The Tigers have filled their greatest need by acquiring Joakim Soria, a solid late inning relief pitcher and potential closer, but there are still some areas on the team that could be upgraded in a significant way before the July 31st non waiver trade deadline. Here are five players who would give the roster a boost.
1. Andrew Miller, LHP, Boston Red Sox
Any doubts about whether the Red Sox were going to be sellers at the trade deadline were erased when they sent starting pitcher Jake Peavy to the San Francisco Giants for a pair of prospects.
Miller, the former Tigers’ first round draft choice who was sent to Florida in the trade for Miguel Cabrera, has been converted into a relief pitcher. He currently ranks 10th in the American League among qualified relievers with 1.3 WAR. The Tigers currently have no reliable left handers in their bullpen.
Miller has the second highest strikeout rate among qualified relievers at 14.5 per nine innings. He also has a 2.45 ERA, 1.82 FIP, and a solid home run rate of just 0.45 per nine innings. He has held left handed hitters to a .153 batting average, and right handers have hit just .182 against him. He earns $1.9 million in 2014, or about $650,000 for the remainder of this season, and will be a free agent at the end of the year.
2. Ben Zobrist, IF/OF, Tampa Bay Rays
Zobrist can play second base, shortstop, or the outfield, and plays all of those positions very well. His 3.2 WAR ranks 14th in the American league this season, and he has ranked 19th or better in each of the past five seasons.
Zobrist is a switch hitter, with a career .341 wOBA batting left, and .354 batting right. He has some power and hits for average from both sides of the plate. He could play shortstop and would also be an immediate upgrade in right field for Detroit. He has a team option for a very reasonable $7.5 million for the 2015 season, after which he is scheduled to be a free agent. Sean profiled Zobrist in this article back in June. That was before the Rays got themselves back in the playoff picture.
3. Tony Sipp, LHP, Houston Astros
Sipp is one of the better left-handed relievers who may be available, with a 2.37 ERA, 2.34 FIP, and an 0.79 WHIP. The former Indians' reliever has held left handed batters to an average of .097, and right handers have hit .206 against him.
Sipp was released after the 2013 season by Arizona. He signed with San Diego in March, was released in May, then signed on with Houston. He earns the major league minimum salary this year and has one season of arbitration eligibility remaining. His numbers this season are much better than his career stats, so the performance may be an illusion, but he has looked good thus far.
4. Martin Prado, 3B, Arizona Diamondbacks
Prado can play any infield or outfield position, but has played mostly third base for the past two seasons. The right-handed Prado is hitting .279/.325/.382 this season, with five home runs and 42 RBI as the Diamondbacks’ regular third baseman. In his nine seasons, he has posted a better line of .291/.341/.426, all in the National league between Atlanta and Arizona. Prado would be a more expensive acquisition, earning $11 million per year through the 2016 season.
If the Tigers were to acquire Prado, he would be Torii Hunter's replacement after the current season. He should not be expensive, however, in terms of trade chips, since there is not a lot of surplus value in that contract.
5. Koji Uehara, RHP, Boston Red Sox
The best available relief pitcher on the market, Uehara has a 1.51 ERA, with an FIP of 2.51 and 1.6 WAR, which ranks eighth in the AL this season, right behind Joakim Soria. Uehara strikes out about twelve batters per nine innings, and walks just 1.13 hitters per nine. Needless to say, he would be an upgrade for any bullpen.
As a free agent after this season, there is some speculation that Boston might be willing to trade their closer, but this article suggests that they may be considering making him a qualifying offer of about $15 million after this season. That would be an overpay, but tell that to Steven Drew. That would put the price tag in the range of a first round pick, which might be a bit expensive for a rental relief pitcher. Rob examined the possibility of a Uehara trade earlier this month.
What are the Tigers likely to focus on? Dave Dombrowski was quoted on MLB.com
"Our bullpen has been a situation that has been our major focus, and I guess would continue to be our major focus if we are going to do something," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said on the heels of the Soria deal. "I'm not sure if we will or will not, but we're still open-minded to it."
Could Detroit shift direction and make that much-speculated move for a left-handed-hitting outfielder or a veteran shortstop? That seems less likely.
"I don't know that either one of them would be real high on our priority list at this point," Dombrowski said.