There are some 4 million different kinds of animals and plants in the world. Four million different solutions to the problems of staying alive. — David Attenborough
As the Detroit Tigers continue playing a brand of losing baseball (6-14 stretch) not seen in the Motor City for a long while, it's important to note that they have stayed on top of the AL Central. Despite all the beat downs, the ninth inning swoons, the slumping outfielders, and a general lack of defensive ability at every corner position on the diamond, the Tigers are still in position to contend if they find some calm seas. Being in position also means looking for short-term improvements.
Meanwhile in Tampa, the Rays currently sit at 17 games under .500 and are in last place in the AL East. Before Wednesday's 6-3 win over the St. Louis Cardinals, the Rays offense hadn't scored in 27 innings. To make matters worse, they've lost much of their pitching depth this year to a run of injuries.
The Tigers have a general manager in Dave Dombrowski who doesn't sit on his hands during the summer. He has a track record of tweaking his roster and finding solutions. There is almost no debate to be had that he's been watching the current run of baseball in Detroit with a critical eye and envisioning some change. He has already dipped into his minor league depth for Eugenio Suarez and Corey Knebel and took a chance on Joel Hanrahan possibly recovering from his surgery in time to contribute this season. The Tigers have been in first place since day one of this season but the roster hasn't been static. In short, a relatively significant move (or moves) will happen in the next few weeks.
The Rays have built an organization around finding advantages on the cheap and making smart decisions. Anyone who read Jonah Keri's The Extra 2% has a sense of the Wall Street ethos that likely pervades the decision-making process in Tampa. "Reality" is probably a key word for them. GM Andrew Friedman, owner Stuart Sternberg, and their team of number crunchers would seem to be a very pragmatic bunch. The Rays will likely decide sooner rather than later to declare the 2014 season a wash and look to position themselves for future seasons.
Any dispassionate look at the current state of the Rays shows them to be short this year. If they put their marketable commodities on the market early, they could possibly score a better haul from contenders looking to buttress their roster. An earlier trade gives the acquiring club another few weeks of production from their new talent. There could be a small premium paid for that extra time.
Is there a match between the Tigers needs and the Rays available talent? Will these two clubs be swapping offers over the next few days or weeks? Let's look at who may be available in Tampa and how they could possibly fit in Detroit.
David Price: Certainly Price is one of the biggest names in the league that could be bandied about during this trade deadline season. The former Cy Young winner will be a huge addition to any club's rotation and comes with the added bonus of not being a pure one-season rental. He is under control next year as well. Does he fit in Detroit? Sure. He fits any club. Price would be around next year if Max Scherzer bolts. One major problem, however, is that the Tigers probably don't have the premium prospects that would score David Price. Likely not even close.
Ben Zobrist: Zobrist is a jack-of-all-trades who will likely draw attention from many clubs around baseball. As a good defender and a switch hitter, he would certainly help the Tigers in a number of ways. He is a player who can credibly play shortstop and take starts in the corner outfield positions. Zobrist comes with a $7M option for next season with a $500K buyout. Problems? Well, the 33-year-old Zobrist has been showing signs of offensive decay with declining OBP and slugging percentages for the last two seasons. But while his bat might not be a "savior" for the Tigers, he's likely a veteran upgrade for them. Depending on the cost to acquire Zobrist, few Tigers fans would react poorly to a deal to get him.
Jake McGee: The Rays have built competitive bullpens out of thin air during their run of producing 90-plus win seasons. The ability to stitch together effective units on the fly may lead them to see what kind of premium return they can get for their top left-hander relief arm. McGee is a high-octane left-hander posting eye-popping K/BB rates the last two years. He's under club control through 2017. It will take a really good offer to secure this guy from the Rays. But if the Rays do put him on the market, he's an obvious fit in Detroit given the ongoing struggles of the bullpen. Will the Tigers yield the likely cost to acquire McGee? Tough call. Easy to overpay for relief help and, as we know, relievers are so unpredictable.
Matt Joyce: As Don Kelly, Ramon Santiago, and Omar Infante can attest, Dombrowski is willing to let players take a second tour in Detroit. Joyce has some lefty power and can take starts in the corner outfield. He would give Brad Ausmus some needed pinch-hitting options. However, the looming return of Andy Dirks might put a play for Joyce on the back-burner. If Dirks looks healthy, its likely the Tigers won't pay up for Joyce just to get the extra tick of power on their roster. If Dirks has lingering back problems from his surgery however, Joyce could be in play.
Joel Peralta: For all the reasons noted above about the Rays ability to build bullpens, the same reasons apply for the veteran workhorse Peralta to get moved this summer. Peralta won't "wow" anyone but you know what you're getting for the most part. A guy who can take the ball often and the get the job done more often than not. Peralta's home-run rate this year raises an eye-brow, but it could be just a small sample aberration. The good news would be that the cost should be a lot lower to acquire than McGee. But the Tigers will likely not make an early move to get a guy like Peralta. The Tigers will likely see how their current crew straightens themselves out for a while longer and monitor the progress of Hanrahan. Peralta would seem like a "last day of July" move, not a quick trigger buy in June.
David DeJesus: DeJesus has been bandied about as a target for Detroit during several trade deadlines and free agent periods in the past. But the Tigers have never went out and secured the solid veteran. "Solid" is about what you're getting with DeJesus. A lefty bat who will work a walk, DeJesus is posting a very solid slash line of .265/.351/.446. He could form a nice platoon with Rajai Davis in left field for the Tigers. However all the Dirks-caveats apply here as well. How much value would DeJesus provide over simply rolling with Dirks? DeJesus is also signed through next season with an option for 2016. He's 34 however, an age where perhaps the commitment is less of a plus for a mid-tier player.
Final Thoughts: Perhaps the Rays still feel they have a shot to make a run during the summer months and it's too early to speculate they'll have a garage sale in June. However, it just seems they'll have calculated their realistic odds of contending soon and then assess what they can get for their marketable talent. The hand writing is on the wall. "Sell and reload" seems like the smart move over "hope and pray for a miracle run of .700 baseball." The Rays don't draw fans anyway so they aren't in danger of fans abandoning them at the box office. They have the freedom from those worries to make the call early to position themselves for future success.
The Tigers have needs. They are a lousy defensive team again. They lack at least one left-handed bat option. The bullpen can always be upgraded. Despite the early flash of fun from Suarez, they may want a veteran hand ready on the left side of their infield. It seems a safe bet that Dombrowski and Friedman will be talking soon. Will talks lead to anything? We'll see.