Where do the Detroit Tigers go from here? That's the question that Jeff Sullivan asked at Fangraphs earlier this week, and I think it's a fair one. The Tigers aren't going to have a firesale this July, especially not when they have such a talented roster and are still within striking distance of the AL Wild Card spots. Miguel Cabrera's calf strain certainly hurts their chances, but with how the offense has responded since he went down, that may not be their biggest problem.
No, the pitching is still the biggest issue with the 2015 Tigers. Their starting rotation has taken hit after hit since losing Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Rick Porcello, and Drew Smyly within the last year and a half, and the bullpen has remained consistently awful. David Price is a worthy All-Star and Anibal Sanchez has turned things around, but the other 60 percent of the rotation is a major question mark. I thought that Justin Verlander took a step forward in his last start despite the outcome, but that "outcome" part is kind of important too.
If I had my way, the Tigers would buy, buy more, buy even more, take a lunch break, and buy some more at the trade deadline. This is still, in my eyes, the most talented roster in the AL Central, and the offense is finally starting to turn into the force we expected it to be in March. If they can bandage the pitching enough to get into the playoffs, anything can happen (especially when you consider what Madison Bumgarner did for the San Francisco Giants last year).
@blessyouboys should they consider converting Alex Wilson to a starter?— ChiefBroom (@ChiefBroom) July 2, 2015
Alex Wilson has been an incredible find for Dave Dombrowski and company, and I don't think that this is a mistake. Between his 2014 campaign and this season, Wilson has a 2.00 ERA in his last 72 innings. There is plenty of room for regression when a reliever does this in a single season, but for him to do it over multiple years with two different franchises indicates that it is more sustainable than your run-of-the-mill career year. How good has he been? Wilson's ERA is better than Craig Kimbrel's since the start of 2014.
This type of dominance, especially in the multi-inning spurts that Wilson has worked, hints that a move to the rotation could prove fruitful. I think that this would be a bad idea, however, particularly in the middle of the season. Wilson, like most relievers, was a failed starter in the minors. At the major league level, he primarily relies on a fastball-cutter combo, with a slider occasionally mixed in. This two-pitch approach doesn't normally work as a starter (unless those pitches are really good), and getting through a lineup multiple times may prove more difficult than fans think.
The midseason transition is especially risky given the heavy workload Wilson has already endured this season. His 46 innings are a career-high, and he will be close to doubling last year's innings total by the end of July. He has not worked 100-plus innings since 2011, when he was starting in Boston's minor league system. He already appears to be fading a bit, allowing six runs (four earned) on 16 hits in his last 10 innings. This includes runs in three of his past four appearances, two of which were 40-pitch outings. The All-Star break is coming at the right time for Wilson, who the Tigers desperately need in some form for the rest of the season.
@blessyouboys If we are sellers, what exactly could we get for our big pieces such as Price, Cespedes, Simon, Soria? Best case scenario?— TTI (@TigerTradeIdeas) July 5, 2015
Looking at past deadline deals, the Tigers could get a fairly nice haul if they decided to sell off all of their free-agents-to-be before the end of the month. The Boston Red Sox received Yoenis Cespedes in exchange for Jon Lester last season, so getting an impact player for David Price wouldn't be out of the question. Trading Andrew Miller brought top-100 prospect Eduardo Rodriguez to Boston last summer as well, and now he is one of the highlights of their starting rotation. Joakim Soria hasn't been quite as dominant lately as Miller was last year, but teams desperate for bullpen help are usually willing to pay through the nose for quality arms (see: the haul Texas got for Soria last year).
Even Alfredo Simon could bring back something useful. Simon has proven to be a solid bullpen piece in the past, and is dominating right-handed hitters this year. The return for Simon may not be ready for 2016, but a toolsy lottery pick would be a welcome addition to a farm system largely devoid of those types of players. The best case for moving Simon would be a return like Danry Vasquez, who the Tigers traded to Houston for Jose Veras in 2013.
@blessyouboys Which players on our current MLB roster are most likely to be traded for some added pitching help, like Jackson last year.— Corey Wolfgang (@coreywwolfgang) July 5, 2015
The Tigers don't have many trade chips on their major league roster, and the real valuable ones -- looking at you, Jose Iglesias and J.D. Martinez -- are under club control long enough that the Tigers won't even consider moving them at the deadline. Plus, I'd cry if J.D. gets traded.
One player who I could see getting moved is Nick Castellanos. His bat has started to heat up, and he is a young, cost-controlled piece that teams would pay a lot to acquire. The problem is finding a match. Johnny Cueto and Scott Kazmir are free agents after the season, so trading Castellanos for one of them would be a major overpay. Castellanos is a nice trade chip, but the Tigers don't have enough talent elsewhere in their system to put together a trade package for Cole Hamels. Plus, the Tigers would have a big void at third base without Castellanos on the roster, so it's worth questioning whether moving him would be worth the upgrade elsewhere.
@blessyouboys I'm fed up. Why don't we ever use Rajai?— K E N N Y (@downtownkenny) July 6, 2015
The timing of this question is perfect because Rajai Davis will most likely be in the lineup today against left-handed starter J.A. Happ. Brad Ausmus has been very good about keeping Davis and Anthony Gose in a strict platoon in center field, and has picked his spots to use Davis against right-handed pitchers wisely. Davis is mashing lefties to the tune of an .872 OPS this season, a slight downgrade from the .939 OPS he had against lefties last year. Meanwhile, Gose is batting .291/.330/.405 against right-handed pitching. The two have combined for a 101 wRC+ on the season, a solid figure considering their relative lack of power.
Davis has played well against right-handed pitching this year, but this is not the norm for him. He has a .320 on-base percentage and .716 OPS against righties in 2015. These figures are well above his career .297 on-base percentage and .649 OPS against righties, so the Tigers would be wise to continue minimizing his plate appearances against them.
Jason Frasor looked quite good pitching in relief in 2013 and 2014, when he split time with the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals. In 96 1/3 innings, he allowed a 2.62 ERA and 1.18 WHIP with a 2.47 strikeout-to-walk ratio. However, these numbers are well above his career norms, and he's not getting any younger (he will be 38 in a month). Frasor has a career 3.52 ERA and 3.74 FIP, with a 2.18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 642 innings, all in relief.
This season, Frasor has a shiny 1.54 ERA. However, it is about as sustainable as the low ERA Joba Chamberlain had once upon a time. Frasor has walked 15 batters in 23 1/3 innings, resulting in a 1.20 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 4.02 FIP. His 4.60 xFIP and 4.71 SIERA are even worse, as they control for the abnormally low home run rate Frasor has allowed.
Still, I'd take him. The Tigers bullpen has been awful lately, and they could use all the help they can get. It would be better if Frasor were left-handed, but more arms are better than nothing at this point.