Henning: Injuries to Michael Fulmer, Spencer Turnbull helped dampen Tigers’ trade market

Detroit News

Trade deadline passed Friday for MLB teams who had quite the seismic day and week peddling all kinds of high-profile treasure. As for the Tigers, they treated the Richter scale gently, sending Daniel Norris to the Brewers for a kid pitcher named Reese Olson.

This exercise in minimalist shopping didn’t endear general manager Al Avila to Detroit baseball fans who want a different Tigers roster, beginning with a new front office.

But the Tigers, in fact, made one more deal than was anticipated here, all because if I were an opposing GM hunting last month for tradeable arms and bats, I wouldn’t have overly bothered Avila.

The simple truth is Detroit had little to offer. Unless the Tigers were hawking Casey Mize, or Tarik Skubal, or Riley Greene, or Spencer Torkelson, or Matt Manning, or Akil Baddoo — all the kids they’re hoping to turn into a someday contender at Comerica Park –— they could pretty much forget about making any dramatic deadline deals.

That much was assured the day Spencer Turnbull, a starting pitcher with power and youth and sizzle opposing scouts and front offices would have craved, was lost to what eventually would be Tommy John surgery. The Tigers’ trade winds were further dashed when their most marketable reliever, Michael Fulmer, spent too much of June and July on the injured list.

And there you had it. Only because the Brewers saw in Norris a left-hander who could toss multiple innings and get a lot of ground-ball outs, was a single Tigers deal transacted.

Avila spoke Friday with media about the market and how conversations — and a lot of non-deals — played out.

Some additional background is now known.

Nope on Schoop

It begins with the man fans believed was most likely headed elsewhere for an appreciable return, Jonathan Schoop, who has 17 home runs and who can play second base or first base.

Schoop, it turns out, was no hotter of a ticket last week than he had been in the final days of June, when not a single team had called the Tigers about a player who in a couple of months becomes a free agent.

The Tigers had one serious pre-deadline suitor, a team not identified but probably named the Padres, who were interested in Schoop — as a utility player. That is correct: as fill-in material. You can imagine how savory was the offer. The Tigers passed.

They also had bites from the White Sox after second baseman Nick Madrigal was lost for the year. But the White Sox, who are heavily right-handed in their lineup, opted instead for a switch-hitter, Cesar Hernandez, who also has a team option for 2022.

Next in line, among sideline Tigers trade analysts, were Detroit’s back-end relievers, specifically two who have been healthy: Gregory Soto and Jose Cisnero.

Here’s where front-office market realities again clash with populist notions about who can be dealt, and for whom.

Soto is indeed a 100-mph left-hander who has a 2.89 ERA in 45 games. He also is in his first year as a closer after having rolled up rather underwhelming numbers during his first two seasons in the big leagues.

There was the problem. Craig Kimbrel? Established closer. Worth a big return (ironically, Madrigal, who was sent to the Cubs). Soto? Not a thick enough job file for teams to deal prospects the Tigers would have found to be a net gain, especially when Soto is four years from free agency.

Cisnero (49 games, 2.98 ERA, 1.26 WHIP) was somewhat more appealing. Cisnero, the Tigers could have dealt.

Except …

The return wasn’t anything the Tigers believed would have put them ahead when, during the coming offseason, they would have been back shopping for bullpen help and on the hook for double what it would cost to replace Cisnero, who has turned into back-end gold for the Tigers and who is still two years from free-agent bucks.

This implies money was behind decisions to keep Soto and Cisnero. To a reasonable extent it was, but only because the trade offers were so-so for each pitcher.

Fulmer was a different story entirely.

Had he not had shoulder and spine ills during parts of June and July, it’s a 100% bet Fulmer would be pitching elsewhere, waiting his turn to star during some team’s playoff push.

The Tigers thought, even as late as Friday, after Fulmer had obliterated three Orioles batters during a ninth-inning close Thursday, they would get an offer neither they nor Fulmer would have minded.

It didn’t happen — all because Fulmer had lacked maybe one more week of showboat performances that would have calmed opposing clubs and led to a deal that could have helped all parties.

End of Story?

Others, including a surprise player, were discussed as last week’s phone lines burned.

Probably the hottest player in Comerica’s shopping aisles was a man with a .160 batting average: Zack Short.

What opposing teams see in Short is what the Tigers see and appreciate: a splendid defensive player, in this case giving the Tigers absolutely what they need at short, who has extra-base pop when he hits the ball, which, all clubs agree, isn’t as often as he needs to make contact.

But the way baseball is played in 2021 makes Short just shy of essential. He can play multiple positions, well. And when that brand of player can put a ball in the seats, as a rookie, teams are interested. They simply weren’t ready to fork over enough to make Short dispensable when he has patched shortstop niftily and when the Tigers see him as a long-term asset, probably as a super-sub.

Another player also was being chased, with some zeal, by several teams: outfielder Robbie Grossman.

The Tigers might have bitten here were it not for a couple of realities that made this a tough trade.

Grossman is a favorite of manager AJ Hinch, as well as the front office. Hinch sees in Grossman an artist who embodies all of the hitting approaches he is working to impose on a young team. He is exquisite at his role, batting leadoff or deeper in the lineup, and he is revered as a clubhouse counselor and tutor.

He is under contract through next year. The Tigers probably were close, but again, when offers tended to be on the lighter side — and they were even for Grossman — they hung on rather than leave themselves with a lineup hole that would have earned a less-than-thrilling return

Jeimer Candelario? Not a hot name. No serious interest. And the Tigers aren’t overly bothered. What might not be known is that Candelario, even more than Grossman, is considered a clubhouse shaman who has had influence on every player there, including one Miguel Cabrera. His presence is regarded as nothing less than profound, for a variety of reasons, including his faith.

Does chemistry mean as much as baseball skill? No. The Tigers would have dealt their clubhouse mystic in a heartbeat. But, again, interest was all but nil.

Why, then, didn’t the Tigers chase big game, especially a player in Colorado, a shortstop named Trevor Story, who sat waiting for a trade the way a kid waits for mom and dad to rescue him or her from summer camp?

The Rockies wanted to trade Story no more than Story wanted a deal.

And no one, including the Tigers, was biting.

What’s up when the Tigers are burning for an everyday shortstop?

Plenty, as it turns out.

MLB scouts have turned sour on Story’s defense, particularly his throwing. Something, opposing teams believe, is going on with his arm and he is not the same player the Rockies and MLB rivals viewed as treasure during his three previous seasons.

He’ll be a free agent this autumn. But with a .743 OPS and defense that now has teams even more leery, Story is in trouble with MLB’s marketplace.

Not that the Tigers can afford to be overly choosy. They still have no showcase starter at shortstop. They have no everyday answer at second base. Their rebuild could collapse if they don’t come up with answers at up-the-middle infield stations.

Last week, the trade market offered, in a team’s view, no solutions. Or, at least it didn’t after Turnbull and Fulmer, the Tigers’ two best shots at a July swap that could have made a difference, courted fate — fate that tends to ambush guys who throw baseballs for a living.

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.

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