Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch and general manager Al Avila are eager for the future.
You could hear it in their voices.
“When you’re not a team that’s acquiring, it’s not nearly as fun,” Hinch said Friday, after the 4 p.m. trade deadline passed. “We’ve got to always remember that we want to add. That’s the goal. We want to build now. … I hope the next time we talk in a year from now that we’re talking about adding talent.”
The Tigers are starving to be buyers at the trade deadline, especially after watching an abundance of All-Stars join new teams pursuing the World Series. The industry fixated on Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Joey Gallo, Anthony Rizzo and Craig Kimbrel.
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The 2021 trade deadline was nothing short of stunning, but the Tigers weren’t key players.
“If anything, we were hoping, ‘OK, let’s acquire somebody,'” Avila said. “But we’re still not in that position yet. We’re in a position where we don’t want to give up some of our prospects. Quite frankly, we’re just not in that market where we’re competing that way.”
Here’s what the Tigers seemingly had to offer: second baseman Jonathan Schoop, third baseman Jeimer Candelario, right-handed reliever Jose Cisnero, righty reliever Michael Fulmer and lefty reliever Daniel Norris. They moved Norris to the Milwaukee Brewers for 22-year-old pitching prospect Reese Olson and stood pat the rest of the way.
The Tigers previously determined they weren’t going to give up their players for a less-than-expected price.
“If you look at the type of guys that were moved, they’re big-time star players,” Avila said. “We have a lot of good young players. I think there’s just a difference of where we’re at right now as a team and where some of these other teams were. They were willing to move some star, accomplished players, so it’s kind of a big difference from where we were sitting.”
Remember July 31, 2014?
That’s when the Tigers entered a three-team trade with the Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays, sending Austin Jackson to the Mariners and both Drew Smyly and Willy Adames to the Rays to receive left-handed pitcher David Price. About a week earlier, they grabbed reliever Joakim Soria from the Texas Rangers.
This was the last time the Tigers were outright buyers.
In 2015, the Tigers traded Price to the Toronto Blue Jays for Norris, Matthew Boyd and Jairo Labourt. They sent Soria to the Pittsburgh Pirates for JaCoby Jones. They dealt Yoenis Cespedes to the New York Mets for Michael Fulmer and Luis Cessa. In 2017, Justin Verlander (Houston Astros), J.D. Martinez (Arizona Diamondbacks) and Justin Upton (Los Angeles Angels) were traded away for prospects. In the offseason that followed, Ian Kinsler went to the Angels for a pair of prospects.
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Since then, the Tigers have been submerged in a rebuilding process. The team finished in last place in the American League Central in three of the past four years, with a 198-345 record (.365 winning percentage) over those four seasons.
“We’re trying to accomplish long-term sustainability,” Avila said. “Keep the best young players that we have in the system, bring them up, develop these guys at the major league level and not have to give up too much too soon to have that long-term success.
“What you try to avoid is getting to the point at the major league level where all of a sudden you get there, you’re in the playoffs, and then all of a sudden, two years later, you’re tearing it down. It’s really a fine line. It’s not easy. It’s a very difficult thing. You got to do it slowly and methodically, just take small steps.”
Seven years ago, the Tigers were one of the most discussed teams at the trade deadline.
Nowadays, they’re rarely mentioned.
“We were pretty busy,” Hinch said. “I was here pretty early. The front office was here earlier. They were pretty active. Obviously, it always feels like there’s not a ton of action when you only make one trade at this time of year. But honestly, the guys were working really hard and had a lot of action.”
Entering Saturday, the Tigers (50-56) are in third place of the AL Central, three games behind second-place Cleveland and 12 games back of the first-place Chicago White Sox. Hinch has sparked life within the franchise by producing three consecutive winning months, going 41-32 since May 8 and 10-5 since the All-Star break.
“Our guys have really enjoyed the season so far,” Hinch said. “We’re not where we need to be. I’m going to always remind them of that. We’re capable of better. Players like Jonathan and others that teams flirted with are part of the solution here. They’re still playing to be a part of where this team is going, not necessarily where this team is.”
Hinch and Avila sound ready to win, but they’re not the only people responsible for the future.
To take the next step, owner Christopher Ilitch needs to allow Avila to spend money in free agency this offseason to add top-tier talent, such as a premier shortstop. Avila, though, has to capitalize on his choices with those funds, assuming they’re provided. And Hinch is responsible for molding his players together, developing prospects in the big leagues and growing his winning culture.
Unknowns are always aplenty, but the Tigers evolving into buyers at the trade deadline seems closer than ever before.
“When you have young players that you have some control over for the future, I think most teams understand those situations,” Avila said. “A lot of guys that were moved were veteran-type star players on the move. As an organization, as a baseball team, we’re in a different 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.