As the clock approached 4:00 p.m. on Monday afternoon, baseball fans everywhere were furiously refreshing their Twitter feeds prior to the MLB non-waiver trade deadline. Among the many deals on the table was a potential trade between the Tigers and Oakland Athletics for pitcher Mike Fiers. Some believed the deal to be almost complete, though not to the point where we knew what the return for the veteran righthander would be.
Then, disaster struck. The deal was off, and fans and reporters alike were left scrambling to figure out why. The initial report was that money was the issue; no one specified exactly how the teams differed, but for a while, we thought the Tigers were left out in the cold after looking to shed salary. People got mad. It wasn’t fun.
Eventually, we learned otherwise. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the two clubs were never all that close in their negotiations. Fiers remained a Tiger, and an otherwise chaotic trade deadline went by rather quietly for Detroit.
As general manager Al Avila said shortly after the 4:00 p.m. deadline, the trade market was flooded with good players looking for new homes.
Avila says it was a tough market to trade in. pic.twitter.com/qEsnComlA1— Jennifer Hammond (@HammerFox2) July 31, 2018
It was a phenomenon we expected when so many teams stripped their rosters bare last offseason, and one we expected when the playoff races (the American League’s, in particular) became a battle of haves and have nots. That the A’s didn’t want to give up much for Mike Fiers isn’t a surprise; there were plenty of other arms available, most of them younger and more promising. Fiers, for all the good he has done this year, is still a 33-year-old righthander with diminishing velocity and ugly peripherals.
The same goes for the other players available. Opposing teams haven’t shown much interest in Jose Iglesias over the past couple years, let alone the past two weeks. Francisco Liriano’s trade value was also nonexistent, in part thanks to a midseason injury and ill-timed swoon in performance. Michael Fulmer may have fetched a pretty penny if healthy — that Chris Archer return would look very nice in Detroit’s home whites — but his injury all but ended any chance of him moving. Even the relief market was relatively quiet.
They didn’t come away empty-handed, though. The Tigers dealt center fielder Leonys Martin to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for shortstop prospect Willi Castro, a promising young switch-hitter who is already in Double-A at age 21. While he has his faults, Castro is a surprisingly strong return for a player the Tigers picked up off the scrap heap last winter. He will report to Double-A Erie, forming the most intriguing infield in the Tigers system with 2017 deadline acquisitions Isaac Paredes and Sergio Alcantara.
Had the Tigers been able to swing a similar return for Fiers, this would have been a whale of a trade deadline for Avila and company. Signing veterans to cheap, one-year contracts in hopes of producing a bounce-back season isn’t a very safe gamble, it’s just low risk. Still the Tigers were able to turn two of those players into (relatively) desirable trade candidates. They may even still be able to flip Fiers later on.
But those disappointed in what the Tigers accomplished — or, more accurately, did not accomplish — at this year’s deadline might have set their expectations too high. They were never going to net top-100 talent for any of their free agents to be, and the influx of high-end talent like Archer, Johnathan Schoop, and even Bryce Harper (for a hot second) left few wanting what the Tigers were peddling. And that’s OK.
But if Fiers wants to go on a long scoreless streak and catch a contender’s eye in August, we won’t complain.