DETROIT – The Detroit Tigers are playing much better baseball over the last couple of months, but that doesn’t mean they should miss an opportunity to actively build for the future at the MLB trade deadline.
If anything, the team’s recent success -- 25-21 over the last 46 games -- gives general manager Al Avila even more reason to peruse the market. But instead of browsing the minor-league bargain bin, he should turn his eyes toward more major-league ready talent that could help the Tigers next year and beyond.
Luckily for Avila, there are a ton of teams competing for playoff spots that could use upgrades -- specifically where the Tigers can offer. Nine teams in the American League have legitimate playoff aspirations, including seven outside the AL Central. In the National League, as many as 11 teams might still have postseason dreams.
Not every team is a match, but the Tigers should be shopping their assets aggressively.
Tigers trade pieces
Even though he’s cooled off this week, Jonathan Schoop is an obvious candidate to be moved in July. He’s a free agent at the end of the year, and one of the hottest hitters in the game.
Since May 15, over a span of 40 games, Schoop is batting .329 with a .391 on-base percentage. He’s hit 13 home runs and 10 doubles while drawing 14 walks and striking out just 30 times. It’s no coincidence the Tigers have a winning record during that stretch -- Schoop has been a one-man wrecking crew at the heart of the order.
The other offensive piece the Tigers could dangle: Robbie Grossman. Unfortunately, Grossman hasn’t done the team any favors recently, going 3-for-36 in his last nine games.
Still, Grossman owns a .334 OBP with 10 homers, 12 doubles and eight stolen bases. Even when he slumps, he still gets on base, as evidenced by his career .348 OBP. Grossman is also signed through 2022, so he isn’t just a rental.
Health will be a major factor for the Tigers at the deadline, because Matt Boyd and Michael Fulmer are two of their most valuable assets.
Boyd is hoping to return to the team after the All-Star break, which could give him three or four turns through the rotation to prove he’s back to form. A lot has to go right, but the positive is that Boyd is signed through next season. That mitigates some of the risk for potential buyers.
When healthy, Boyd was one of the top starting pitchers on the trade market. Remember, playoff contenders interested in trading for Boyd have strong pitching staffs and would be asking him to be a back-end starter. That’s much more reasonable than asking him to be an ace, like the Tigers have done.
Fulmer’s future is less certain. He’s dealing with a neck injury, but the Tigers are optimistic that it’s not related to his shoulder. When healthy, he’s been electric as a closer, touching 99 mph with his fastball and complimenting it with a wipeout slider. He has a high strikeout rate and a low walk rate -- ideal for a high-leverage, late-inning reliever.
Perhaps the most valuable trade asset for the Tigers is Jose Cisnero, who’s under team control for two more seasons after 2021. Cisnero has been incredible in the late innings -- a 2.91 ERA, 1.206 WHIP, 2.97 FIP (fielding-independent pitching) and 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings.
Cisnero touches 100 mph with his fastball and has excellent off-speed compliments. Since a bit of a shaky start to the season, he’s allowed just one earned run in his last 20 innings, with 10 hits, five walks and 21 strikeouts. Cisnero has three saves and nine holds -- he’s comfortable in any late-inning role, and almost every single contender needs bullpen help.
Philadelphia Phillies trade
Details: Tigers trade Matt Boyd, Jonathan Schoop and Jose Cisnero to Phillies for Alec Bohm.
Philadelphia is right in the thick of the NL East race, just five games behind the New York Mets and two games behind the Washington Nationals. This team hasn’t made the postseason since signing Bryce Harper, and with a slightly below .500 record at the midway point this year, the pressure is on.
Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler are ace-caliber pitchers at the top of the Phillies rotation, but after them, it gets a bit shaky. Zach Eflin is a nice middle-of-the-rotation starter, and Vince Velasquez has also been serviceable. But Matt Moore and Chase Anderson have both been disastrous.
Boyd would be an affordable option for the Phillies to upgrade the back-end of the rotation. They wouldn’t be able to pry Max Scherzer from the Nationals even if he’s available because Washington is unlikely to deal him within the division. Other options would include Kyle Gibson from Texas or German Marquez from Colorado.
The Tigers have the unique ability to fill multiple holes for the Phillies, though. Right now, utility infielder Ronald Torreyes is starting at shortstop every day. Torreyes currently has a .293 OBP with two home runs and six doubles. His .662 OPS is well below league average.
If Philly added Schoop, Jean Segura could move over to his old position and the Phillies would add a much-needed bat to the heart of the order.
But the biggest problem for the Phillies is the back end of the bullpen, which has been simply awful, especially in June. Incredibly, Philadelphia has blown seven saves in its last six games (no, that’s not a typo). The staff has 21 blown saves overall.
That’s devastating for a team that’s just a few games out of first place. The Phillies could easily be atop the NL East right now with even a middling bullpen.
Boyd, Schoop and Cisnero would upgrade the Phillies roster at three spots, but the Tigers might not be able to steal Alec Bohm away from Philadelphia. The only reason he might be available is because he’s having a miserable sophomore season.
The 24-year-old former top prospect owns a negative-1.7 WAR (wins above replacement) this season, making him one of the least valuable players in baseball.
Not only is Bohm slashing .239/.285/.325 (batting average/OBP/slugging percentage) on the season -- he’s also grounded into a league-leading 12 double plays while striking out in more than one-quarter of his plate appearances. On defense, he’s made 11 errors and grades out well below average.
So why would the Tigers want him? Well, he was one of the top prospects in all of baseball before making his debut in 2020, and in 44 games last season, he hit .338 with four home runs, 11 doubles and only 36 strikeouts. He finished second to Milwaukee reliever Devin Williams in NL Rookie of the Year voting.
The Tigers have some exciting hitting prospects in the minors, but if Spencer Torkelson ends up at first base, there isn’t much depth at the hot corner. Bohm is only 24 years old, and his line drive swing would be perfect for the deep alleys at Comerica Park.
Atlanta Braves trade
Details: Tigers trade Robbie Grossman and Jose Cisnero to Braves for Huascar Ynoa.
If one NL East team doesn’t want to play ball, why not try another?
The Braves don’t have quite the bullpen crisis of the Phillies, but they could use another flamethrower with a flexible role.
Widely expected to be at the top of the division this season, Atlanta has been one of the most disappointing teams in the league at 37-41. That’s the bad news. The good news: Atlanta is only 5.5 games out of first place.
Few teams can match what the Braves have on the infield, with Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson and Austin Riley. Combined with superstar outfielder Ronald Acuna, that group owns a collective WAR of 8.0.
But without left fielder Marcell Ozuna, who was a star for the Braves last season and is now dealing with legal issues, the rest of the outfield isn’t very productive. Guillermo Heredia is having a decent season, but Christian Pache, Abraham Almonte and Ender Inciarte haven’t gotten going.
Grossman would be a nice addition to the bottom third of Atlanta’s lineup, especially with his ability to get on base ahead of that murderer’s row at the top of the order.
Cisnero would be the most important piece in this deal, however. Will Smith has been a solid closer and Luke Jackson is reliable, but in the middle innings, the Braves have struggled.
A.J. Minter is among the league leaders in blown saves, while Shane Greene, Josh Tomlin, Sean Newcomb and Edgar Santana struggle.
Could the Tigers convince the Braves to part with Ynoa? The 23-year-old is on the 60-day disabled list because he got frustrated during a mid-May start and punched the dugout, breaking his hand. Atlanta has a stacked starting rotation, when healthy, including depth in the high minors.
Ynoa was pitching very well this year, despite giving up plenty of hard contact. He struck out 50 batters in 44.2 innings -- backed up by a 13% swinging strike rate. A low walk rate, 3.02 ERA and 1.052 WHIP allowed him to survive so many hard-hit balls.
Yes, the Tigers already have some young starting pitching, but they need more. Beyond Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal, there are major question marks. Matt Manning is struggling in the majors and minors this year, while Boyd, Spencer Turnbull, Alex Faedo and Joey Wentz have battled injuries.
There’s no such thing as too much pitching. If Avila can add a 23-year-old starter who has already shown some promise, he should pull the trigger.
Chicago Cubs trade
Details: Tigers trade Matt Boyd, Robbie Grossman and Jose Cisnero to Cubs for Nico Hoerner.
Avila has a strong trading relationship with the Cubs front office, and that matters. He traded his son to Chicago as part of a package that brought back Jeimer Candelario and Isaac Paredes. He sent Nick Castellanos there for a pair of young pitchers. Last season, the Tigers traded Cameron Maybin to the Cubs for Zack Short.
Nico Hoerner would be a difficult player to acquire, but the Tigers have a lot to offer. The Cubs were considered a team that might sell at the deadline because Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez are all free agents after 2021. This is certainly the end of an era in Chicago.
But the Cubs find themselves firmly entrenched in the playoff race -- just five games behind a Milwaukee team with roster holes of its own. So what choice do the Cubs have? They need to be aggressive and make one last push before a bit of a rebuilding phase kicks off in 2022.
Between Willson Contreras and Joc Pederson, the Cubs aren’t exactly getting the most out of their leadoff spot this season. The two have OBPs of .326 and .307, respectively, and would be much better served in run-producing roles.
That’s where Grossman could fit in. He’s obviously going to get on base at a high rate, and with Bryant, Rizzo, Baez, Contreras, Pederson and a resurgent Patrick Wisdom filling out the next six spots, the lineup could have quite a bit of length.
Boyd also fills a major need. Besides Kyle Hendricks -- who has battled inconsistencies in his own right -- the Cubs’ starting rotation is atrocious.
Zack Davies has a 4.32 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. Jake Arrieta owns a 5.32 ERA and a 1.49 WHIP. Trevor Williams has been the worst of the three, with a 5.36 ERA and 1.60 WHIP.
Only Adbert Alzolay has decent surface numbers, but his negative-0.1 WAR tells a different story. He’s also allowed 13 earned runs in 10.2 innings over his last three starts, too.
Chicago very well might need to make multiple moves to fix that starting staff, but Boyd is a nice start.
Cisnero is a potential replacement for Chicago set-up man Ryan Tepera, who just hit the injured list. Tepera was the team’s most-used relief pitcher, and the Cubs can’t afford any drop-off in bullpen production because that’s the only thing keeping the pitching staff afloat.
Hoerner is under team control through 2025, so he’ll be a tough piece to acquire. But since the Cubs appear to be entering a rebuilding phase, he might be available.
While battling injuries on-and-off, Hoerner has posted an .837 OPS in 21 games this season, hitting seven doubles while walking nine times, compared to just 12 strikeouts. He’s a strong middle infielder, which the Tigers desperately need, and can also play all three outfield positions.
St. Louis Cardinals trade
Details: Tigers trade Jonathan Schoop and Jose Cisnero to Cardinals for Tommy Edman.
It’s hard to tell if the Cardinals are going to buy or sell at the deadline, because they’re hanging by a threat in the standings. But they certainly came into the season with playoff hopes, and there’s a 13-year streak of winning records on the line.
Edman is currently an everyday player for St. Louis, but he’s not irreplaceable. When Harrison Bader returns, the trio of Bader, Tyler O’Neill and Lars Nootbaar will likely get most of the outfield reps, and stud prospect Nolan Gorman has been raking in the minors while working at second base.
Schoop would be a perfect fit into the Cardinals lineup, which has been awful besides O’Neill and Nolan Arenado. For this year, Schoop offers a major upgrade over Edman offensively, and again, Gorman is knocking on the door beyond that.
Cisnero would join a bullpen that’s got a strong duo of Genesis Cabrera and Giovanny Gallegos ahead of closer Alex Reyes, but not much else. St. Louis would also love to have Cisnero for a couple more years, as this organization is always thinking a step ahead.
Why would the Tigers want Edman? Well, like Bohm, his line drive swing and make-contact approach would play well in Comerica Park. In 92 games as a rookie in 2019, Edman hit .304 with an .850 OPS, 11 homers, 17 doubles and 15 stolen bases in 16 attempts. The Tigers love to be aggressive on the base paths under A.J. Hinch, so Edman would be a perfect fit.
He’s also the type of player whose defense and base running make him more valuable than meets the eye. Edman has been worth 2.0 WAR this season despite an uncharacteristically slow start at the plate.
Edman is 26 years old and under team control through 2025. His ability to play strong infield defense up the middle, fill in as an outfielder and run the bases perfectly fits the new-look Tigers.
Houston Astros trade
Details: Tigers trade Jose Cisnero and Michael Fulmer to Astros for Cristian Javier.
Only a couple of teams can match up with the Astros’ roster on paper. They have the best lineup in baseball and a deep starting rotation.
But they’ll definitely be looking to add to the bullpen.
Houston hasn’t been burned by its bullpen yet this year because a lineup featuring Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley, Alex Bregman, Yuli Gurriel, Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker and Carlos Correa has allowed the Astros to blow past teams offensively.
The starting rotation is similarly stacked, with Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers, Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia and Jose Urquidy; along with Jake Odorizzi.
That’s left young starter Cristian Javier as the seventh man on the totem pole, and the Tigers should at least try to take advantage.
Javier is 24 years old and currently serving in a long relief role because of the crowded Houston rotation. He burst onto the scene with a strikeout per inning and a sub-1.00 WHIP last season, and is backing that up with a 3.03 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 78 strikeouts in 65.1 innings in 2021.
Even if Fulmer isn’t healthy and the Tigers have to give up Cisnero and Gregory Soto in a deal, Javier would be a worthy return.
Houston has a lights-out closer in Ryan Pressly, but in front of him, it’s been difficult to bridge the middle innings. Ryne Stanek and Brooks Raley are the two most-used relievers on the team. Stanek has a 4.59 ERA, 1.35 WHIP and negative-0.2 WAR while Raley owns a 5.97 ERA, 1.40 WHIP and negative-1.0 WAR.
Here are the current WARs for each reliever on the Houston roster (not counting Javier, who is traditionally a starter):
- Pressly -- 1.2
- Stanek -- negative-0.2
- Raley -- negative-1.0
- Blake Taylor -- negative-0.2
- Andre Scrubb -- negative-0.3
- Ralph Garza -- negative-0.1
The Astros should feel pressure to address this issue in a big way. Correa, Greinke and catcher Martin Maldonado are all free agents after this season, and this current roster is a top five World Series contender.
This move would mirror the 2017 trade in which the Oakland Athletics acquired Jesus Luzardo from the Nationals for Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson -- a young starter for two stud relievers.
Detroit knows better than anyone how painful it is to let an elite lineup and starting rotation go to waste because of bullpen woes. Maybe Avila can mention that during negotiations.