Sunday morning on Jim Duquette’s radio show, general manager Al Avila told the host that whether or not the Tigers buy or sell is something that will continue to be evaluated “along the way.” Additionally, he added he believes they have a championship caliber club that has the ability to go on a run. However, the organization has made some baffling decisions this season, and with the current state of the club, it’s time for the Tigers to tank.
After dropping two games over the weekend to the Tampa Bay Rays, the Kansas City Royals have caught up to the Tigers and surpassed them in the Central Division standings. The team now sits in fourth place, 4.5 games back of the Cleveland Indians, and is 3-7 over its last 10 games. While a five-game deficit in the middle of June isn’t usually anything to fret about, the Tigers sit four games under .500 and haven’t shown any consistency that would aid them in going on a run.
While Avila is telling the media that buying/selling will be handled as the season progresses, he’s also stated the organization does not have the flexibility to add any payroll. If a team is buying, then they are looking to acquire proven major league talent in exchange for unproven, young prospects. Typically, proven talent is going to cost more on a team’s payroll than a prospect. If the Tigers truly refuse to add payroll, then they simply aren’t buying. Additionally, Avila has stated that the organization is looking to boost its player development system, and trading the likes of Matt Manning, Beau Burrows, or Christin Stewart for a seasoned veteran would deal a huge blow to the already thin farm system.
Tanking now would provide a much clearer path forward for the organization. Being stuck in mediocrity is about the worst possible outcome for any major league team, and that's where the Tigers currently find themselves. It won’t be easy to say goodbye to some of the players, but the time has come for Avila and Co. to start the teardown to set up the rebuild.
The Tigers currently have the pieces in place to tank. At the risk of being called a cynic, calling up Anibal Sanchez to start as part of a six-man rotation is actually a shrewd move in the event the team is tanking. Sanchez was extremely underwhelming in Triple-A Toledo, and expecting him to provide a positive impact in the rotation is unreasonable. While Avila is surely hoping that Sanchez provides some sort of spark, in the event he doesn’t, the decision to sell will only become easier.
On the field, Brad Ausmus has proven time and time again to show blind loyalty to veterans who are hurting the team. From continually running out Francisco Rodriguez in high-leverage situations, to keeping Victor Martinez (get well soon, big guy) in the cleanup spot despite having a down year, Ausmus has managed the Tigers out of wins at times. While Ausmus’ boneheaded decisions represent his own inability to be an above average in-game manager, allowing him to continue to make head scratching decisions could end up working out this year.
The story of the 2017 Tigers has been under-performance and injury. If their core players were performing at the levels they have in the past, there would be a lot to be excited about. Sadly, those days are most likely gone. Miguel Cabrera has been a shell of his former self trying to play through a back injury, and Michael Fulmer had two rocky starts when trying to pitch through shoulder bursitis. Cabrera is arguably the most charismatic player in baseball, and to see him in visible pain on the field is gut wrenching for all fans of the sport. Shutting an injured player down to get healthy is another reason the Tigers need to accept their fate of tanking.
The Tigers have enough assets to trade that could aid in a rebuild. J.D. Martinez is the big name that will most likely be dealt, but Ian Kinsler, Justin Wilson, Shane Greene, and Alex Avila are all very good players who would help a contender. Baseball is supposed to be fun, and right now, the Tigers are not even close to that. Fans have been mentally checking out over the last few weeks, and being active sellers at the trade deadline would at least give everyone a future to look forward to. The final bell has rung: it’s time to tank.