Now that the Trade Deadline has passed, the Tigers have some decisions to make for the stretch run. They won’t be simply playing out the schedule; in this position, they can’t afford to. They’ll be evaluating how and why this season went awry, and what they need to do to get back on the path towards contention that they expected to take this year.
The comments from general manager Al Avila in the moments after the Trade Deadline, and the moves that were and were not made beforehand, made clear the Tigers aren’t looking to take a longer step back.
“Our mindset is going to be trying to put the best team together for next season,” Avila said.
A large part of that involves this coming offseason. But there are things the Tigers can do over the final two months of this season:
1. Bring the kids
Pitching-wise, most of the prospects who were in line to potentially reach Detroit this season have already been here thanks to injuries. That said, the Tigers would like to get Matt Manning on a regular routine to stretch out his workload and hopefully avoid innings limits next year. Getting Joey Wentz — currently on the Triple-A Toledo injured list and rehabbing — back for another start or two would help get him ready to compete for a spot next season.
“I would like to see Kreidler at some point,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “In a perfect world, he does get a chance to show what he can do and how our team looks with him.”
Carpenter’s hitting has forced the Tigers’ 19th-round pick into the conversation for a team searching for offense short and long term. The Tigers have other young outfielders to evaluate, including Akil Baddoo and Daz Cameron, but Carpenter’s combination of power and average is too intriguing to not check out, especially with additional at-bats available at designated hitter with Miguel Cabrera expected to get some planned days off to rest his aching legs.
2. Get Tork back
The Tigers also need to get Spencer Torkelson back in an effective hitting mode and installed as their everyday first baseman. His recent work in Toledo, including two home runs in his past seven games through Wednesday, suggests he’s making progress after a slow start.
Hinch hasn’t put a timetable on Torkelson’s return, nor does he want to put a focus on Torkelson when the Tigers are looking for a low-pressure environment for the 2020 top overall Draft pick. But Hinch has made his return sound more like when than if it happens. A strong finish would do wonders for both him and the Tigers lineup going into next season.
3. Who fits behind the plate?
The Tigers went into the season viewing Tucker Barnhart as a potential multi-year answer at catcher. He now seems like a one-year rental, barring a dramatic change, which leaves the Tigers in a similar spot. One key difference is that Eric Haase has shown himself capable of handling the job at least semi-regularly, if not more, both offensively and defensively.
Another factor is Jake Rogers, who is expected to return to action sometime in September barring a setback in his rehab from Tommy John surgery. He looked to be settling in as a Major Leaguer last summer, especially as a hitter, before his elbow injury put his career on hold. Asking him to pick up where he left off is too much, but at least getting back to regular work behind the plate would help him as well as the team. The Tigers could carry him as a third catcher once rosters expand in September.
4. Sort out the outfield
Riley Greene is the everyday center fielder moving forward. Austin Meadows should have a regular role in left, but he has to get healthy first, which has been a tougher process than he or the Tigers would have imagined. Getting him settled in is a priority, but that leaves one more outfield spot to use to evaluate Victor Reyes, Baddoo, Carpenter and Cameron.
5. Figure out Jeimer’s future
Which Jeimer Candelario can the Tigers count on? Is he still the 42-doubles hitter from last year who was a switch-hitting cog in the middle of Detroit’s lineup, or is he the streaky hitter who was near the bottom of the order for stretches this summer? He’s probably somewhere in between, but the Tigers have to decide whether to go through one more year of arbitration with him or go with someone else at third base, such as Kreidler or Kody Clemens in a combination.
Candelario’s days in Detroit seemed numbered around midseason before he hit .267 with five homers, 14 RBIs and an .873 OPS in July. He’ll get more at-bats to show if he can keep it up, but if he slumps, Kreidler and/or Willi Castro — who’s expected to see more infield time down the stretch — will get at-bats.