The last week of Detroit Tigers baseball has been a true roller coaster. At this time seven days ago, they were coming off consecutive losses to the Cincinnati Reds, who are under .500 and have a 13 1/2 game deficit in the National League Central. Then, the Tigers lost a pair of games to the New York Yankees, dropping them to 34-34 with a 6 1/2 game deficit behind the Kansas City Royals.
The Tigers then won three games in a row, including a pair over the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Was this a sign that the Tigers were finally poised to break out of their doldrums? Not based on the last two games. The Tigers dropped their series finale at Cleveland and a game against the White Sox. They are now six games behind the Royals, and just 22-28 since May 1.
Despite their struggles, the Tigers are still in the thick of a playoff race with a roster that is just now starting to round back into form. Victor Martinez is hitting well since coming off the disabled list, and Justin Verlander has only made two starts this season. Add in Alex Avila's imminent return and Bruce Rondon's promising outing on Thursday -- not to mention any potential deadline additions -- and we may be looking at a very different Tigers roster in the next few weeks.
@BYBRob Mailbag ?: Will the Tigers consider trading Avila, when healthy for 5th starter? 1 valuable piece that they don't need with McCann.— Mike (@mikekaechele) June 24, 2015
I don't believe for a second that the Tigers "don't need" Alex Avila because of James McCann. We have raved about the "McCannon" so far, but this has been nothing like the electric debut that Avila himself had six years ago. McCann is batting just .248/.290/.370 in 179 plate appearances. He has also rated as one of the worst pitch framers in baseball. He has been worth 0.5 WAR in 51 games, which translates to just over 1.0 WAR for a full starter's workload over an entire season.
That's not bad, but it's not as good as what they will have when Avila returns. McCann is batting .308/.372/.564 against left-handed pitching this year, and just .230 with a .263 on-base percentage against righties. He has nearly as many walks against lefties (4) as he does against righties (5) in roughly one-third as many plate appearances. Meanwhile, Avila is a career .256/.359/.433 hitter against righties, and had a .404 on-base percentage against them this season before he hit the disabled list.
Will the Tigers trade Avila, though? McCann looks to be the starter of the future despite his subpar numbers against right-handed pitchers, and Bryan Holaday has hit well in a handful of appearances. It's tough to see where Avila would go -- teams selling at the trade deadline aren't exactly looking for an expiring contract -- but we've seen stranger things from Dave Dombrowski in the past. I think Avila provides more value to the Tigers than he would on the trade market, though, so I would be mildly surprised if he gets moved.
@blessyouboys if you could only fill one need with a trade, which would it be?— Chet Lemonade (@AdSal44) June 26, 2015
The Tigers need to acquire a starting pitcher at the trade deadline. David Price and Anibal Sanchez have held up their end of the bargain in the rotation, but there are questions everywhere else. Justin Verlander is better than his numbers indicate through two starts, but his performance hasn't floored me thus far. Alfredo Simon has looked like the pitcher we were afraid of getting in his last two starts, allowing 12 runs in nine innings. Kyle Ryan has been decent, but his inability to work through a lineup multiple times shows that he's probably best suited for a bullpen role. Buck Farmer needs more time in the minor leagues to develop.
Picking up another starter not only improves the rotation, it also strengthens the bullpen. Ryan is a solid option in long or middle relief, though his numbers against lefties this season are not good. Simon will stick in the rotation as long as his numbers allow, but one of him or Shane Greene could also help improve the bullpen. Having more options capable of working multiple innings also allows the Tigers to have a shorter leash with their starters, which is something that other teams -- I see you, Kansas City -- are starting to exploit to avoid letdowns in the middle innings.
Looking elsewhere, the Tigers may be able to improve from within in some areas. The bullpen gets much better if Bruce Rondon turns into what the Tigers have expected out of him in recent years, and there are several other options in the minor leagues as well. Nick Castellanos has perked up since his recent benching, with four hits in his last 10 at-bats. If his bat heats up, the Tigers' third base troubles are over.
@blessyouboys Does Joba make it through the season on our roster or do we trade him for a used bag of hockey pucks?— Hungry Koala (@1HungryKoala) June 26, 2015
I would be surprised if Joba Chamberlain gets designated for assignment anytime soon, and I think it will take several more outings like the one he had on Thursday before the Tigers take action. Even after allowing three runs in an inning, Joba's ERA sits at 3.15, and he has 14 strikeouts to four walks in 20 innings this year. Those numbers aren't great -- particularly for a guy entrenched in a setup role -- but the Tigers have already exhausted several other options in the majors and minors. The hottest reliever in Toledo right now, Guido Knudson, is a complete unknown, and it's tough to say how well he would translate to the majors after starting the year in Erie.
After a breakout season at Double-A Erie in 2014, Dixon Machado is having another solid year at the plate with Triple-A Toledo. He is batting .286/.339/.378 with 16 extra base hits in 296 plate appearances. These are solid numbers for a shortstop, particularly one with a glove as good as Dixon's, but they falter when compared to most major league third basemen. If Nick Castellanos gets things sorted out, he would be a far better option at third than Machado because of his offensive upside.
It's possible that the Tigers may be looking at Machado as a short-term option at third base. He has been getting some work at third in the minor leagues, which seems fishy if they are just marketing him for a trade. If the Tigers decide to trade Castellanos -- he's still their biggest trade chip, in my opinion -- then Machado could be a short-term fill-in before the team addresses the position in the offseason.
Ultimately, I think Machado's best value for the Tigers will come in a trade. If another team views him as a potential starting shortstop, then he could be shipped out as part of a larger trade package for a big-time starting pitcher or position player with less club control remaining.