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MLB trade rumors: Tigers among several teams scouting A’s LHP Rich Hill

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The 36-year-old Hill is one of the top arm’s available at this year’s trade deadline.

Oakland Athletics v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Detroit Tigers were one of several teams on hand to scout Oakland A’s lefthander Rich Hill on Thursday, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Hill, who recently came off the disabled list with a groin injury, was impressive, holding the Houston Astros to a run on three hits while striking out 10 in six innings of work. The Tigers will be taking a look at several pitchers over the next month as they potentially try to bolster their pitching staff for a stretch run.

The outing continued a remarkable career renaissance for Hill, who was pitching in independent ball around this time last season. He had four dominant starts for the Boston Red Sox down the stretch in 2015, allowing five runs while striking out 35 batters in 29 innings. The A’s took a chance on those few outings this offseason, inking Hill to a one-year, $6 million contract. So far, that gamble has paid off in spades, as Hill owns a 2.25 ERA and 2.57 FIP in 13 starts this year.

It seems odd that a 36-year-old lefthander with a career 4.23 ERA would be one of the most sought-after trade targets in baseball, but welcome to 2016. Things are weird here. Hill, a free agent to be, is a near-lock to be traded in the next month. There aren’t many arms on the trade block so far, and the ones available — Philadelphia’s Jeremy Hellickson, Minnesota’s Ervin Santana — don’t exactly move the needle. Hill should fetch a nice return, though likely not as one as hefty as what the A’s received for Scott Kazmir and Ben Zobrist in separate deals last July.

Hill isn’t an ordinary 36-year-old, though. He has remade himself into a strikeout artist, trusting his low-90s fastball at the top of the strike zone. The fastball, which has one of the higher spin rates in the game, pairs well with an above average curveball. Opponents are batting just .221/.293/.266 off him this season, and he is striking out 28.9 percent of the batters he faces. Hill’s odd batted ball mix — a rare combination of high pop-up and ground ball rates — would pair well with the Tigers’ porous outfield defense.

Some may argue that the Tigers shouldn’t be buyers at this year’s trade deadline, but there is little evidence to support another fire sale. Most of their potential trade chips are under club control for multiple years, and unless the return involves major-league ready talent, there aren’t any replacements available for those players. The Tigers are only three games out of the final AL Wild Card spot entering play on Saturday, and this is without right fielder J.D. Martinez.

Meanwhile, Detroit’s biggest weakness is their starting pitching, and dealing for a player like Hill fills a huge hole, one that may allow them to pull ahead in the playoff fray. Their schedule sets up nicely after the All-Star break, with 42 of their remaining 73 games scheduled at Comerica Park. The prospect cost may be a bit steep, especially for a player with Hill’s demand, but it may be exactly what the Tigers need to bolster their playoff chances.