Ranking the Tigers needs as we near the trade deadline

The All-Star Game is past. The July 31 trade deadline is two weeks away. We've been passing on trade rumors for days. Now I thought I'd weigh in on what should be the highest priority on the Tigers' shopping list. A lot of people think it's obvious, of course. The third baseman can't hit and the second baseman can't field (or this season, hit). But it's not that easy. The bullpen ranks near the bottom of the league in ERA, and the inconsistent rotation in the bottom third. Heck, listening to all these problems you might think it's a wonder the Tigers are even in first place.

In reality, the Tigers probably aren't shopping all that hard for infield help. After all, they have the best offense in the division already, and the names that have been floated as being available are not that exciting to think about. Add to that Brandon Inge is signed through 2012, Carlos Guillen has been on a rehab assignment and Ryan Raburn tends to heat up after the All-Star Break, and the Tigers likely feel like they can get by with what they've got.

But pitching? Pitching is a problem. You can never have enough pitching, and the Tigers always need more. Of course, the Tigers know this. ESPN.com's Buster Olney reported today Detroit is trying to acquire a top tier starting pitcher, so I guess we're in agreement here.

My list follows.

1. Starting pitching -- As I said, it's a problem. Of course, few teams have five starters they feel comfortable with. But getting an additional starter with more experience than Charlie Furbush, Andy Oliver, Duane Below, Jacob Turner, or whatever other Tigers prospects you can name would certainly make me feel a lot better. As I mentioned, it would apparently make the Tigers feel a lot better too. Though their rotation's ERA ranked as ninth and its FIP a much better fifth, the depth issues and inconsistent play are just screaming for help. Besides, a better rotation in the playoffs is always a good thing.

So a player like Ubaldo Jimenez, though unlikely, would make for an incredible rotation. A player like Hiroki Kuroda, whom the Tigers were reportedly looking at earlier this season, would help if he'd waive his no-trade clause. A player like Wandy Rodriguez would be an upgrade, though he could have costly repercussions on future seasons. (Or not, if he continues at his current level.) There are good options who would be dramatic increases over the current fifth starter.

2. Second base -- Let's go over the options here. Ryan Raburn hasn't found his boomstick yet, and can't field the position worth nothin'. Ramon Santiago fields it better, but bats even worse than Raburn. Carlos Guillen is a step up in both areas, but can't stay healthy. Finally, the organization doesn't have a lot of options in the minor leagues, and Will Rhymes did no better than the rest during his trial at the position this year.

Interestingly enough, Tigers second baseman are 10th in the AL in average, 9th in on-base percentage and 8th in slugging. Of course one assumes the teams with poor hitting two-sackers at least get some good fielding. If you want to judge by WAR, the Tigers rank 13th in the position with 0.1, ahead of the Indians. So you assume it shouldn't take much to upgrade.

I'm going to assume the Tigers will take their chances with what they've got. They seem to think Raburn will finally hit the ball or Guillen will be healthy. They'd probably be better off making a move, but it's not as if there's a lot of wonderful options.

3. Third base -- I'd love it if the Tigers would look at this objectively and decide to bench Brandon Inge. Again looking at WAR, Tigers third basemen have been exactly replacement level. They have 0.0 WAR for a 12th ranking, ahead of Chicago and Seattle. If I wasn't so worried about starting pitching depth, I'd probably move both second and third base up a notch.

Inge is an average defender now, an assertion which will probably draw ire from people both from people who think he sucks now, and from people who think he's still above average. However he's popular and owed money. Jim Leyland at least hinted during his last press meeting before the break that if Inge didn't pick up his play there might be changes. It's just hard to believe there actually will be any.

Like second base, it's not as if there's a lot of wonderful options here either. Like I said, pretty much anything is an upgrade. But if you're making a trade you've got to make sure you're using your prospects to make the biggest difference overall and the available players we know of don't seem to be that great either.

4. Relief pitching --The bullpen has been awful. Well, sorta. The lead-protecting pitchers have done as nice job. The Tigers are perfect when leading after the seventh inning and near perfect when leading after six. But they could use another veteran in the pen, as they have been trotting out rookies like Lester Oliveros, Adam Wilk, or Brayan Villarreal, in addition to some veteran scrubs. No bullpen is perfect, but Detroit's should be better. On the other hand, at least it's good when the team has the lead. If the Tigers weren't getting replacement-level production out of second and third base, this would probably rank higher for me.

5. Outfield -- People seem to think the outfield is fine. Brennan Boesch is fine, Austin Jackson is fine, Magglio Ordonez is fine, and Casper Wells and Andy Dirks are starters in waiting. Or something like that. Maybe that's overstating it, but most people don't think you could make a big upgrade because the Tigers outfield is doing well and the infield has some struggling players. I don't disagree that the outfield is a low priority.

But I don't completely write off the possibility of upgrading. As I wrote yesterday, Brennan Boesch is likely playing over his head again. No, I don't expect him to drop off as hard as last year, but he's over his head. Meanwhile Austin Jackson plays good defense but in his best month, helped by an outrageous BABIP, he batted .291. Plus he strikes out a lot. And Ordonez is batting in the upper 200s without a whole lot of power even after the DL stint. None of these guys are bad players, mind you.

But if a good price for Carlos Beltran became available, he would most definitely be an upgrade to the outfield. I mean, if you want to talk about players in terms of WAR, Jackson has been worth 0.9 this year. Everyone but Brennan Boesch (2.4) has been worth less. Compare that to Beltran, whose WAR is 3.3 for the half-season. His second half numbers are projected by ZiPS to be far better than any of the Tigers outfielders. That might be a bigger splash than what could be made with the available middle infielders. That's probably why the Tigers have been named as being interested in Beltran as recently as yesterday.

 

So it will be interesting to see what the Tigers do. Like I said, it's reported top-tier pitching is their priority. I'm OK with that. What would you like to see and what realistic acquisitions do you think could help the Tigers?

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