The Tigers went into the All Star game ten games above five hundred, and 1.5 ahead of the Cleveland Indians in the American League Central. Max Scherzer continued to show off his incredible season, sitting down the National league in order, as he received the start. Tiger hitters went 3-for-6 with one double, one triple and a run scored for the AL.
But now our focus shifts to the 2013 MLB trade deadline. Following Jose Valverde’s implosion, pundits donned the Tigers as most likely to get back-end bullpen help. However, Benoit seized the opportunity and took firm control of the closer role. Since June 7th, Benoit has pitched 11 1/3 innings, allowing only one earned run with 17 strikeouts to just one walk. That’s being stout. According to FanGraphs, Drew Smyly has the third best WAR among AL relievers, with Benoit placing ninth — only the Chicago White Sox have two relievers in the top 10.
The problem does not simply lie within the closer role, rather the depth in the Tigers bullpen. Octavio Dotel may be done for the season, and Phil Coke has been down right awful. Bruce Rondon has displayed moments of brilliance, yet lacks the consistency to get it across the plate at will. Smyly’s been great, but who knows how long he will pitch at this level.
The Tigers have until July 31st to decide what they will do with their bullpen — among other positions — here’s the most sensible solutions as we draw near to the trade deadline.
- Tom Wilhelmsen and Brendan Ryan:
When discussing prior mid-season trades involving the Tigers, it’s easy to grasp Dave Dombrowski’s aptitude for bundling his trade packages. In 2011, the Tigers traded for relief pitcher David Pauley and Doug Fister, two positions which where of need. Last season — with second base having been in flux since the exit of Placido Polanco — Dombrowski managed to pry second baseman Omar Infante and pitcher Anibal Sanchez from the Miami Marlins, once again filling two positions of need.
This past season, the league has been investigating baseball’s Biogenesis case. In case you haven’t heard, Johnny Peralta remains one of the players likely suspended in the latest PED scandal. But when will these suspensions rain down? According to Danny Knobler, they may not come until 2014. But what if they do?
If the Tigers decide to address their needs along the bullpen and at shortstop, the Mariners may be just the place for them. Brendan Ryan — who’s lost his job to a rookie this season — may be the Tigers best option in this slim market. Foresee-ably, Alexei Ramirez and Jurickson Profar will be the top options. But why would the White Sox trade Ramirez, who’s under club control through 2014, within the division? And better yet, who would the Tigers be willing to part with to land the ultra-hyped Profar?
Neither seems likely, and the addition of Wilhelmsen — who’s 18-MPH differential between fastball and curveball tops baseball — is a major upgrade for the Tigers. Through May, he posted a 0.41 ERA, and though he’s in a minor slump, he’s in team control through 2017.
- Jesse Crain:
The White Sox are knee deep in a full blown fire sale, after sending Matt Thornton to the Boston Red Sox. But for the Tigers, Jesse Crain might be the most coveted relief pitcher on the market. Coming off the disable list — while carrying an expiring deal — the price shouldn’t be too high for the 32 year old. He holds the league’s highest WAR among relief pitchers — according to fangraph — carries an ERA of 0.74, and a WHIP of 1.15.
If Crain returns before the deadline and proves he’s healthy, there’s no reason why Dombrowski wouldn’t explore a deal with the divisional rivals.
- John Axeford:
Axeford’s start to this season was overwhelmingly poor. After his May 1 blown save versus the Pirates, he was 0-3 with a 10.32 ERA, while recording zero saves through his first 13 games. Since then, Axford has given up only three runs, sporting a 0.99 ERA in 33 games. He’s struck out a batter per inning and hasn’t given up a home run since that May 1st outing.
With most of the attention going too Francisco Rodriguez and Mike Gonzalez, the Tigers could be in for a low cost move to get Axeford at the deadline.
- Final Evaluation:
The Tigers need bullpen depth, not necessarily a “seasoned closer.” With the money and assets it would take to land Jonathon Papelbon — or any of the other high end closers — the Tigers would be better off getting a seventh inning specialist with the capabilities to be a setup man — in case Smyly flutters. And while the PED scandal wears on, the Tigers will have to assess where they believe Peralta will stand, and make their plans accordingly.
As the deadline inches towards us, these questions will begin to answer themselves as we make our way down the stretch to playoff baseball!
All stats found through fangraph and ESPN stats & info.