DETROIT – The MLB trade deadline is just hours away, and it’s already been an incredibly active week around the league.
But the Detroit Tigers have been quiet. Al Avila, who has made a number of deadline deals during his time as general manager, doesn’t seem to be involved in any serious discussions.
His reasoning: The Tigers are 10 games above .500 since early May and playing the best baseball Detroit has seen in half a decade. Is that a reason not to sell pieces before 4 p.m. Friday? Well, that depends on the return.
The Tigers are still in a position where it benefits them to add young players who could contribute in a year or two. On the other hand, A.J. Hinch is trying to instill a winning mentality in the guys who are already on the roster. So Avila doesn’t want to give away players for nothing, and to some extent, that’s understandable.
That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be on the phones all day, though.
Look at what the Miami Marlins got for Starling Marte. Jesus Luzardo is under team control for five more seasons, and he was one of the top five pitching prospects in baseball just two years ago. Miami will get a chance to recapture that elite form, and all Kim Ng had to do was sacrifice a few months of Marte.
It was a masterful move, even if it doesn’t work out.
This is certainly the least cut-and-dry deadline day for Avila as a GM. The last few years, the team has been awful and he knew he had to sell at all costs. This year, he needs to find the right balance.
Here are three situations Avila should consider:
Listen to Jonathan Schoop offers
It’s no secret the most likely player to be traded from the Tigers is Schoop, and it’s easy to see why. He can play first or second base, and he’s been hitting at an elite level for nearly three months now.
Schoop is at 2.2 WAR (wins above replacement) already, and since May 11 (69 games), he’s batting .327 with a .369 on-base percentage, .552 slugging percentage, 15 home runs, 16 doubles and only 53 strikeouts (17.3% strikeout rate).
For teams that don’t want to pay the price for a star player, Schoop is an ideal fit because he’s been hitting like a superstar for most of season, but won’t come with the same price tag.
Avila is more than happy to hang onto Schoop, which gives the Tigers leverage. But if a team like the New York Mets comes calling, it would make sense to listen.
The Mets have reportedly been linked to the Chicago Cubs’ Javier Baez and Kris Bryant. Those are two huge names, but honestly, Schoop has been just as good this year.
Currently, the Mets have a 3.5-game lead on the Philadelphia Phillies, but if they truly want to be World Series contenders, they need to look at what other National League powerhouses are doing. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers and San Diego Padres have been very active this deadline, and they were already better than the Mets.
As it stands, the Mets are toast if they meet those NL West teams in a seven-game series. Do they really want to waste an historic season from Jacob deGrom? The pressure is on to make some moves.
Schoop is the type of player who could jump in at second base and help a lineup that has scored the second-fewest runs in all of MLB. It’s amazing the Mets have even survived this long with such a terrible lineup. Giving at-bats to Jonathan Villar and Jose Peraza doesn’t help.
Check in on Luke Voit
This one is really thinking outside the box: What if the Tigers called the New York Yankees about Voit?
In the last couple of days, the Yankees have added Joey Gallo to their outfield and Anthony Rizzo at first base. There are reports that they’re shopping Voit because he no longer fits on the roster.
It’s been a season to forget for Voit, who has spent three different stints on the injured list. But we’re talking about a guy who finished top 10 in AL MVP voting last season with a major-league-leading 22 homers and a .948 OPS.
Still just 30 years old, Voit has a career .870 OPS (on base percentage plus slugging percentage) across 1,115 plate appearances. It’s pretty well established that he’s a really valuable power hitter who also gets on base (.360 career OBP).
Voit is arbitration eligible for the first time next season, which means the Tigers would have control of him for three years. If they worked out a deal to trade Schoop to a contender and then replaced him with Voit, it could end up being a net gain that helps now and in the future.
Do the Tigers really believe top prospect Spencer Torkelson can stick at third base? If so, there isn’t a legitimate first base prospect in the organization. Voit isn’t a strong defender, but his bat would look very good in the middle of the lineup the next couple of seasons.
Keep an open mind on Robbie Grossman
Grossman isn’t a name I’ve heard much in trade rumors this week, but he’s exactly the kind of player teams try to add for cheap in the waning moments before the deadline.
Grossman is having a career season at the plate, with 16 home runs, 12 doubles and a .356 OBP. His value increases because he’s signed for just $5 million next season -- a very cheap deal for a player trending toward 3.5 WAR in 2021.
Because the Tigers are playing so well, Avila is likely inclined to keep Grossman and reassess next season, but that might not be the best course of action.
The reason: Akil Baddoo. When the Tigers signed Grossman, Baddoo wasn’t a factor in the team’s future outlook. Now, it’s clear Baddoo is going to be an everyday player going forward.
Another player pushing the issue is Derek Hill. He’s been quietly excellent since the promotion to the big leagues, playing elite defense in center field and posting a .421 OBP. Hill already has six stolen bases and as many walks as strikeouts through 57 plate appearances.
Riley Greene has a chance to make the team at some point in 2022. Eric Haase will continue to get at-bats in left field when Jake Rogers returns behind the dish. Daz Cameron was playing well before going on the injured list.
The Tigers don’t have to trade Grossman, but there are a handful of young outfielders ready to battle for spots this offseason, so Avila needs to at least pick up the phone.
Here’s what Avila should NOT do before the deadline:
Don’t take on Eric Hosmer’s contract
The Tigers should hang up the phone if A.J. Preller tries to dump Hosmer on them.
Unlike Voit, Hosmer is signed to a contract that will take him deep into his 30s. Also unlike Voit, Hosmer isn’t hitting.
One of the highest ground ball rates in MLB has sapped Hosmer’s power and left him with a .385 slugging percentage and .721 OPS. His overall offensive numbers are about MLB average, and the Padres are reportedly looking for a way to offload him on someone.
Even though the Tigers could acquire prospects by taking on Hosmer’s contract, they’re no longer at the stage of the rebuild to do so. The Tigers are on the upswing and should be looking to add players who put them over the hump, not ones who limit their options in free agency.
Hosmer will make $21 million next season and $13 million each of the three seasons after that. The deal takes him to 35 years old, and there are clear signs of decline already.
Hosmer has name recognition in Detroit because of what he did in Kansas City, but this is a contract Avila should avoid.
Don’t trade Gregory Soto
Bullpen pieces are always a hot commodity at the deadline, and many -- Kendall Graveman, Diego Castillo, Brad Hand, Yimi Garcia, Daniel Hudson -- have already been dealt this week.
But the Tigers likely aren’t going to get enough to justify moving Soto, who has proven to be incredibly valuable at the end of games and is under team control until 2026.
Soto was the team’s All-Star representative this year and owns a 2.95 ERA and 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings. His walk rate is way too high, but when Soto is on, no reliever is harder to hit. He’s been the No. 1 player Hinch turns to when the Tigers are in a sticky situation, whether it calls for multiple innings or a timely strikeout.
The Tigers have some major issues in their bullpen, so the guys who’ve proven to be reliable should hold even more value. Soto is at the top of that list.
Don’t undersell Jeimer Candelario
There’s been some buzz surrounding Candelario this week, and though he’s never quite lived up to his top prospect pedigree, his value shouldn’t be understated.
Candelario is a solid defensive third baseman and has quietly been a 2.2 WAR player so far this season. He was the best hitter on the team in 2020 and isn’t a free agent until 2024.
Home run power has never really developed for Candelario, but he’s laced 26 doubles and owns a .358 OBP. At 27 years old, Candelario is the type of player whose “weaknesses” are still at least average. He’s got decent speed, decent power, a pretty good eye and an above-average contact skill.
When you put all the pieces together, the sum is greater than its parts because Candelario doesn’t hurt the Tigers in any way. That’s not the type of player who will yield a great haul in a trade because there’s no standout skill. But he’s the type of player the Tigers want in the six or seven slot of their lineup when it’s time to contend for a playoff spot.