As the first half of the season winds down, the Tigers are once again a top contender to make the postseason. Plagued by injuries (Andy Dirks, Jose Iglesias, Bruce Rondon) before the season even began, the team has made excellent use of their current resources and are currently sitting atop the American League Central, a position they have held practically all season, save for a few days when the Royals took the lead.
However, there are ways of improving the team even further, and as the trade deadline approaches, Dave Dombrowksi is almost certainly doing his homework already. What do the Tigers need, at this point?
It's no secret that the Tigers could use some improvement in the outfield, first with defense, and then with offense, in that order. Defensively, J.D. Martinez, Rajai Davis, Austin Jackson, and Torii Hunter are worth minus 23 defensive runs saved. Add Don Kelly into the mix and, depending on where he plays, that number either stays the same or it drops to minus 25 defensive runs saved (Hunter is the biggest liability, at minus 14.)
On the other hand, the outfield is also a crowded place that's about to get more crowded still. Dirks will be back from rehab sooner than later, and his plus-column defense (six defensive runs saved in 2013) will help the Tigers improve in that area, but it will also lead to a bit of a logjam. With six options in the outfield, it seems unlikely that Dombrowski will be shopping in that particular aisle of the store.
Up until just a few weeks ago, the shortstop position was a continual source of angst and sorrow, and it was all but certain that Dombrowski would be shopping for shortstops at the deadline. With the arrival of Eugenio Suarez, however, that may no longer be the case. In his debut month, Suarez slashed .279/.364/.485 with an OPS of .849. At minus-three defensive runs saved, his skill in the field leaves something to be desired, but his discipline at the plate may be enough to secure him a starting spot for the rest of the season.
First thought: Starting pitching is the last thing the Tigers need to improve, and doesn't even belong in a discussion about the upcoming trade deadline. Second thought: Yeah, that's exactly what we thought last offseason, right before Doug Fister was traded away.
This is where the Tigers are weakest, and where they most need to improve. The relief staff has the second-highest ERA in the American League (or, if you prefer, the seventh-highest FIP and fifth-lowest WAR), and their 56 runs allowed in the ninth inning (which accounts for 16 percent of all runs surrendered this season) suggest that they need a backup option for the closer role. We still haven't seen Joel Hanrahan, but the latest buzz indicates that he may not be available for quite some time.
Joba Chamberlain has been one of the most solid pieces in the bullpen since the season's start, and Blaine Hardy has been the most promising mid-season call-up, with an ERA of 2.89, a WHIP of 0.964, an 8.7 K/9 rate, and a 2.25 K/BB ratio. Phil Coke has seemingly found a new and more reliable groove, and Al Alburquerque is still a serviceable option, but the rest of the bullpen has been a mostly uninspiring mixed bag.
In the days and weeks to come, we'll be looking more specifically at potential trade targets and expendable players, but for now we want to hear what you think. Vote in the poll below and tell us which of these areas you think the Tigers need to target first and foremost.