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Why The Trade Deadline May Be Disappointing For Tigers Fans

detroit_tigers_logoWith just about six weeks remaining until the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline the Detroit Tigers find themselves in first place in the AL Central, albeit with some gaping holes in their roster. Through ineffectiveness or injury the Tigers are struggling to fill the bottom two spots in the starting rotation, are platooning various youngsters in the outfield with mixed results and have little flexibility in the bullpen.

Quality left-handed pitching seems to be lacking, to put it gently, and quality left-handed hitting is a problem as well. The lineup protection for is drying up, which could lead teams to pitch around him more and more.

If this team intends on staying in first place these shortcomings need to be addressed, and quickly.

It should be a buyers market this year. The state of our economy has impacted everyone, including major league franchises. A number of teams are beyond out of the running for a playoff berth and are likely weeks or even days away from a rebuilding purge of veteran talent. This trade deadline bonanza should be as rich and fruitful as any in the last decade.

It’s too bad that the Tigers won’t be able to capitalize on it.

Adding quality talent at the deadline requires two things – prospects to trade away and money to pay the players you are acquiring. The Tigers are desperately short on prospects and have a payroll that is not only bursting at the seams, but with players who are not helping this team win to boot.

I’ve spent the better part of a week scouring the internet, searching for one reputable baseball publication that considers the Tigers farm system to be in good shape. I can’t find one.

Trades for Edgar Renteria, Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis sent most of the top tier talent in the system elsewhere. The #1 prospect in the organization coming into this season was Rick Porcello, who is no longer a prospect and definitely not for sale. The same can be said for Ryan Perry, who has been elevated to the big club once again, so starved for bullpen depth. A flurry of position players have come up through the system to the Tigers thus far, with barely an impact.

It’s time to tell it like it is – the Tigers farm system, as a whole, is awful.

What little quality talent exists in the minor league affiliates is either penciled in for next season or blocked by unmovable contracts on the 25 man roster. Placido Polanco and Matt Treanor are free agents at the end of this season and Gerald Laird is in his last arbitration year. Many people, including myself, expect Scott Sizemore and Dusty Ryan to take their place in 2010, meaning they would be off-limits come trading time.

What does that leave available for the Tigers to offer in exchange for the quality talent they need right now?

Not much.

Of the top 100 prospects listed by Baseball America the Detroit Tigers have one, the aforementioned Rick Porcello.  Beyond The Box Score rated the Tigers farm system as having the least value in all of baseball, and that was including Porcello. Scouting Book has a matrix of the top 393 prospects in baseball, including their ranks with Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus. Aside from Porcello (19) and Perry (97) the next Tiger on the Scouting Book list is shortstop Cale Iorg at 137. He is un-ranked by both BA and BP. The same can be said for Jeff Larish (251), Dusty Ryan (254), Casey Crosby (287), Fu-Te-Ni (317) and Scott Sizemore (358).

The cupboard is bare my friends.

Major league teams looking to unload high-priced, high-talent veterans want inexpensive, young talent in return. Dave Dombrowski can’t give what he doesn’t have. Opposing MLB GM’s won’t take what they don’t want. Complicating matters even more are the debilitating contracts littering the major league roster, chained to the ankles of management like boulders.

Nate Robertson
Image via Wikipedia

I think it’s fair to state that Nate Robertson, Dontrelle Willis, Gary Sheffield, Carlos Guillen and Jeremy Bonderman are not helping this ballclub win very many games this year. They are however draining the Tigers cash reserves at an alarming rate.

The Tigers will pay these five players a combined $55,500,000 this year. While the contract of Gary Sheffield comes off the books for 2010 the other four remain, at a staggering $47,500,000 for next season. That’s more than one hundred million dollars over two years for five players that for one reason or another are doing nothing to help this team win. To be fair, Carlos Guillen and Jeremy Bonderman have succumbed to injuries, so the argument can be made that there was some bad luck here, although I believe these were bad contracts regardless of health. However you figure it, that money is going to be paid out, like it or not.

Even if the team were able to pull a fast one and acquire some veteran talent for nothing, the Tigers will have to pay these players. Am I the only one wondering where the money would come from?

It certainly isn’t coming from ticket revenue, as attendance at Comerica Park is down, in a big way. Last season the Tigers set an all-time record for attendance, drawing more than three million fans and averaging 39,538 fans per home game. So far this season the Tigers have drawn 795,717 fans through 28 home games, for an average of 28,418. That’s a 28% drop from last season, and the team has been in first place for weeks, something that did not happen last year.

I understand that Mike Ilitch is a wealthy man, and that he loves winning, but can we really expect him to pad a payroll that is already the fifth highest in all of baseball? When attendance is down 28%? We haven’t even explored the fact that next years payroll will be even higher.

Joel Zumaya
Image by DanCox_ via Flickr

Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson and Joel Zumaya among others will be arbitration eligible and will get enormous raises. The Tigers will see Fernando Rodney, Placido Polanco, Brandon Lyon and Adam Everett hit the free agent market – meaning they will need to be re-signed or replaced, which is going to cost money.

When the big picture is examined in this light I struggle to find any rational arguments that support the Tigers being buyers at the deadline, at least for big name talent. Yes, Mike Ilitch has stated that he is willing to do whatever it takes to win, but sometimes desire alone is not enough.

I hope I’m wrong. I sincerely do. I would love nothing more than to see the Tigers add the missing pieces to a championship run and march through the playoffs unabated. I just don’t see how the organization can transform a litiny of mediocre prospects into star power, or where the money will come from to pay them. We’ll see. It’s a long summer and anything is possible. But I won’t be surprised if July 31 passes quietly in Detroit this year.

Hazaa

Have a question or a comment? Leave your thoughts in the comments or drop me a line at jelletlambie@gmail.com

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