David Price is gone. Yoenis Cespedes is gone. Joakim Soria is gone. Trades made at the July trade deadline have further depleted an already poor pitching rotation and a substandard bullpen that combined to form one of the poorest pitching staffs in the American League during the 2015 season. Yet, the season goes on.
The public perception is that, once a team becomes a seller and unloads some of their best players with two months left in the regular season, management is throwing in the towel on the season. They might as well run the white flag of surrender up the flagpole in center field for all to see that the front office has quit on the team. Wait 'til next year.
Of course, there are the perfunctory proclamations from management and players alike that they are not giving up. They are coming to play and will do everything in their power to win. But the Tigers now have a starting rotation that features Alfredo Simon as their third starter, at worst. Most of the pitchers in the bullpen have been below replacement level. Their new number three hitter has just five home runs and 46 RBI, while both parts of their center field platoon are pressed into the starting lineup. A playoff run would seem improbable.
Yet, the team remains just three games out of a playoff spot, actually closer than they were at the All-Star break three weeks ago. Is it possible that the Tigers could actually make the playoffs this season, despite becoming "sellers" at the trade deadline? The short answer is yes, of course they can. Anything is possible, mathematically, especially in the world of baseball. Baseball Prospectus puts the Tigers' odds of making the playoffs at 6.5 percent.
Realistically, the Tigers are one of eight teams vying for two wild card playoff spots. Seven of those teams are within four games of a .500 record, and a couple of them are bound to get hot and reel off a string of victories to break out ahead of the pack. That is something that the Tigers have not been able to do since their 11-2 start to the season. They have not won more than three games in a row since April, and they’ve won three in a row just twice, the last time being in mid-June.
The lineup has scored 24 runs in the four games since Price was traded. They have won three of their past five games. Despite failures from some of their starting pitchers and most of their bullpen, the team has not quit. They have the best hitter in the game coming back in about two weeks, and it has seemed all season that if they could even get adequate pitching, they would be sitting in a playoff position.
The three deadline deals have not hurt the team -- yet. Daniel Norris, acquired in the Price trade, pitched very well in place of the former Tigers ace on Sunday, pitching into the eighth inning and getting his first victory with his new club. The team has been scoring six runs per game without Cespedes or Cabrera in the lineup. Alex Wilson has filled in capably for Soria as the new closer, although the domino effect has left the bullpen even weaker. If the Tigers could even get a couple of replacement level pitchers, they might be able to stay in the race. But then, we’ve been saying that all season.
The acquisitions made in the off season for the rotation and the bullpen have been entirely inadequate. Neither internal promotions or other acquisitions made since the season began have failed to help. Marc Krauss and Neftali Feliz haven't solved anything.
This is not to say that the club was wrong to sell at the trade deadline. The trades have already provided the team with depth in their starting rotation that they wish they had earlier this season. Had they allowed all of their pending free agents to walk away for nothing, the task of fielding a contender next season may have been insurmountable. Rebooting and retooling for next season was the right move.
Selling in July doesn't have to mean quitting in August. There are a number of pitchers on the Tigers’ roster who have shown that they are not ready for the major leagues, and they should be replaced, if possible. There are still very few prospects in the organization who shouldn't be traded for players that could help the major league team contend this season. Tigers fans are still watching, not quite ready to wait until next year.