Detroit Tigers neglect offense at MLB trade deadline, adding to pressure of offseason

Detroit Free Press

MINNEAPOLIS — Members of the Detroit Tigers‘ front office, led by seventh-year general manager Al Avila, bunkered down inside the war room for about five days ahead of Tuesday’s 6 p.m. trade deadline.

Avila appeared Tuesday evening with a pair of new players in his organization: left-handed pitcher Kris Anglin and right-handed pitcher Sawyer Gipson-Long. For Anglin, the Tigers traded outfielder Robbie Grossman to the Atlanta Braves. For Gipson-Long, the Tigers shipped righty reliever Michael Fulmer to the Minnesota Twins.

Both Grossman and Fulmer are on expiring contracts.

“Those two things were areas that we had to clean up and move along,” Avila said Tuesday. “I thought we did the best we could there.”

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But the Tigers didn’t get any help for baseball’s lowest-scoring offense — the biggest area of concern moving forward — and delayed the acquisition of those upgrades until the offseason. At the trade deadline, Avila failed to get impact players to improve the major-league team.

That must be the priority in the winter months.

In the meantime, the Tigers plan to evaluate their talent in the big leagues, especially the younger players, and nurse the overwhelming number of injuries. The team is 21 games under .500, a half-game ahead of last place in the American League Central and averaging 3.23 runs per game.

“It’s not like we’re trying to move anybody, but if we can improve our major-league club, then we would certainly listen,” Avila said. “In that scenario, you would hope to be satisfied with being able to make a trade and being happy with what is being offered. And if you’re not, then you move on and you’re very happy to keep the players that you have.”

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The Tigers clearly weren’t satisfied with the offers for left-handed starter Tarik Skubal (free agent after 2026), left-handed closer Gregory Soto (free agent after 2025), right-handed reliever Joe Jiménez (free agent after 2023) and lefty reliever Andrew Chafin (player option for 2023).

Fulmer was the only reliever the Tigers moved.

“There were several teams looking for relievers,” Avila said. “The market was flooded with relievers. There were more relievers than buyers this time around. (The Twins) were a team that came in a little bit later. We had them on the board this week, with other clubs. It came down to the last day.”

And the Tigers weren’t satisfied because other teams wouldn’t meet Avila’s demands of impact MLB players or ready-to-contribute prospects, so the Tigers decided to keep their pitchers under team control into the offseason.

“We decided the possible return that we talked about with some of these clubs just did not move the needle for us at this point,” Avila said.

The best opportunity to add offensive weapons revolved around Skubal, who commands a 3.52 ERA with 32 walks and 117 strikeouts in 117⅔ innings across 21 starts. His total starts is tied atop the American League.

The Tigers were always unlikely to trade Skubal, but they engaged in some conversations that stalled. The Cincinnati Reds, on the other hand, traded right-hander Luis Castillo (free agent after 2023) to the Seattle Mariners for four prospects, including position players Noelvi Marte and Edwin Arroyo.

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But the Tigers didn’t make a similar trade with Skubal.

“It’s not like we were calling teams and trying to push the issue,” Avila said. “I explained to you guys that if the right deal were to be pursued, then we would have to have an open mind and look at it. In those conversations that we had, we just didn’t feel that the return would help us as much as we would have liked. I do think it got overblown as far as the amount of inquiries or conversations, but we did have several.”

For the Tigers to boost the offense, Avila may need to trade some of his starting pitchers. The Tigers — funded by owner Christopher Ilitch — could add a couple pieces in free agency, but the club already has shortstop Javier Báez (six years, $140 million) and left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez (five years, $77 million) locked into long-term contracts, along with 39-year-old Miguel Cabrera earning $32 million next year in his final season.

Trading for several MLB position players (and getting those players to pan out) would drastically brighten the gloomy state of the Tigers, but Avila hasn’t come out on top in many of his trades during his tenure as general manager.

Remember the 2017 season, when Avila traded Justin Verlander, J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton, Alex Avila and Justin Wilson to begin the rebuilding process? Seven of the 10 players acquired in return were position players, and one of them — Jeimer Candelario — is currently playing for the Tigers in the big leagues.

Therefore, improving the offense is the No. 1 priority.

But Avila couldn’t get that done at this year’s trade deadline.

The pressure is on this offseason.

“Our mindset is going to be trying to put the best team together for next season,” Avila said. “Is a team better suited with Skubal as your ace? You have to have an open mind to make your team better. What we’re going to try to do this offseason is try to put together a better team.

“One of the needs is going to be to improve the offense. At the same time, you can’t ignore your starting rotation. You’re not going to win, go to the playoffs and be a winner in the playoffs unless you have a very strong pitching staff. That includes your starting rotation. That includes a good bullpen. You got to weigh everything out. Whatever we decide will make this team best for next year is the way we’re going to go.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

Meet the new guys

Here are the players acquired in the last week via trade

Kris Anglin

Position: LHP

Age: 20

Vitals: 5-11, 175 pounds.

Drafted: 16th round, Braves, 2021.

2022 stats: 4-6, 4.64 ERA, 1.433 WHIP in 17 games (11 starts) in Rookie, Single-A.

Sawyer Gipson-Long

Position: RHP

Age: 24

Vitals: 6-4, 225 pounds.

Drafted: Sixth round, Twins, 2019.

2022 stats: 8-6, 4.23 ERA, 1.122 WHIP in 18 games (17 starts) in High-A, Double-A.

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