Let’s take a second and assume that the Detroit Tigers are not going to the playoffs.
Hard to imagine, I know, but bear with me.
The team has a handful of tradeable assets — all of them pitchers — and a wealth of teams that could make sense as trade partners for Scott Harris and company. Though the President of Baseball Operations did say that their deadline approach “could change” if the team came out of the All-Star break hot — they’re 3-1 so far — it’s much more likely that the Tigers will be collecting prospects rather than dealing them.
That’s not to say they’ll be stacking the lower minor leagues. They’ll likely want players who are in Double-A and above, and they’ll almost certainly be prioritizing hitters to boost their bottom-of-the-league offense sooner rather than later.
So that begs the question: who will teams be calling Harris about, and what could they fetch in trade?
Enter Jason Foley.
Foley hasn’t just broke out in 2023. He’s blown down the house. The 27-year-old right-hander sports one of the nastiest pitches in baseball, a high 90’s sinker that averages a ridiculous 33.9 inches of drop and 17.4 inches of horizontal run.
Jason Foley, Wicked Two Seamers.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 18, 2023
'Can I help you Bobby?'
'No thanks, I'm just...' pic.twitter.com/Wky9bc2WmM
He’s among the best in the world with his 85th percentile chase rate, 80th percentile extension, 86th percentile xSLG, 92nd percentile walk rate, 93rd percentile fastball velocity, 92nd percentile xERA/xwOBA and 90th percentile barrel percentage. Put simply, he walks no one and hasn’t surrendered a home run since last September. Since the beginning of the 2022 season, Foley has only allowed two homers total and holds a stellar 2.51 in that time frame.
And best of all for shoppers? He’s still two years away from arbitration, meaning he’ll cost the league minimum for the rest of this season and next. Of course, that only means that Harris can reasonably ask for more of a return. But why would the Tigers trade him?
Harris has already shown a penchant for shipping out relievers, moving both Joe Jimeñez and Gregory Soto in the offseason for a good hitting Triple-A level prospect in Justyn-Henry Malloy, and a pair of major league role players in Matt Vierling and Nick Maton. He sees relievers as replaceable assets to be dealt at peak value —at least until the Tigers are serious contenders — and with pitching coach Chris Fetter seemingly in tow for the long run, that’s not an unreasonable take.
There are several teams in the market for a an elite back-end reliever, and several of them have players who could make sense for the Tigers. Some of these projections will seem like major reaches — and maybe they are — but considering the returns we’ve seen for cost-controlled pitchers in the past, it feels fair to wonder. Detroit also has other players they’re expected to shop like Michael Lorenzen, Jose Cisnero and Eduardo Rodriguez, so package deals could be in play in the coming weeks, too.
The key consideration with Foley is the fact that the Tigers are presumably not very motivated to trade him, unless someone is willing to turn over a really nice prospect in exchange.
Perhaps a deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers for Andy Pages could be an option. A 22-year-old outfielder, Pages has 60-grade raw power with average speed and fielding, but his hit tool still has some catching up to do. He sported a 102 wRC+ in Double-A last season, but his strikeout numbers were somewhat high (24.5%). He was much better this year, dropping his K% and bettering his BB%, but his ISO also came down a bit from .232 to .211 and his BABIP skyrocketed to .364 in 33 games. Pages was recently bumped up to Triple-A, so he’s potentially a major league option as soon as 2024 if things continue to develop.
Of course, the Dodgers might not be so eager to give up the No. 62 overall prospect, according to FanGraphs, for even long-term cost-controlled relief help, especially with a dearth of outfielders right now on the big league roster. Should Foley be valued lower than that, look for rookie baller Josue De Paula, who has monster power potential.
Like any team, the Dodgers are going to have to pay up to pry Foley away from the Tigers. De Paula could fit the bill as the centerpiece of a deal considering the new front office’s prep-heavy first draft. Otherwise the Dodgers are probably going to have to part with Pages or one of their other top prospects, leaving aside Diego Cartaya and Bobby Miller, who they presumably won’t be parting with for a reliever, no matter how good.
Arizona could be prepared to top their division rival in pursuit of their first NL West title in 12 years. Their trump card would be outfielder Alek Thomas, who already has played a full season’s worth of games in the MLB. The problem is that the 23-year-old has struggled in his time in the majors, clubbing just an 80 wRC+ in 60 games this season with a .275 OBP and .404 SLG. Thomas grades out as a strong center fielder, but Detroit may already think they have enough players who can field but not hit.
But why would Arizona trade an MLB talent? Thomas has already been forced to Triple-A this season. They have Lourdes Gurriel Jr. locked into a corner outfield spot and Corbin Carroll has emerged as one of the league’s premier young studs. And though Jake McCarthy is a weaker hitter than the others, he provides top-end speed on the bases and is coming off a 2022 season where he logged a 116 wRC+.
There’s also Jorge Barrosa, a switch-hitting outfielder with good speed, lower power and phenomenal bat-to-ball ability; the 22-year-old has a higher walk rate than strikeout rate in 72 Triple-A games. If you’re looking to control the strike zone and play a balanced brand of baseball that doesn’t neglect the defensive side, Barrosa could be a nice asset. He’s not nearly enough to nab Jason Foley without an equally good secondary piece, however.
Where things would get really interesting with Arizona is finding a deal for shortstop Jordan Lawlar, who’s considered one of the best prospects in baseball at the moment. Foley certainly wouldn’t be enough to get the Diamondbacks to move the coveted infielder, but should a player like Eduardo Rodriguez be added, the two teams could potentially cook something up.
The Boston Red Sox are rumored to be in the market for a back-end reliever. Unfortunately, shortstop Marcelo Mayer probably won’t be a Tiger after the team passed on him in the 2021 draft, but look for Nick Yorke to be a possibility. A second baseman, Yorke has played the entirety of the 2023 season in Double-A, where he’s hit nine home runs and driven in 38 runs. His 10.4 BB% is good-not-great, and his .354 BABIP suggests possible regression. But his hit tool is graded well and he has plus gap and raw power. He’s not a burner and won’t win any gold gloves, but he’s not far removed from clocking 31 home runs in High-A.
Lower on the prospect scale is Marvin Alcantara, who’s only 18 but plays a slick middle infield and has plus potential with his hit, speed and field tools. But, like Barrosa, he’d need to be paired with someone else.
The New York Mets have been an unmitigated disaster this season. Despite having a record payroll, they’re 43-50 and are in fourth place in the NL East. While David Roberton and Brooks Raley have been great for them out of the bullpen, everyone else has been brutal. They’re the most likely to be desperate and potentially overpay; that’s where Foley could come in and add a considerable boost.
There are several prospects Harris could target out of the Mets’ system. The top choice could be shortstop Robby Mauricio, who has legitimate 70 potential power. He’s clubbed 14 home runs this season in Triple-A, and is likely to slide to third or second base, both of which are needs for the Tigers. His 4.7% walk rate could scare away Harris, whose philosophy of “controlling the strike zone” would exclude the Mets’ prospect. If that’s the case, perhaps the 2022 No. 11 overall pick Kevin Parada could come into play. A catcher, Parada could likely play both behind the plate and in a corner outfield spot. He’s currently hitting well in High-A, and is figured to be blocked by current Mets backstop Francisco Alvarez.
Of course, Detroit could make a package deal and shoot for a higher caliber player like Brett Baty, who hasn’t been very good for the Mets in their postseason pursuit, but is only 23. Lower on the scale is Jett Williams, who is as fast as his name suggests. The No. 14 pick in the 2023 Draft has already swiped 28 bases in just 69 games this year in Single-A and is walking nearly 20 percent of the time.
One team that’s been connected to Detroit during this trade season has been the Cincinnati Reds. The two teams could be ideal partners due to the Tigers’ collection of major league arms and the Reds’ surplus of minor league infield prospects. Cincy could be due for a reunion with All-Star pitcher Michael Lorenzen, and they should be interested in adding Foley too. The asking price between those two should be infielder Noelvi Marte, who the Reds acquired from the Seattle Mariners for Luis Castillo. Marte has good bat-to-ball skills, consistently hitting line drives between his stints in Double-A and Triple-A. He has plus power potential and has posted a double-digit walk rate across all stops before his 11 games in Triple-A.
But Marte isn’t the only guy Scott Harris could covet. Above him on the prospect board are High-A second baseman Edwin Arroyo and 2022 18th overall pick Cam Collier, who’s currently in rookie ball. Below are outfielder Michael Siani, who has already had a cup of coffee in the majors, and infielder Christian Encarnacion-Strand, who was just called up by the Reds and has the longest full name in MLB history, edging out former Tiger Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
I’m not kidding.
Christian Encarnacion-Strand is already a name for the record books. pic.twitter.com/xuQldEEye4— MLB (@MLB) July 17, 2023
Then there’s the Texas Rangers, who are fully in win now mode with a ferocious lineup, good rotation, and a bullpen recently bolstered by the addition of Aroldis Chapman. They could still be interested in adding a cost-controlled elite reliever. Scott Harris would ask first about Luisangel Acuña — yes, the younger brother of THAT player — who is currently sporting a 115 wRC+ with 36 stolen bases in Double-A.
But if the AL West leaders don’t want to part with the sibling of a supernova, they may instead ask about Justin Foscue. The 2020 first-round pick is blocked across the diamond in the big leagues by Marcus Semien at second, Corey Seager at shortstop and Josh Jung at third. Foscue has an impressive approach at the plate, with a 14.6% walk rate to just an 11.7% strikeout clip in Triple-A. He’s got power with 11 home runs, but his speed and glove leave something to be desired.
Outfielder Evan Carter is rated similarly to Acuña and Foscue, but FanGraphs gives him the edge as the No. 58 overall prospect. With Jung’s graduation, he’s now Texas’ top piece. He’s a speedster with a projected plus hit tool, and Harris will certainly be interested in the 13.9% walk rate he’s put up in 61 games at Double-A this year.
Of course, Jason Foley could be wearing the blue-and-orange script “Detroit” when the Tigers take the field in Pittsburgh on August 1. He could be a Tiger long after that, too. They aren’t going to part with Foley without coming out ahead in the deal long-term, but Harris is certainly going to test the market.