DETROIT – For the sixth year in a row, the Detroit Tigers are sellers at the MLB trade deadline.
It seems like so long ago they were shipping Justin Verlander to the Houston Astros, J.D. Martinez to the Arizona Diamondbacks, Justin Upton to the Los Angeles Angels, and Alex Avila and Justin Wilson to the Chicago Cubs.
That was six seasons ago -- the summer of 2017. The lack of meaningful return from those trades is part of the reason Detroit has become a proverbial midsummer bargain bin for the rest of the league every year since.
In 2018, it was Leonys Martin and Mike Fiers. Then, Nick Castellanos and Shane Greene in 2019. Cameron Maybin during the shortened 2020 campaign, and Daniel Norris a year ago.
Some of those trades were blockbusters. Some were largely insignificant. But the situation has remained the same: Detroit’s season is always in the tank by July, so Al Avila’s phone starts ringing.
Circumstances were supposed to improve this year, but instead, the Tigers are the most disappointing team in baseball. They’re 16 games below .500, double digit games out of the wildcard race, and hopelessly drowning in bad injury luck.
That means that, once again, the next few weeks will be more important than any actual games in August and September. Can Avila spin a trade that yields a Reese Olson-like return? Could he identify the next Alex Lange?
Here’s a look at some hypothetical trades the Tigers could explore.
Michael Fulmer to Yankees
Trade details: Tigers send Fulmer to Yankees for Cooper Bowman
The most obvious trade candidate on the Tigers’ roster is Fulmer, an impending free agent who’s had yet another dominant season out of the bullpen.
Fulmer is among the best pitchers in the game at consistently limiting hard contact, and he pairs that with an elite whiff rate. The result is a 2.00 ERA, a 0.93 WHIP and a strikeout per inning. He has experience as a closer, a set-up man, and even in a multi-inning role.
A long list of teams will line up to check Fulmer’s price tag, but there might not be a better fit than the Yankees. At 54-20, the Yankees have seven more wins than the next-closest team in baseball, but this weekend’s phenomenal four-game clash against the Astros provided a reminder that the postseason won’t be a cakewalk.
Luis Gil and Chad Green, two of Aaron Boone’s most reliable righty relievers, recently underwent Tommy John surgery and are out for the season. Jonathan Loaisiga is working his way back from a shoulder injury, and relying on Zack Britton, a lefty who hopes to return from his own Tommy John surgery later this summer, comes with plenty of risk.
Long story short: The Yankees aren’t going to let the trade deadline pass without bulking up the bullpen. Brian Cashman has never been afraid to do what it takes to add relievers -- just look at the trades he made for Aroldis Chapman (an offseason deal), Clay Holmes, Britton, and Tommy Kahnle.
Cashman knows the clock is ticking on an Aaron Judge mega deal, and his rotation might never fall into place better than it has this season. He’s going to be aggressive.
Fulmer is one of the better right-handed relievers on the market, and even though he’s a three-month rental, he’ll be worth something to a contender.
As much as the Tigers would love to pry away one of Anthony Volpe, Oswald Peraza, or Trey Sweeney, that’s not happening for Fulmer. Cashman would hang up and laugh. Avila will have to get a bit more creative.
Cooper Bowman is the type of prospect the Tigers would likely have to target. The 22-year-old was selected in the fourth round of last year’s draft and has shown some promising signs with High-A Hudson Valley.
After posting an .836 OPS with four home runs and 13 stolen bases in his first taste of the minors last season, Bowman earned the High-A promotion to begin 2022. So far, he’s posted a .358 on-base percentage while hitting seven homers and 11 doubles.
Bowman has drawn 41 walks and struck out 54 times in 257 plate appearances -- elite ratios that suggest he’s ready for some Double-A pitching.
It wouldn’t be a sexy deal, but the Tigers need to stockpile offensive prospects, and Bowman is buried beneath a host of middle infielders in New York’s upper minors.
Gregory Soto to Blue Jays
Trade details: Tigers send Soto to Blue Jays for Jordan Groshans
Soto has had a couple of epic meltdowns this season, but overall, he’s actually been very good for the third year in a row.
Soto is 27 years old, throws 101 mph, and has three years of team control remaining, so Tigers fans should feel just fine if the team decides to keep him around. But if the reliever market is booming, Soto could yield a much bigger return than Fulmer.
The Blue Jays feel like a perfect match. They only have one left-handed reliever with more than 10 innings pitched this season: Tim Mayza, a guy with a low strikeout rate, a middling walk rate, and a 4.92 xERA (expected ERA).
Soto also aligns well with Toronto’s competitive window. He’ll be cost effective for the next three years while stars Vlad Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernandez, Alejandro Kirk, George Springer, Alek Manoah, and Kevin Gausman work toward a championship.
Again, Soto should not come cheap. Three and a half years of control over a dominant and proven late-inning reliever needs to bring back some significant offensive firepower.
Could Avila land Groshans in the deal? It might be tough, but Toronto can’t afford to fall behind in the AL East arms race, and the Blue Jays bullpen ranks 24th in MLB with a 4.36 ERA, 18th with a 1.29 WHIP, 21st with 8.48 strikeouts per nine innings, and 22nd with a .249 opposing average.
Groshans was a first-round pick in 2018 and has played fairly well while rising slowly through the minors. He’s primarily a shortstop or third baseman, but the Blue Jays have tinkered with him in the outfield, too.
In 44 games at Triple-A this season, the 22-year-old is slashing .272/.374/.325. He’s drawn 24 walks while striking out only 29 times.
Obviously, the power hasn’t developed yet for Groshans, but it’s not believed to be a lost cause. With fellow infield prospect Orelvis Martinez mashing at Double-A and so much talent on the MLB roster, the Blue Jays would probably part with Groshans for the right price.
Joe Jimenez to Giants
Trade details: Tigers send Jimenez to Giants for Casey Schmitt
Did you know Jimenez has been, well, elite this season? Forget the 3.58 ERA, the 1.012 WHIP, and the incredible strikeout rate. The underlying numbers love Jimenez even more.
He’s among the best relievers in baseball in hard-hit percentage, missing bats, and getting hitters to chase. His fastball is excellent in terms of both velocity and spin rate, and the one problem that’s burned Jimenez his entire career -- control -- has suddenly turned into a strength.
Avila should be able to get a solid return for a reliever who’s striking out more than one-third of the batters he faces while boasting a 2.77 xERA. By the way, Jimenez is under team control for 2023.
So who needs a right-handed, late-inning strikeout specialist? A better question would be: Who doesn’t?
Jimenez doesn’t have a long track record of success, which will drag his price down minimally, but there should still be a strong market. All four AL East contenders are possible landing spots. The top three teams in the AL Central might come calling, but there’s a general reluctance to trade within the division.
Plenty of National League teams could use Jimenez, such as the New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, and St. Louis Cardinals.
But let’s focus on the San Francisco Giants. The best team in all of baseball last season is in an unfamiliar position: chasing a playoff spot. San Fran is just as close to .500 as it is to the division lead.
The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres have created a bit of distance in the NL East, and the wildcard race is crowded. Right now, the Giants are looking up at the defending champion Atlanta Braves, the ever-present Cardinals, and the Padres, who will eventually get superstar Fernando Tatis back.
San Francisco has a good enough team to get back in the postseason, but a few moves at the deadline would go a long way. The bullpen owns a 4.03 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP, and strikes out an abysmal 7.59 batters per nine innings.
Oracle Park is also a perfect landing spot for Jimenez, an extreme fly ball pitcher. Only 35.4% of balls in play against Jimenez are hit on the ground, and no park swallows up fly balls like Oracle Park.
The Giants have a host of prospects the Tigers might target, but one who stands out is Schmitt, because he’s both realistic and also playing well this season.
Schmitt is a bit old for High-A, where he’s played all 63 games this season. He’s slashing .299/.371/.516 with 10 doubles, 12 homers and a manageable strikeout rate.
The offensive production is a bonus for Schmitt, who’s long been considered a defense-first third base prospect. A two-way player who also pitched in college, Schmitt fittingly has a strong arm to go with even better range at the hot corner.
Can he continue to hit in the upper minors? It’s impossible to know unless he’s given a chance. At 23 years old, the Tigers could send him to Erie or Toledo as a possible replacement-in-waiting for Jeimer Candelario, whose production has cratered in 2022.
Robbie Grossman to Phillies
Trade details: Tigers send Grossman to Phillies for Jamari Baylor
Philadelphia has battled back into the NL playoff race with 18 wins in their last 24 games, but unfortunately, Bryce Harper, a candidate to repeat as NL MVP this season, will miss the next couple of months with a fractured thumb.
There’s no replacing Harper, but the most obvious remedy for the Phillies is to trade for a cheap, capable fill-in right fielder who can keep the team afloat until Harper returns.
Grossman’s season-long numbers aren’t pretty, but lately, he’s been looking much more like the 2.9-WAR player who hit 23 homers and finished with a .772 OPS in 2021. In his last eight games, Grossman is 10-for-30 with two home runs, a double, five walks and nine strikeouts.
Grossman’s .316 OBP is sure to rise over the next few months, and his power stroke would translate much better to Citizens Bank Park than it does to Comerica.
He’s a free agent after this season, so Grossman isn’t going to bring back a high-end prospect for the Tigers. It’ll be another test of Avila’s ability to identify a diamond in the rough.
One player the Phillies might be willing to part with is 2019 third-round pick Jamari Baylor, who’s batting .110 in Single-A and striking out in one-third of his professional plate appearances.
Baylor is a middle infield prospect with strong defense and elite speed. He already has 17 stolen bases this season after swiping 12 bags in 40 games a year ago.
Despite his .110 batting average, Baylor owns a .315 OBP in 2022, a product of his ability to draw walks (28 in 47 games). He flashed solid extra-base power a year ago with nine doubles and five home runs.
Still just 21 years old, Baylor has already shown flashes of elite speed, strong defense, plate discipline, and extra-base power. That’s the kind of player Avila should target in a hypothetical Grossman trade, even though the success rate those prospect isn’t necessarily high.
Daz Cameron to Rays
Trade details: Tigers send Cameron to Rays for Willy Vasquez
OK, this is the mandatory think-outside-the-box trade suggestion.
If you don’t follow the Tigers, you probably wouldn’t think this makes any sense. But Tigers fans know the only logical way for the Cameron era to end is for him to go to Tampa Bay and finally turn into a solid everyday player.
Isaac Paredes leading all Rays hitters in home runs and WAR is just the latest example. He never showed any true power in Detroit, but as soon as Avila flipped him for Austin Meadows, Paredes has been on an Aaron Judge-esque home run pace (no, it won’t continue, but still).
Cameron was having a nice stretch before going on the COVID IL in early June. On top of some dazzling plays in right field, Cameron stole two bases and showed off his extra-base power with three doubles, a triple, and a home run in his last seven games.
That sounds like just enough of a teaser for Tampa Bay to decide they want to swipe him from Avila.
Cameron was sent back to Triple-A upon being reinstated from the injured list, and unless the Tigers trade away Grossman, there’s no immediate room in an outfield manned by Riley Greene and (eventually) Meadows.
The Rays, meanwhile, lost two starting outfielders on one play last week. Manuel Margot is expected to miss significant time with a knee sprain, and Kevin Kiermaier also hit the IL with a nagging hip issue.
Tampa Bay is never one to make a major splash at the deadline, so identifying a skilled, under-utilized player such as Cameron would be very on-brand. He can run, he’s a great fielder, and the offensive tools are just good enough to mature outside of Detroit.
It’s hard to “win” a trade with the Rays, but the Tigers would still have to acquire a prospect of at comparable value back in this deal. Tampa Bay’s organization is ripe with middle infield talent, most notably Wander Franco, Vidal Brujan, 2019 first-round pick Greg Jones, and 2021 first-round pick Carson Williams.
Let’s have some fun and exchange another Willy (the Tigers sent Willy Adames to Tampa Bay in the 2014 David Price trade). This time, they can target 20-year-old shortstop Willy Vasquez, who is currently in Single-A.
Vasquez is striking out way too much and hitting .203 in 60 games this season, but he’s considered one of the top long-term prospects in the Rays’ system. Last year in rookie ball, Vasquez had 11 extra-base hits and 14 stolen bases in 40 games while posting a .793 OPS and walking nearly as much as he struck out (20 walks and 27 strikeouts).
The Rays liked Vasquez enough to prioritize him as an international prospect in 2019, and they have a great track record in that arena. The biggest question mark is whether the Tigers organization would be capable of developing his bat.