As the deadline approaches, and after a poor weekend series in Kansas City, the Tigers look more likely to cash in on current assets.
To Buy or To Sell
The fact that it’s the end of July and there is even talk of the Tigers being in the conversation to make some bargain buys at the deadline speaks to the job that A.J. Hinch has done with this Tigers club. Even Al Avila deserves some credit for the position that the Tigers find themselves in thanks to the offseason signings of Jonathan Schoop, Robbie Grossman, and Wily Peralta paired with the emergence of Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and Akil Baddoo. If somebody were to look at the Tigers’ first 35 games of the season, when they stood at 9-24, the conversation would have been exclusively around selling assets at the deadline.
However, the Tigers have quietly been playing solid baseball for over two months now, going 38-31 since May 8th. This play has quietly shifted the conversation towards whether the Tigers should stay the course and sell, or begin transitioning out of the rebuild and start buying controllable assets. It’s no secret there are still many holes to fill on this Tigers roster, especially in the bullpen and middle infield. Willi Castro has been underperforming for the majority of the season, and Jonathan Schoop has largely transitioned to first base to cater to the Tigers’ needs. For this reason, seeing the Tigers go for a controllable middle infielder would not be surprising. Given the seven-game winning streak that was recently snapped, the decision to buy at the deadline or at least hold steady was beginning to gain traction, but the weekend series in Kansas City exposed the flaws in this roster and should serve as the Tigers reminder to stay the course and cash in on their current assets.
As you can imagine, for the Tigers to have had the success they’ve had this year, there have been guys who have outperformed expectations. The tricky part for the Tigers will be determining which of these guys could be pieces in the future, and which guys should be sold to the highest bidder. In previous years, we’ve seen the Tigers wait too long to trade guys with high value (i.e. Michael Fulmer in 2017, Matthew Boyd in 2019) which is a mistake they should be looking to avoid this time around. With Al Avila’s recent comments stating the Tigers are no longer in rebuild mode, there is reason to believe that this is not going to be a fire sale like we are currently seeing in Minnesota with the trading of Nelson Cruz and numerous rumors about stars Josh Donaldson, Jose Berrios, and Byron Buxton.
However, the Tigers have pieces that have performed quite well this season that don’t fit in their plans, and getting a solid prospect return would only strengthen the team they are trying to build. Selling these pieces would only affect the team for the remainder of this season and should not have any bearing on the Tigers’ decision to really start building the team through free agency this offseason. However, Detroit may try to finish out the season strong and carry some momentum into an offseason in which they will presumably be looking to spend significantly more money than previous years. In the case that the Tigers do decide that selling is their best path forward, here are a couple of trades that make sense:
Jose Cisnero to Oakland
There is a case to be made that Jose Cisnero has been the most consistent piece in the Tigers bullpen this season and for parts of the shortened 2020 season. Not bad for a guy who wasn’t even pitching major league ball a couple of seasons ago. He’s had stretches of dominance this season and stretches where he has come back down to earth, but contending teams are always in the market for bullpen help and especially guys who thrive in high-pressure, late-inning situations. Cisnero can be a guy like that for an Athletics team that needs bullpen arms, especially with Trevor Rosenthal on the 60-day IL.
Right now, the Athletics sit just above league average in save percentage at 63%, and with the pen having an average leverage index of 1.002 indicating high-leverage situations, the Athletics could benefit from another high-strikeout (10.4 K/9) bullpen arm like Cisnero. In return, the Tigers get another outfield option to throw into the mix with Akil Baddoo, Derek Hill, and Daz Cameron. Armenteros’ mixture of speed and power in the outfield once had him viewed as a highly-touted prospect, but he has struggled with strikeouts in his minor league career and at 22 years old has not played above A+ ball. The Tigers may be interested in taking a chance on Armenteros to see if they can level his swing path to produce more line drives and give them another viable CF or corner-OF option.
Boston Lands Schoop
The Boston Red Sox have bounced back in a big way from their awful 2020 campaign. Right in the thing of things for the AL East title, Boston will likely be looking to add pieces to both their lineup and bullpen, especially with their injury list at first base. We’ve already seen Boston rumored to be in the mix for guys like Anthony Rizzo, so we can assume they are shopping. Should they miss out on Rizzo or opt for a cheaper option, Al Avila could be receiving a call regarding Schoop’s availability. If that’s the case, Detroit shouldn’t be afraid to pull the trigger.
In return, the Tigers add another strong RHP into the mix after a pitcher-heavy draft class and another speedy OF. Bello has had a strong season between A+ and AA ball, posting a WHIP of 1.15 and 77 K’s over 55 innings. His slider and changeup both have the potential to be plus pitches and his K/BB ratio sits at 4.9. With Rosario, the Tigers add a speedy left-handed outfielder with plus defense. He has struggled at the plate this season, posting an OPS of just .636 in AA. However, he gets on base at a 34% clip and has shown more promise with the bat at lower levels of the minors, so the Tigers may be willing to give him a chance to develop the bat in their system. If the Red Sox feel they are in a position to contend this season, they should be more than willing to part with Bello and Rosario for a player of Schoop’s caliber.
Grossman Heads to Tampa
Robbie Grossman has been one of Detroit’s best free agency signings of the rebuild by far. He has already surpassed his career-high in home runs at 16 with still 60 games to play. He gets on base 35% of the time and is hitting for significant power. This combination makes him a coveted trade piece, not to mention he has another year of control on his deal. If the Tampa Bay Rays are serious about making another postseason run, Grossman could help get them where they want to go. While Manuel Margot is a stellar defender in RF, Grossman would be an immediate upgrade for the lineup, while still being a solid defender.
When the postseason rolls around, the Rays could still utilize Margot as a plus-defender in late-inning situations while having Grossman’s bat in the lineup for the majority of the game. Given the strength of their farm system, the Rays should not pass up the opportunity to upgrade their lineup at the deadline. Battenfield and Williams could get the deal done for Detroit. Williams is a plus defender at the SS position who is still young and coming into his own with the bat. For a system that significantly lacks options at the SS position, Williams is an immediate upgrade and a potential future SS option if he develops well. Battenfield has had a very successful start to his minor league career, which has continued into 2021. Between A+ and AA, his WHIP sits at a whopping 0.80 while striking out a very impressive 12.7 per 9 innings. Battenfield could be a future bullpen cornerstone for the Tigers as early as late 2022. If the Rays are serious about contending in 2021 and opt for a cheaper deadline deal, Grossman could be a perfect fit.
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