Tigers’ disappointing trade time deals don’t leave Detroit any closer to a solution

MINNEAPOLIS – Kind of predictable, no? Another trade deadline has come, and another trade deadline has gone. The Detroit Tigers made a few deals, dumping players on expiring contracts to better teams and getting mediocre prospects in return. The Tigers had other strengths and had many talks with other clubs, but ultimately no bigger deal appealed to them.

It’s not that the road to this particular trade deadline has been paved with mistakes. If the Tigers hadn’t received quality offers for pitchers like Tarik Skubal, Gregory Soto, Joe Jiménez or Andrew Chafin, then they would have been foolish to settle for the appearance of making a deal.

But this year’s deadline appears to be a symptom of more than one disease that Tigers fans know all too well. The Tigers and their current front office haven’t been creative in navigating the market, executing trades and ultimately building a roster.

“There hasn’t been as much conversation as I think the media has suggested,” chief executive Al Avila said. “Yet there were. We just decided that the possible comebacks we were talking about just weren’t moving the needle for us.

On Monday night, the Tigers traded outfielder Robbie Grossman to the Braves in exchange for left-hander Kris Anglin, a former 16th-round pick who is not on the Braves’ prospect lists. On Tuesday, less than 15 minutes before the trade deadline, news broke that the Tigers had traded Michael Fulmer across the hall to the Minnesota Twins. In return, Detroit received right-hander Sawyer Gipson-Long, a former sixth-round pick who also didn’t make the Twins’ top 30 prospects.

The Tigers were forced to take all they could for Robbie Grossman, who was dealt to the Braves on Monday. (Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)

Fulmer spoke to Avila via speakerphone, and Tigers manager AJ Hinch said the rugged everyday reliever got emotional after hearing the news. Fulmer’s Tigers career had its ups and downs, injuries and setbacks, and ultimately didn’t have a happy ending.

“I think he wanted to be happy because he was going to a competing team, but in no way did he run away from here,” Hinch said. “Kind of a weird feeling where you hug each other and appreciate everything he’s done for us.”

Earlier in the afternoon, Fulmer sat on a couch in the visitor’s clubhouse at Target Field, one leg crossed over the other, his arm hanging from the back of the couch. Fulmer breathed calm in the moments leading up to a deadline in which he knew he was likely to be traded, maybe because he had been there before, maybe because he is an example unhappy with how the Tigers have failed to capitalize on the trading market over the years.

Fulmer, the 2016 American League Rookie of the Year, was a hot commodity at the trade deadline in 2017, when competing teams were interested in his services. His name came back in 2018. And then in 2019 he had Tommy John surgery. Since reinvented as a successful leverager, the Tigers did not trade Fulmer at last year’s deadline. And so they found themselves with a player on an expiring deal, almost forced to take whatever they could get for Fulmer and Grossman.

“Those two things were areas that we needed to clean up and move on, and I thought we did our best there,” Avila said.

This year, the Tigers again had more valuable trading assets like the one that was Fulmer, like the one they once had in southpaw Matthew Boyd.

This time around, opposing teams inquired about southpaw Skubal, and the Tigers were open to listening. The Tigers have high hopes for Skubal’s future (although the arm inflammation he suffered during Monday’s exit creates some concern for the rest of this season), and so they weren’t going to. part ways with him for nothing less than a substantial set of impact players. close to MLB ready.

“We had several conversations,” Avila said. “It’s not like we’re calling teams and trying to push the issue. I explained to you very well that if the right deal was to be made, we had to have an open mind and look at it. … I think it was overstated in terms of the number of inquiries or conversations.

The Tigers also had an All-Star left-handed reliever in Gregory Soto, under the team’s control through 2025. The Tigers maintained a high price tag on Soto, again seeking multiple players in return. The talks never strayed too far from the ground. The Tigers valued Soto more than the market.

Then there was Joe Jiménez, with a year left on his contract and some of the best metrics in baseball. But whether the Tigers were set to move Jiménez, word was never made public. The Marlins, Cubs and Orioles, however, were able to move relief pitchers without too much trouble.

“The market has been flooded with relievers,” Avila said.

Even Andrew Chafin, who has a $6.5 million player option after this season, looked likely to be traded. But the Tigers struggled to get opposing teams to make suitable offers. Due to player option, teams were willing to only offer rental-type returns. The Tigers were hoping to buy Chafin more as a player who could also stay next year.

Avila means well but can do little to explain a story that feels familiar every year.

“I don’t know if ‘disappointment’ is the right word,” Avila said. “You are always looking with an open mind with our best players. We’ve always said, “It’s not like we’re trying to displace anybody. It’s more like, ‘If we can improve our major league club, we will definitely listen.’ Obviously in this scenario you’re hoping you can be happy that you can make a trade and be happy with what’s on offer, and if that’s not the case then you move on and you’re very happy to keep the player that you have. .”

And so here we are facing another deadline in which the Tigers have done little to raise the level of talent in an organization where job prospects are lacking and depth has been a concern for years. The Tigers have the makings of a strong base with players such as Riley Greene, Skubal, Spencer Torkelson, Javier Báez and Eduardo Rodriguez (although signings for Báez and Rodriguez have not worked out well so far). But even if Torkelson reaches his potential and the Báez and Rodriguez deals look better, it’s unclear where the Tigers will get the supplies needed to build the rest of their home.

This is the problem facing this organization, and it is a problem the front office under Avila has been unable to solve for a long time. That organization began rebuilding in 2017, and this past offseason, team president and CEO Chris Ilitch declared the rebuild complete. “One hundred percent, yes,” he said.

Now the Tigers are 41-63, again in last place. Last year’s promise looks like a mirage in a desert of defeats. On Monday, the Tigers added an interesting young left-hander in Anglin and a right-hander with a good slider in Gipson-Long. But it’s unclear who will play receiver for the Tigers in the future. Same with second base. And third base. And left field. And right field.

“There’s still an opportunity here to come into the offseason (to add) some batting talent,” Avila said. “It could come from an offseason trade, or, quite frankly, it could also come from free agency.”

But as the Tigers rinse and repeat the disappointing sentiments of recent trade deadlines – Daniel Norris for Reese Olson, Cameron Maybin for Zack Short, Nick Castellanos for Alex Lange and Paul Richan, Shane Greene for Joey Wentz and Travis Demeritte – it’s too much clearly the team, which had such high hopes at the start of the season, is stuck in a spiral of misery. The Tigers are playing sloppy baseball and showing only marginal results in assessing their own talent, identifying talent elsewhere, developing local players, and finding creative ways to acquire good players from other organizations.

“Obviously I’m not in all the conversations in the war room in Detroit,” Hinch said. “I know they worked hard. I don’t know what was available, what was not available. Again, I keep reminding everyone that the reason we’re in this situation where we’ve had some sort of trade deadline along these lines is that we haven’t won enough. We have to be responsible for it. »

As the 6 p.m. ET trade deadline passed, Fulmer walked through the bowels of Target Field, entered the Twins clubhouse, and began preparing for another game and another trip to the playoffs.

The Tigers prepared for a game with their bullpen largely intact, but with no further clarity on how that will change.

(Top photo by Michael Fulmer: Raj Mehta/USA Today)

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