It has been a long time since the Detroit Tigers were considered sellers at the July trade deadline. The team has been contending at the end of July, with a .500 record or better every season for the past 10 years. Only once in that span has the team made deadline deals that did not improve their chances of winning that season.
With Miguel Cabrera out of action for the next several weeks, the playoff picture got considerably dimmer. The Tigers are hovering around .500, third place in their division, ninth place overall in the American league. If their situation does not improve by the end of July, is it possible that the Tigers will become sellers?
Almost half way through the 2015 season, the Tigers certainly have a shot to make the playoffs, especially with two wild card teams now eligible. The Tigers are 1 1/2 games behind three teams for the second wild card playoff spot. Things would have to get worse for them to fall out of contention, but that is certainly possible without Cabrera.
Here is a look at the Tigers' record on July 31st the past 10 seasons, and actions taken at the deadline.
|Season||Record||Division||League||GB Playoffs||Action Taken|
|2005||50- 54||4th||11th||-8.0||Sell: Kyle Farnsworth|
|2006||70- 35||1st||1st||+8.5||Buy: Sean Casey|
|2007||61- 45||1st||3rd||+2.5||Stand pat|
|2008||55- 53||3rd||8th||-5.0||Sell: Ivan Rodriguez|
|2009||53- 48||1st||6th||+1.5||Buy: Jarrod Washburn, Aubrey Huff|
|2010||52- 51||3rd||9th||-1.5||Buy: Jhonny Peralta|
|2011||57- 51||1st||5th||+2.5||Buy: Doug Fister, David Pauley, Wilson Betemit, Delmon Young|
|2012||54- 50||2nd||7th||-2.5||Buy: Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante, Jeff Baker|
|2013||61- 45||1st||4th||+2.5||Buy: Jose Veras, Jose Iglesias|
|2014||58- 47||1st||4th||+4.0||Buy: David Price, Joakim Soria, Jim Johnson|
The Tigers have won the AL Central for four years running. In 2010, they were a .500 team at the deadline and they acquired Jhonny Peralta for a low level prospect, with the Cleveland Indians paying Peralta's salary for the remainder of the season. It wasn't the big splash that many fans would have liked, but it was a move to help the club to contend that season (and beyond).
The last time that the Tigers were actually "sellers" at the trade deadline was in 2008, with a .500 team in third place, five games out of first place in their division. It was Miguel Cabrera's first season as a Tiger, and you could feel the team sinking under the weight of expectations. Detroit traded Ivan Rodriguez to the New York Yankees for former Tigers relief pitcher Kyle Farnsworth. The team finished 14 games under .500, in last place in their division.
Why the Tigers might sell
If the Tigers have a terrible July and find themselves struggling to stay in contention, they could trade away some players who are eligible for free agency after the season. This would help the immediate future by acquiring some young, cost-controlled players who could help them contend for the next several years.
The Tigers have one of the five most expensive payrolls in the major leagues, one that is on the brink of exceeding the luxury tax threshold. That tax would shoot up to 30 percent should they exceed the limit again in 2016. There are few, if any prospects who can contribute in the next year, so the club is trapped in a cycle of trading prospects for expensive rentals to plug holes on the major league roster. Selling pending free agents would not only provide payroll relief, but could begin to restock a system that hasn't produced a real star player in the past 10 years.
The players acquired over the past year were mostly rentals on the verge of free agency. David Price and Joakim Soria were acquired at last year's trade deadline for some of the best young players in the organization. Alfredo Simon and Yoenis Cespedes, acquired during the offseason, were both one year fixes and will be free agents at the end of the season. Rajai Davis and Alex Avila join them as pending free agents, giving the Tigers several holes to fill for 2016. The Tigers have extended very few pending free agents in recent seasons.
Why the Tigers would not sell
Owner Mike Ilitch isn't getting any younger and has gone all-in to win a championship for the past decade. Throwing in the towel on any season isn't a natural act for him. The situation would need to be desperate and the return an immediate help in order to induce selling this season.
Detroit has yet to truly cash in on the soaring value of local television contracts that several other clubs have signed with regional sports networks. The Tigers have some of the highest ratings in Major League Baseball, with a fan base that is used to contending every year. If they fall out of contention early, ratings will suffer, as will the value of their next massive payday.
You might say that the Tigers are at a crossroads. If there is a reasonable chance that the team can make a run for the championship that has eluded them for the past 30 years, you can expect them to take it. Plan A is to somehow get into the postseason and then hope to get hot. But if the team doesn't right the ship in July, the battle cry of "wait 'til next year" might be heard around Detroit sooner than expected.