In my previous article, many commenters argued that a trade for bullpen help would be unnecessary, and that the Tigers organization had all of the bullpen talent they would need to make a deep playoff run. The White Sox series seems to have emphatically demonstrated otherwise. While the back-end has been impeccable, there's just no margin for error with this team. If the Tigers can't get seven innings out of a starter and hand the lead to Smyly, it's a veritable minefield of options: Putkonen, Reed, Coke, Alburquerque, and Rondon have a combined average of 6.51 runs per 9. That translates to less than a 33% chance that a given middle reliever can pitch a clean inning. Yikes.
But, bullpen help is still cheap. Even in a seller's market, teams know they can't sell a veteran non-closer for top 100 prospects. The Tigers may be short on high-end depth, but C prospects? Well actually, the Tigers are short on that depth, too. But they have some! And when looking at C prospects with trade value, two candidates present themselves as uniquely suited for a swap: Tyler Collins and Daniel Fields.
What makes them so well-suited? Well, they got skills, and they've shown the ability to sting the ball at an age-appropriate level. Collins was great in May, showing a marked improvement in power, and he's showing that power again in July. Last year's .290 average indicates good hit-tool potential as well, and its could make him a useful second-division starter for teams that want to fill that position cheaply. Fields has been much more consistent for Erie, and he adds defensive value with the requisite speed to handle center.
But what make them even more well-suited for a trade is what they're not. And what they're not is Castellanos nor Garcia. It's not even a close call. The Toledo pair hold higher esteem for their elite offensive potential, and at this point it seems very unlikely that either will be moved. That's a real road block for Collins and Fields. Austin Jackson is all but guaranteed to be extended, and while Dirks and Hunter are not long-term fixtures, they still represent potential roster spots. Then you look at the huge production coming from Matt Tuiasosopo, and the surprisingly above-average OPS stylings of Don Kelly, and it's fair to wonder if Collins or Fields could ever crack that roster. With outfield being a rare area of strength in the Tigers system (high-ceiling talents Steven Moya and Danry Vasquez are on the way), this is the best place to look.
Of course, the flaws that make Collins and Fields C prospects are going to be concerns for other teams as well. And outfield-for-reliever swaps are not very common. But there is precedent for a limited or disfavored outfield prospect netting quality relief talent. The most favorable example is one I highlighted on twitter a couple times: Eric Thames for Steve Delabar. Toronto picked up the 2013 all-star for a fringy bench outfielder during the 2012 season. In the offseason, the Yankees picked up a solid above-average reliever, Shawn Kelley, also from Seattle. They gave up Abraham Almonte, a relatively nondescript minor league outfielder. And to the other extreme, Boston sent Josh Reddick to the As for Andrew Bailey. That trade of course went pretty terribly for Boston, but Reddick was no prize at the time of the trade.
You might not know it from watching the Tigers, but getting an above-average reliever to pitch the 6th and 7th innings is not all that difficult, and even bad teams have these guys and will give them up. If you're skittish about dealing someone with potential like Rondon for a package of talent, lesser arms can still be acquired with what the Tigers have to offer. And let's face it, it would be a real shame if this season foundered because Leyland had to turn to Evan Reed in a playoff game.