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Mailbag: Could the Tigers and Red Sox be trade partners?

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Could the Tigers work out a deal with the Boston Red Sox for an outfielder? Does it make sense for the Tigers to trade Castellanos? When will we send some starters to the bullpen? These questions and more in this week's mailbag.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

There has been a lot of activity around baseball over the past week, but the Tigers have been relatively quiet. So, until the Tigers make another move, we talk about more trade rumors and roster construction! Remember, send us your questions on Facebook, on Twitter, or via email at bybtigers@gmail.com!

Unless something changes, the Tigers don't have a surplus of starting pitching (or any pitching, for that matter). They only have four of their five rotation spots locked down, and that fifth slot is a major question mark. If one of the "big four" gets injured, you're looking at two rookies in the rotation. With how bad Robbie Ray and Buck Farmer looked at times in 2014, this isn't exactly a reassuring thought.

There are even questions about the team's top four starters. Can Anibal Sanchez stay healthy? Is Justin Verlander actually declining? Can Rick Porcello repeat what he did last season? David Price is the only stone-cold lock to destroy lineups next year. This is easily the best rotation in the division (and potentially the American League) if everyone is on, but there are a lot of opportunities for things to go wrong in 2015.

That said, the situation in Boston is interesting. As of 8:00 a.m. Monday, the Red Sox have reportedly agreed to deals with both Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. Unless they decide to displace Xander Bogaerts at shortstop, Ramirez will likely move to the outfield. This gives the Sox an outfield consisting of Ramirez, Yoenis Cespedes, Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo, Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava, Jackie Bradley, and Allen Craig. Their best pitcher still under contract is Clay Buchholz, who had a 5.34 ERA and 4.01 FIP last season. The 2008 Detroit Tigers business model won't pay off unless they deal an outfielder or two for some pitching. If the Tigers can land Scherzer or another free agent starter, they may be able to flip one of their other starters for an outfielder or two.

I don't understand why everyone thinks Nick Castellanos' trade value has evaporated after last season. He's only 22 years old, has a whale of a hit tool, and just put up a 28.5 percent line drive rate in 579 plate appearances in his rookie season. His 94 wRC+ wasn't very impressive on the whole, but again, he's 22 years old. Most players are still in the minors at that point. Castellanos finished eighth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting, but only three other players in the top 10 were under the age of 25. He was the youngest player in either league to receive a Rookie of the Year vote.

Truth be told, 2014 might have even increased Castellanos' trade value. He made it through the entire season with his head somewhat above water at the plate. The glove was worse than we expected, but it was only supposed to be passable at best. He still has five years of team control remaining and doesn't hit arbitration until after the 2016 season. Steamer projects him to hit .270/.320/.414 with a 105 wRC+ next year, and it wouldn't surprise me if he surpassed those numbers.

All of that said, I don't think that it makes any sense for the Tigers to trade him. Signing someone like Chase Headley would provide an upgrade over Castellanos, but the Tigers can't afford to keep adding expensive players to their roster if they have any hopes of improving their depth and bullpen. Having productive cost-controlled players in the lineup is essential for this team's long-term future. While he is no longer considered a prospect, Castellanos basically is the Tigers' farm system. They need him to produce in order to justify the other big contracts on the payroll.

What impact does the expiring Tiger TV deal have on payroll? With large contracts and the highest rating in MLB, I would think we are due big money.

-Jason

I think we are already starting to see the impact of how advertising dollars are affecting the Tigers' spending habits. Major League Baseball just renegotiated new contracts with FOX, ESPN, and TBS prior to the 2014 season. I don't know the exact figures, but the research I did estimates that the Tigers saw an extra $25-30 million this season because of these new national deals. Crain's estimated that the Tigers received $110 million in revenue from their local and national TV deals in 2014. An extra million or two for Victor Martinez doesn't seem so daunting now.

Despite Fox Sports Detroit's best efforts to hint otherwise whenever possible, their deal with the Tigers expires after the 2017 season. Currently, the Tigers are receiving about $40 million per year from this contract. Forbes estimates that the Tigers could tack on another $20-40 million when it comes time to renegotiate, but a lot of that depends on what the TV landscape looks like. Fangraphs' Wendy Thurm looked at the "sports TV bubble" back in 2013, and while it hasn't popped yet, it could at any point. Basically, if cable companies resort to "a la carte" service sometime between now and 2017, these advertising dollars could dry up quickly.

Luckily, the Tigers are in a great position when it comes to renegotiating a deal. They profile as a mid-sized market on paper, but their local TV ratings are off the charts, no doubt thanks to the team's recent success. This gives advertisers more bang for their buck, making it essential for Fox Sports Detroit to hang onto their cash cow.

Here's a possible idea that could be a win-win situation. It's cheap and better long term. Why not have all those young gun pitchers that came up to pitch in the 2014 season pitch out of the bullpen? It's dirt cheap for that matter, it gives them room to improve, less pressure (ideally because of how strong the rotation would look on paper), higher confidence ceiling.

-Alex

This is something we have touched on before, but the answer isn't as simple as you might think. Putting the right guy in the bullpen can work, and it doesn't necessarily stunt their development. Drew Smyly was a perfect example of this in 2013, then in 2014 when he successfully transitioned back to the rotation. The difference here is that Smyly was 100 percent MLB ready at the start of the 2013 season. Many people wanted him to stay in Triple A, but there was no reason for him to sit in the minors aside from staying stretched out as a starter. He had his entire arsenal intact and there were no mechanical issues to work out.

The current group of starters battling for the last spot in the rotation do not compare favorably to 2013 Smyly. They all have an issue or two, aside from maybe Kyle Lobstein (and if this is the case, he will be the one in the rotation). Robbie Ray impressed with his slider in the Arizona Fall League, but he could still use the development time to work on that pitch. Buck Farmer has just 28 2/3 innings above Single-A ball under his belt. Drew VerHagen is recovering from back surgery.

The one guy I'd like to see transition to the bullpen for 2015 is Kyle Ryan. He's below fellow left-handers Lobstein and Ray on the pecking order, and could make for a great LOOGY or long reliever. His fastball velocity will jump a tick or two, and he won't have to worry about developing his secondary pitches (the changeup, in particular). He has already shown that he can be a decent spot starter in a pinch, but with so many other options for that fifth starter role, the team can afford to move one guy to the pen in hopes of improving that mess.

This is a big concern, and I don't believe for a second that the Tigers consider this outfield a finished product. Anthony Gose and Rajai Davis would be best served in a center field platoon with a bat-first corner outfielder added to the mix. Melky Cabrera makes a lot more sense after the Tigers traded for Gose, but even someone like Nori Aoki or Colby Rasmus could work in either corner.

The part that scares me the most about the Tigers' current trio of outfielders is that J.D. Martinez is the most accomplished one of the bunch. He had an excellent season in 2014 and showed an ability to adjust to opposing pitchers in the middle of the season, but what happens if he somehow regresses back to his pre-2014 form? Then you're looking at three below average outfielders with little help in sight down on the farm.

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