Chicago – Nine days ago the Tigers were 9-5 and, in a season shortened to 60 games with expanded playoffs, the possibility of a postseason berth seemed optimistic but legitimate.
Man how things have changed. A season-ending knee injury to clean-up hitter and first baseman C.J. Cron was the first ominous sign. Manager Ron Gardenhire had to reconfigure both his infield and his batting order.
Then pitchers Buck Farmer and Ivan Nova went on the injured list, causing ripple effects in both the bullpen and rotation.
Holes are being filled by prospects, players who haven’t competed above Double-A ball. And suddenly, not even two weeks later, it feels like September 2019 all over again. The Tigers have lost seven straight games – all against two teams they are chasing in the Central Division – the White Sox and Indians.
Technically, with eight teams making the playoff in both leagues, the Tigers aren’t dead yet. Any team that can stay around .500 will be in the hunt. The Tigers entered play Wednesday 9-12.
All that to set up this: The Aug. 31 trade deadline is 12 days away. Will the Tigers be buyers or sellers? Or bystanders?
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“Right now it would be hard to call us buyers or sellers,” general manager Al Avila said on Monday. “We’re in a position where we are still trying to win as many games as we can. We would love to be in the playoffs this year and we’re going to make an effort to get there.
“But at the same time, we can’t lose sight of the future. We can’t be short-sighted. We have to make sure what we do today help us as we move forward.”
Certainly it would be counter-productive, if not foolish, for the Tigers to mortgage any part of their future to chase a playoff spot in a truncated season. And what do they have to sell that might be of value to contending teams in this situation – especially given the economic uncertainties the lie ahead next season and beyond?
“There’s already been some phone calls and texts with a few clubs,” Avila said. “I would say it was tepid, but we still have a long way to go. It might heat up.”
With expanded playoffs, there will be fewer sellers than buyers. And a couple of contending teams, like the Braves, Diamondbacks and Phillies, need starting pitching. Whether that creates a competitive market for players on short-term contracts like Matthew Boyd, Ivan Nova or Daniel Norris remains to be seen.
“I find it hard to believe that in the environment we are in guys are going to be making a lot of trades and picking up high-salaried guys,” Avila said. “I don’t know. It seems unlikely. But if a club needs to add a player and a team has a pending free agent, maybe you can make a deal.
“Also, maybe there will be prospect-for-prospect deals, though they would have to be traded off the 60-man player pool. It’s still early.”