Tigers Find Success before All-Star Break: Should They Go All-In?

The enigmatic first half the Detroit Tigers drudged through may have shed some light on the team heading into the second part of the season.

Finishing with eight wins over their last 11 games, the Tigers finally reached .500 for the first time in two months. With the arrival of the All-Star break, the Tigers now need to decide how much this season means.

When the signing of Prince Fielder was announced, it was with the message that 82-year-old owner Mike Ilitch wanted the Tigers

Prince Fielder

Prince Fielder is one of the rock solid members of the Detroit Tigers’ line-up.

to win a World Series before he died.  Despite falling below expectations before the All-Star Break, it became obvious early that nomatter how poorly the Tigers performed, they’d still have a chance to make the playoffs. The Central established itself as the weakest division in the American League early on. The Chicago White Sox looked like the best team and the trade for Kevin Youkilis gave them a nice boost, but they don’t have the horses to pull away quickly.

So that now leaves Detroit with decisions to make. Do they sacrifice more of the future by giving up additional money and prospects to guarantee a playoff spot or hold steady knowing the possibility of the playoffs is still very good and anything can happen once you get there? And should these deals change the dynamic of the team or just pick up small pieces to plug the numerous holes discovered in the first half?

 Needs

 Before making a trade, Detroit must establish its top needs.

There are five positions locked up tight on the roster: Austin Jackson in centerfield, Prince Fielder at first, Miguel Cabrera at third, Justin Verlander as the ace, and Joaquin Benoit in the bullpen.

Beyond those players, anything is possible. The most glaring need seems to be for another bat or starting pitcher. Position-wise a second baseman would be nice, but the majority of the choices are just as weak as the current roster options. The bat most likely would have to be another outfielder to replace Delmon Young or Brennan Boesch permanently.

As for starting pitching, Max Scherzer has shown signs of brilliance this year, but also signs of disaster. Rick Porcello, however, one-ups his teammate with even more inconsistency. But, the most disappointing starter has been Doug Fister. After his brilliance post-trade last season, the expectations may have been too high. He struggled with injuries and avoiding big innings. Since nobody established himself as a true number 2, the Tigers need the second punch to complement Verlander.

Possibilities

 It seems this year, like many years passed, offers different tiers of possible trades.

Any trade in the top two tiers would force the Tigers to include at least one, if not both, of their top prospects: pitcher Justin Turner and third baseman Nick Castellanos. The market seems to be filled with solid starting pitchers and not much else.

 Tier 1

Cole Hamels – This would be a long shot for Detroit, but perhaps the only one truly worth the risk.

He’s the top pitcher and player on the market this summer. Detroit doesn’t have enough prospects, but they may also be willing to part with Porcello. Odds are Hamels would want to test free agency, if traded, and the Tigers would be looking at a pure “all-or-nothing” trade to win the World Series.

 Tier 2

This is the most likely tier for Detroit to target.

These are players who have shown success in the past, but also the inconsistency that could blow up in the Tigers’ face:

Zack Greinke – Odds are Greinke won’t return to the American League Central where he began his career, but he’s the next best thing after Hamels. He’ll probably never return to his Cy Young season, but seems more comfortable this year since his arrival in Milwaukee. He’s a free agent after the season and the expectations in Detroit may not be something with which he wants to deal. But, for the second half of the season, Greinke wouldn’t be a terrible alternative to Hamels.

Matt Garza – Detroit has been connected to Garza for close to a year now. Garza is similar to other Tiger pitchers in that he seems like he should just be better. Every time he dominates, a flop soon follows. Unless Detroit is sure that Justin Turner will never get beyond a Garza-type pitcher, it wouldn’t be worth a deal.

Shawn Marcum – Marcum continues the theme of Milwaukee Brewers soon to be free-agent pitchers available for trade. When he pitches, he’s been very consistent in the National League over the past three years. Unfortunately, he has had elbow issues this season and, in 2009, needed Tommy John surgery. As good as Marcum can be, the Tigers need to avoid him. The team needs calculated risks and this one has “avoid” all over it.

Brandon McCarthy – Another pitcher who has struggled with health this season and most his career is McCarthy. This year, he has been brilliant when pitching. Unfortunately, his shoulder hasn’t allowed that to happen on a consistent basis. He had only six starts from May until the All-Star Break. As a free agent after the season, the risk he presents isn’t worth trading healthy prospects.

Tier 3

The third tier holds the only true options for a second baseman and outfielder.

These may take the least amount of convincing for a team to off them, but could help the Tigers in some ways.

Josh Willingham – Could the Tigers go back-to-back years with grabbing a Twins outfielder? Willingham has power, plays left field well enough and could also DH. He’s the best optioning for Detroit, but Detroit’s want for him may depend on how likely it is Andy Dirks and Victor Martinez will not return until September or next year.

Carlos Quentin – Another player connected to Detroit for a large amount of time, Quentin spent four years in the AL Central to give Detroit a firsthand look at his hitting abilities. While he may not hit for average too well, he knows how to reach base consistently and hit for power. He’s everything the Tigers wish Delmon Young had become for them.

Darwin Barney – Barney is a young second baseman who would be locked in for the future. Because of that, his price is higher than someone with his skills. He doesn’t have any power, lacks speed, doesn’t reach base a ton, but he’s younger and a better hitter than Ryan Raburn and Ramon Santiago. Unless Detroit trades for Garza and Barney is thrown in, he isn’t worth trading for on his own.

Marco Scutaro – Scutaro is having his normal season by this point and that won’t change. He’d be the most consistent option at second base in a trade for Detroit, but would only be a quick fix. At 36 years old, he’d just add to the Tigers’ glaring issues of the future. And he also wouldn’t be the reason they’d go on a run to the World Series.

Of course, other names may suddenly become available. Rumors of both B.J. and Justin Upton on the trading block (again) surfaced recently and teams can surprise.

From the options above, Detroit should take an all-or-nothing approach. Go for the best available or nothing at all. While the roster may not be great, it can still get them into the playoffs.  If Detroit times everything right, it may be able to come in as an underdog in the playoffs with no pressure, and more dangerous than ever.

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