Heading into the All-Star break, the Tigers are sitting on a very weird stool – they’ve shown signs of life, but for the most part have been a team composed of sloppy play and huge contracts. They’re perilously close to .500, and they’ve lost Jordan Zimmerman for an extended period of time. Hell, they’re in a MUCH better spot in the standings than they deserve to be (second place!), but that can all vanish in a puff of smoke if/when the Royals get their stuff together, the White Sox keep staying competitive, and a healthy bunch of Twins play spoiler.
But to reiterate, this team has shown signs of life with an incredible offense that has been without one of its key cogs (JD Martinez). The bullpen hasn’t been a complete dirty fart thanks to Francisco Rodriguez and Justin Wilson. There are indeed a LOT of positives here, but the fact of the matter is that the Tigers are playing over their heads and need to do the same thing they did last year: stay in contention as long as you can, but sell off assets that have expiring contracts regardless.
The most intriguing option is K-Rod, who is making around 7.5 million and heading into unrestricted free agency. He’s also tied for sixth in the MLB with 24 saves, sports a FIP & xFIP that show his ERA is about where it should be, and has a ground ball rate over 50%. This is the prototype of a desired reliever for contending teams, and you can bet that there are some teams that would really pony up to have him in their bullpens (Rangers, Cubs, and Giants are among the teams with lowest bullpen WAR).
Some folks will immediately speak out against this, of course. They think of the already-tenuous grasp on effective pitching the Tigers have, and see the jettisoning of arguably their best reliever. Insanity!
However, what good is a great closing option on a team that’s not really contending? And even more pertinent, what if I told you that K-Rod isn’t even the best bullpen option on the team? (It’s actually Justin Wilson, who is eighth — EIGHTH!! — in the MLB in terms of reliver WAR).
Then the Tigers can look to deal super-utility man Mike Aviles (who is struggling in Detroit, where lame duck Brad Ausmus keeps putting him in position to fail), and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Trading Aviles wouldn’t net a big return, but any return on that investment would be a positive. Salty, however, may surprisingly bring in a great return.
In Saltalamacchia the Tigers have a switch-hitting power bat who can serve time behind the dish, come off the bench with pop, DH, and even play a liiiiiiiittle bit of first base in a pinch. His defensive versatility alone is enticing, his clubhouse presence is definitely a positive, but it’s that switch-hitting power is what will really get some contenders salivating (Blue Jays, Mets, Orioles, and especially the Astros).
And then there’s the waiver trade deadline, which is where I really think the Tigers can shed some salary and pick up some major-league-ready young players.
It’s in the Tigers’ best interest to sell off some pieces at the deadline without having a firesale – the nucleus of this team can contend a lot quicker than people thought because of how quickly Michael Fulmer, James McCann, and Dan Norris have developed.