The question seems simple but is quite complex.
Buyers or sellers?
This is this what MLB executives are asking themselves as the July 30 trade deadline approaches, and Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila is no different. The Tigers aren’t the worst team in baseball any longer, but they’re not good enough to trade their way into the postseason.
This is an interesting point in Avila’s attempt at a revival. Stockpiling more prospects by trading away future contributors, such as starting pitcher Spencer Turnbull or third baseman Jeimer Candelario, could prolong the rebuilding process.
It seems, at least from Avila’s mouth, the Tigers aren’t sure what they will do.
“At this stage, we still have to be open minded on anything that can make us better as we move forward,” Avila said Friday, standing outside his team’s dugout at Comerica Park. “We still want to continue to win as many games as we can. That’s really important to us.
“At the same time, we can’t ignore the fact that if we have a trade that can make us better for next year, and maybe even for the rest of this year, we’ve got to consider that. Anything we can do to put us in a better position to win more games, whether it be this year or going into next year, we have to be open minded.”
Along with Turnbull and Candelario, the Tigers could find suitors interested in starters Matthew Boyd and Jose Urena, reliever Michael Fulmer and infielder Jonathan Schoop. Both Urena and Schoop are free agents after this season, as well as catcher Wilson Ramos, lefty reliever Daniel Norris and right fielder Nomar Mazara.
Outfielder Robbie Grossman is a free agent after the 2022 season. At that point, Boyd and Fulmer will become free agents. Candelario and reliever Jose Cisnero don’t hit the open market until after the 2023 season.
“I don’t want to circle in on any names,” Avila said. “We can’t be surprised with what might come about. At this stage, I would say that we’re more apt to keep a good nucleus of players as we move forward to continue building around those players.
“But at the same time, you can’t ignore the fact that there might be a trade that makes it even better than that. So that’s why I’m saying you have to be open minded.”
And if the Tigers end up making a trade, what type of player do they want in return?
“We have to look at what’s the best possible talent we could attract to the team,” Avila said. “If it’s a pitcher that we feel like, ‘Hey, this guy is going to be a big contributor to us,’ then you got to look at that. If it’s going to be a premium position player that can hit, or a pure hitter, we’re going to look at everything.
“We’re going to look at everything and try to make the best deals we can, if they’re out there to be made.”
Because of poor performances and injuries, it seems impossible to envision Ramos and Mazara — two players signed to one-year contracts this offseason — generating trade offers. The same is true for Norris, who can work in a variety of roles but has struggled in 2021. Urena and Boyd could fit as the fourth or fifth starters elsewhere.
Urena has a 4.25 ERA over 59⅓ innings in 11 starts this season. He completed seven innings in four consecutive starts, from April 16 to May 2. Boyd has a 3.56 ERA over 68⅓ innings in 12 starts this season, with 19 walks to 54 strikeouts.
Earlier this season, Turnbull pitched a no-hitter. He leads the starting rotation with a 2.88 ERA over 50 innings in nine starts. Candelario has been the Tigers’ most consistent hitter, boasting a .266 batting average in 57 games. And Schoop provides a power punch, with 10 home runs and a .266 average in 59 games.
Grossman leads off for the Tigers because of his team-high .355 on-base percentage. Through 59 games, the 31-year-old is hitting .241 with eight home runs, 31 RBIs, 38 walks and 60 strikeouts. He is in the first season of his two-year, $10 million contract.
“I’ve already had some preliminary conversations with other general managers,” Avila said. “It’s a little early, but I think everybody is just trying to make sure everybody stays in contact. We have a good thing going here, so I think there are some teams looking at our players, for sure, because we’re playing good.
“The thing is we’re not in a position right now, and I’ve told these other GMs, where if we have to make a trade, we’re going to try to make our team better. If we make a trade, it’s to make this team better. We want to win more games.”
Teams with young pitchers could aim to trade for veterans to complete the push through the 162-game season, a tougher task than last year’s 60-game schedule. It was trimmed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to USA Today, there were 104 soft tissue injuries through May that resulted in stints on the injured list, which was a 160% increase from the 48 soft tissue injuries after the first two months of the 2019 season. The surplus of injuries is a product of the increased workload from 60 to 162 games.
Right now, the Tigers have 11 players from the 40-man roster on the injured list.
“We’ve already made a lot of moves because of injuries,” Avila said. “It’s going to be a very tricky situation.”
The Tigers, for example, need to protect Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal — a pair of 24-year-old starting pitchers in their first full seasons — by monitoring their innings. The term “load management” has been used more than ever before in baseball.
That’s why trading Turnbull, Boyd and Urena might not be so easy.
“Everybody is really, really scared of what’s going to happen as we move deeper into the season with the pitching,” Avila said. “We’re in that middle stage, where we’re still growing as a team, we’re still trying to get better as a team, we’ve got some really good pitching that we like, and then we got some pitching that’s coming.
“If you end up trading one of your pitchers, then how do you keep that going? … You can’t just make a trade to make a trade. You’ve got to make sure that, if you make a trade, you’re going to make your team better. And then you have to find a way to fill that spot.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.