a 1.5 WAR player in 2016 and a 3.7 WAR player in 2017.

As the team's full-time third baseman, Suarez smacked 26 home runs and 25 doubles last season en route to a .461 slugging percentage. He also drew 84 walks compared to 147 strikeouts, resulting in a .367 on-base percentage.

His .828 OPS was 11th in MLB at third base, which is an elite offensive position. He was more valuable than Manny Machado, Kyle Seager and Evan Longoria last year, and three wins better than Nicholas Castellanos (0.7 WAR).

What they got

This was one of the truly confusing acquisitions of the Dombrowski era, triggered by the decision to trade Rick Porcello to Boston for Yoenis Cespedes.

Dombrowski moved quickly to fill Porcello's hole in the starting rotation, but he landed a 33-year-old converted relief pitcher with glaring strikeout problems.

After landing Simon, the Tigers heralded him as a "all-star starter Alfredo Simon," which was technically true but didn't tell the whole story. Simon was converted to a full-time starting pitcher in 2014 after two seasons in the bullpen.

He was surprisingly effective in the first half of the year, but fell apart after the All-Star Game, allowing 40 earned runs in 79.2 innings and striking out just 52 batters.

Second-half Simon is exactly what the Tigers got, as he allowed 201 hits and 105 earned runs in 187 innings, striking out only 117 batters. His 1.44 WHIP, 5.05 ERA and low strikeout rate made him a below-replacement level pitcher, and he lasted only one season in Detroit.

Comparison

Eugenio Suarez (26 years old): 26 home runs, 25 doubles, 84 walks in 534 at-bats; .260 average, .367 OBP, .461 slugging, 3.7 WAR

Tigers third basemen in 2017: 21 home runs, 34 doubles, 52 walks in 633 at-bats; .264 average, .323 OBP, 449 slugging, ~1.0 WAR

Last season, Suarez was worth about 2.7 more wins than the Tigers' combined production at third base.

Corey Knebel-Joakim Soria trade

TRADE: Tigers send P Corey Knebel and P Jake Thompson to Texas for RP Joakim Soria

What they lost

The trade for Joakim Soria was a move that addressed a major need at the time for a team that was pushing to extend its window of contention. But the cost was high.

Corey Knebel struck out 126 batters in 76 innings and recorded 39 saves last season. (Dylan Buell/Getty Images).
Corey Knebel struck out 126 batters in 76 innings and recorded 39 saves last season. (Dylan Buell/Getty Images).

At the time, Jake Thompson was the centerpiece of the deal, as he was the No. 7 prospect in the Tigers' system. But No. 16 prospect Corey Knebel is the one Detroit would love to have back.

Thompson is only 23 years old and is just getting his feet wet in the Philadelphia bullpen. Knebel is in his prime and has become a legitimate all-star.

Milwaukee's bullpen was threatening to implode early last season before Knebel took over as closer and provided some stability. He converted 39 of 45 save chances while striking out 126 batters in 76 innings.

At 26 years old, Knebel's 14.92 K/9 suggests he can be one of the truly elite relievers in baseball over the next few seasons. Couple that with his .568 OPS allowed, and Knebel is the closer Detroit has wanted for more than 10 years.

What they got

When Soria arrived, he brought an elite 0.87 WHIP and a strong 11.34 K/9 to Detroit, which was desperate for a reliable setup man.

But those numbers vanished. Soria only pitched 11 innings for the Tigers that season, allowing as many earned runs, six, as strikeouts. His postseason collapse contributed to the Tigers' only first-round exit of the era, as he allowed four hits, two walks and five runs in one inning.

Though he bounced back in 2015, it was for a Tigers team that traded him away at the deadline and finished in last place.

Comparison

Corey Knebel (26 years old): 76 innings pitched, 126 strikeouts, 40 walks, 39 saves, 11 holds, 1.16 WHIP, 1.78 ERA, 3.7 WAR

Tigers' 2017 bullpen: 528.2 innings pitched, 465 strikeouts, 239 walks, 32 saves, 75 holds, 1.57 WHIP, 5.63 ERA

If the Tigers still had Knebel, he would theoretically replace the last man in the bullpen and become a valuable closer.

Avisail Garcia-Jose Iglesias trade

TRADE: Tigers send OF Avisail Garcia to Chicago and RP Brayan Villarreal to Boston; White Sox send SP Jake Peavy to Boston; Red Sox send SS Jose Iglesias to Detroit

What they lost

When Jhonny Peralta was named in a biogenesis investigation that would eventually suspend him for 50 games, the Tigers were forced to make a move for a shortstop.

Avisail Garcia racked up 50 extra-base hits in 2017. (David Banks/Getty Images).
Avisail Garcia racked up 50 extra-base hits in 2017. (David Banks/Getty Images).

The cost for a new shortstop was the Tigers' No. 7 overall prospect, Avisail Garcia.

At the time, Garcia was an unproven outfielder with the talent to talent to do a little bit of everything. He struggled through his first three seasons in Chicago, but exploded last season.

Garcia racked up 171 hits in 136 games last season, including 18 home runs, five triples and 27 doubles. He posted a .380 OBP and .506 slugging.

While Garcia might not be the 4.5-WAR player he was in 2017, it's reasonable to believe he made major strides in his age 26 season and is closer to the player he was last year than the average one he had been before.

What they got

Of all the players the Tigers acquired on this list, Jose Iglesias has been the most productive overall.

In three full seasons with the Tigers, Iglesias has been solid, averaging 1.56 WAR thanks to his defensive abilities.

On offense, Iglesias offers minimal production because of his lack of power and plate discipline. For a player who only struck out 65 times in 130 games, Iglesias' .288 OBP is stunningly low. Despite playing at least 120 games each of the last three seasons, Iglesias has never drawn 30 walks.

In an era of excellent offensive shortstops -- such as Corey Seager, Francisco Lindor, Xander Bogaerts, Jean Segura and Elvis Andrus -- the Tigers have fallen behind at the position overall.

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Comparison

Avisail Garcia (26 years old): 18 home runs, 27 doubles, 33 walks in 518 at-bats; .330 average, .380 OBP, .506 slugging, 4.5 WAR

J.D. Martinez (with Tigers and Diamondbacks in 2017): 45 home runs, 26 doubles, 53 walks in 432 at-bats; .303 average, .376 OBP, .690 slugging, 4.1 WAR

The above comparison shows just how good Garcia was last season. Martinez is more valuable on a per-game basis, but would have only been about one win more valuable had they both played full seasons.

Detroit's current outfield situation is such a mess that Garcia would immediately be the team's most valuable outfielder going into this season, as he would replace the likes of JaCoby Jones, Leonys Martin or Alex Presley.

Devon Travis-Anthony Gose trade

TRADE: Tigers send 2B Devon Travis to Toronto for OF Anthony Gose

What they lost

Devon Travis is a doubles machine, recording 64 two-baggers in 213 career games. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images).
Devon Travis is a doubles machine, recording 64 two-baggers in 213 career games. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images).

The pain of losing Devon Travis was much more severe in 2015 when he won the starting second base job in Toronto and started the year with a string of home runs, but injuries have lessened the blow.

When he's on the field, though, Travis has been very effective. He posted a combined WAR of 5.3 in 163 games from 2015 and 2016, hitting 19 home runs and 46 doubles in 627 at-bats.

Last year, Travis played just 50 games, but still managed to hit five home runs and 18 doubles. His power from the second base position is extremely valuable when he's on the field.

What they got

The Tigers would love to reverse this trade because they got almost nothing in return.

Anthony Gose had 37 extra-base hits in 2015, but struck out 145 times in 140 games and finished with an OPS of .688. He has since been converted to a bullpen pitcher and granted free agency.

Since the Tigers traded Kinsler to the Angels, Dixon Machado is likely to start the season as the everyday second baseman. Machado is a good defensive prospect, but his offensive production can't compare to that of Travis, who is also a good defender.

Comparison

Devon Travis (26 years old -- 2016 stats): 11 home runs, 28 doubles, 20 walks in 410 at-bats; .300 average, .332 OBP, .454 slugging, 2.9 WAR

Dixon Machado (25 years old): 1 home run, 8 doubles, 20 walks in 244 career at-bats; .246 average, .303 OBP, .299 slugging, -0.2 WAR

Travis has had a problem staying healthy, but when he's on the field, he's much better than the Tigers' current middle infield options. Machado will get a chance to prove himself this year after being below-replacement level in 2017.

What does this mean?

Running an MLB franchise isn't the same as running a fantasy baseball team, so reversing the trades obviously wouldn't automatically make the Tigers better. But there's little debate that all five players on this list are young and talented, so they have value.

Detroit has weaknesses everywhere, including the rotation, bullpen, outfield and middle infield, and these trades are major reasons why.

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The Tigers might finish with 90 losses this season, so it would take a lot to turn that into a playoff team. Theoretically, however, these five players combined for 19.8 wins above replacement in their last full seasons -- 2016 for Travis and 2017 for the other four.

On paper, that would give the Tigers a win total in the mid-80s, which has been good enough to compete for the postseason since the second wildcard spot was introduced.

It's not that cut-and-dry, especially since Garcia will likely regress a little bit and players might not perform the same in Comerica Park as they do in their current home stadiums.

But it's an interesting debate, and shows that even though the Tigers went all-out to compete for a World Series, it didn't automatically have to end with a total tear-down. As a new era of Tigers baseball begins, we'll see how past mistakes shape the strategy going forward.


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