The Tigers obviously have present use for Rondon. They were willing to hand him a closer's spot during spring training, and he has earned his way into MLB use twice this season. His talent is unassailable, and even with his command woes, he can get outs at the highest level. But with all of the moves the Tigers have made to build their 2013 squad, you have to assume that they will be willing to get creative to fill holes. Trading Bruce Rondon would be such a creative move. Nonetheless, it could make all the sense in the world.
To envision this move, Tigers fans don't have to think too far into the past. In July of 2012, the Tigers traded their top prospect--expected to be a 5th starter that season--for a 5th starter with a more veteran flavor. Jacob Turner's talent was known at the time of that deal, and there is no question he could have pitched reasonably well in the rotation in the second half. But, we weren't really sure of that until after the season, after Turner had given the Marlins 7 strong starts. It was much easier to predict that Anibal Sanchez would perform down the stretch, and so the present certainty was worth a load of talent to DD and co. With this deal in mind, I can see a similar deadline deal involving Rondon.
Of course, the Sanchez deal was much larger and more complex then just trading future Turner for 2012 Sanchez. The Tigers got 1.5 years of strong 2B play and gave up two pretty solid prospects for the privilege. Luckily, relief pitching simply isn't as expensive. It's much more feasible for the Tigers to deal Rondon by himself for a veteran reliever. They might even be able to get something extra for the trouble.
The first deal I had in mind was last year's Cubs/Braves trade in which Arodys Vizcaino and Jaye Chapman went to the Cubs for Paul Maholm, Reed Johnson, and cash (but neither jobs nor hope). Vizcaino and Rondon are arms of similar value. Vizcaino has been a top prospect for a while, but control issues and injury issues are all but certain to keep him in a bullpen role. The Cubs dealt for him knowing that they wouldn't see him for some time, and the Braves were doing well enough to prefer the present value. On the basis of almost certainly pure future reliever value, the Braves picked up a quality MLB starter and a bench outfielder. The Tigers are only asking for a veteran reliever. This is a move that can arranged.
The more salient questions are 1: for whom, and 2: should they? To answer the first, the best candidate is a reliever who is already free agent eligible, preferably someone well beyond the development track. This is important for two reasons: first, because an older reliever is probably more predictable, and second and more importantly, because there's more in it for the selling team. There have been talks about Addison Reed, for instance. Addison Reed is only a year and a half ahead of Rondon in service time, and he isn't much older. It doesn't make sense for the White Sox to trade him in for a more developmental reliever. On the other hand, Jesse Crain isn't going to be a part of a future White Sox contender, and so that swap would afford the Sox major future value. (I would actually favor that deal if not for Crain's injury making it a moot point.) I think the following relievers would be both available, and fit the bill:
Jonathan Papelbon: Sure, he's expensive, but you know he's good. If the Tigers are willing to pick up salary, they might be able to squeeze out some additional players like a bench bat or a depth prospect.
Casey Janssen: His deal is up this year but for a team option for 2014. The Jays might not see a lot of value in keeping him around in a year where things haven't panned out.
Jose Veras: He's on a similar deal as Janssen, but unlike the Jays, the Astros have no reason to even consider extending him. Veras' only value to Houston is in a trade, and Rondon has enough ability that you could ask for another veteran piece from that team (if you'd even want one).
Kevin Gregg: Same story as Veras, and we know the Cubs are willing to deal. There's plenty of question if Gregg is really "back" to the point where it'd be worth it, but the Cubs have more veteran pieces to make that package work, such as OFs Nate Schierholtz or David DeJesus, or LHP James Russell.
John Axford: His team control goes through 2016, but his arb salary is enormous thanks to his early save compilations. Axford started the season with one of the worst 4 game stretches imaginable, but after April 9th, he owns a 1.87 ERA in 33.2 innings.
I could go on for longer, but you get the idea. Any of these trades would bring a pitcher whose MLB competency is much more assured, and the extra value afforded by Rondon's supremely talent could help fill other holes too. Rondon would surely be missed in future years, especially for an organization that doesn't really have another "future closer," but like Sanchez, they could solve that problem with a timely extension.
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