Consider AJ Hinch’s message a warning to the rest of the league.
The Detroit Tigers aren’t going to give up their players for prospects at this year’s trade deadline, unless the deal is right for them.
General manager Al Avila, Hinch indicated, isn’t willing to sell players at a cheaper rate because of the rebuild. Those days are over.
The Tigers are focused on building their winning culture.
“When you get to this point and you’re under .500, everybody thinks they can come and pick the players that are free agents, or you can come get a bullpen arm — what is deemed to be cheap additions for other teams,” Hinch said Tuesday on MLB Network Radio. “Where we’re sitting, it’s like, you have to come and pay for our guys if you’re going to come and get our guys. We are trying to develop winners here. We’re trying to maintain a high standard for us.”
Entering Thursday, the Tigers are 40-47 with four games until the All-Star break. (They are 31-23 since May 8.) The July 30 trade deadline is 20 games away. Right now, the Tigers are five games back of second-place Cleveland and 11½ games back of the first-place Chicago White Sox in the American League Central.
Detroit sits nine games out of a spot in the wild card after Wednesday’s win.
“We want to help our major league team and we want to help our future,” Hinch said. “I’m just trying to caution the industry that you don’t have to give away your players, even though you’re under .500, or even though you’re chasing a couple of teams. … There’s a lot of different ways to do this. I just don’t really like when teams think (other teams) can come to a mid-tier, lower-tier performance team and just pick your players.”
There is a flurry of players the Tigers could trade, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be shipped away: first/second baseman Jonathan Schoop, right-handed reliever Jose Cisnero, left-handed reliever Gregory Soto, righty reliever Michael Fulmer, lefty starter Matthew Boyd and third baseman Jeimer Candelario.
“Nowadays, with trades being really hard to pull off, you’ve got to keep your price tag high if you’re going to move players,” Hinch said, “regardless of the fact that you might have a reliever arm that people want, or you might have an expiring contract that people think they can just come pay for, and you’re going to get something rather than nothing. Keeping these players, if we choose to do so, is going to help our culture and help us develop that winning mindset that we’re trying to instill here in Detroit.”
Of those six players, Schoop is the only player with an expiring contract. He signed a one-year, $4.5 million contract in February, becoming a free agent after this season. As for the others: Boyd is a free agent after 2022; Fulmer after 2022; Cisnero after 2023; Candelario after 2023 and Soto after 2025.
The Tigers hope to make a run at the playoffs, possibly as soon as next season.
“If some team wants to come and offer Al something, I’m sure he’ll listen, and we’ll be fair about it,” Hinch said. “But we’re not going to give away our players to a closer-to-contending team than people see us to be.”
Spencer Turnbull, Boyd and Fulmer seemed to be trade candidates earlier in 2021, but recent injuries could turn opposing teams away from negotiations. Turnbull is on the 60-day injured list with a right forearm strain and isn’t expected back until at least early August. Boyd (left arm discomfort) and Fulmer (right cervical spine strain) are supposed to return sometime after the All-Star break.
Through 83 games, Schoop is hitting .273 with 16 home runs, 50 RBIs and 21 walks. He seems most likely to be traded, but if the Tigers aren’t going to get what they want in return, they’ll hang onto him for the remainder of the year.
One of the reasons the Tigers re-signed Schoop was to help build a winning culture.
Soto is the team’s 2021 All-Star Game representative this season, as a reward for his 2.94 ERA, 20 strikeouts and 40 walks, with six saves, in 33⅔ innings. The hard-throwing lefty should generate plenty of inquiries, despite his command issues. Cisnero, 32, has a 2.72 ERA, 13 walks and 44 strikeouts in 36⅓ innings.
While it’s too soon to tell if any of these players will be traded, Hinch made it clear: Opposing teams with interest better be ready to pay up, because the Tigers are planning for the postseason soon.
“You have to be careful not to turn your back on deals that might surprise later, but I just think people are afraid of the burn factor, so the trades have been tough,” Hinch said. “We grade trades way too fast. We glorify prospects to the point where everybody gets criticized when you make a trade, and everybody gets criticized when you don’t.
“I think teams should try to win. I think you can try to win even if you’re not deemed a playoff team in July, and you have to balance that need for today with the need for tomorrow. The need for today still matters.”
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.