DETROIT -- Tigers general manager Al Avila did not want to label his team as buyers or sellers when asked about their Trade Deadline plans last week. That was before a 2-5 road trip knocked them into fourth place in the American League Central. But in a 60-game season with an expanded playoff field, with eight postseason teams per league, he made it clear that long-term success is the bigger goal than a one-time appearance. When they start contending, they want to stay there for a while.
"We're in a position that we're still trying to win as many games as we can. We'd love to be in the playoffs this year, and we're going to make some efforts to get there," Avila said. "But at the same time, we can't lose sight of the future. We have to make sure that what we do today helps us as we move along."
The Tigers have the kind of potential trade targets that could help them add players for their future.
"I find it hard to believe, in the environment that we're in, that teams are going to be making a lot of trades and picking up high-salary guys," Avila said. "I don't know, it just seems highly unlikely. However, I do still think that if a club can add a hitter or a pitcher and there's a club that maybe has a guy that's going to be a free agent at the end of the year, there might be a match there.
"There also might be matches to trade prospect for prospect. Obviously you can only trade within the 60-man [player pool], but there might be some prospect-for-prospect trades. There might be some movement there in that sense."
An important wrinkle to this year's Trade Deadline is that teams can only trade players who are part of their 60-man player pool (assigned either to the big league team or at the alternate training site). Clubs are permitted to include players to be named later in trades, however. Additionally, scouts have not been allowed to attend games in person, so all assessments of prospects have been done based on provided video and data and past knowledge.
Sell. Much as Tigers fans would enjoy a playoff run, this is not the year. They're not going to give up young talent for veteran pieces, and they're not going to give up the payroll flexibility they'll gain at season's end when Jordan Zimmermann's contract is off the books. With the Twins, Indians and White Sox all looking formidable in the AL Central, this is a year to take advantage of supply and demand and add more prospects if the offer is right.
What they want
The Tigers have depth in pitching, but they still need offensive contributors, preferably close to big league ready to coincide with the arrival of their top pitching prospects. They could even be open to trading a pitching prospect for a quality position prospect if opportunity knocks. With Detroit's outfield corners in flux and the right side of its infield open, there's position flexibility. That said, the Tigers wouldn't turn down another young hurler or two if the pitcher is the right fit. Last year's Deadline deals for Shane Greene and Nick Castellanos brought in Joey Wentz, who is the club's No. 9 prospect, and a relief prospect they like in Alex Lange.
What they have to offer
Second baseman Jonathan Schoop, outfielder Cameron Maybin and catcher Austin Romine are all on one-year contracts, and they could help a contender as low-cost rentals, though the Tigers like what Romine has done for their pitching. Matthew Boyd would be in play again, but his early-season struggles have dropped his potential return. Beyond those obvious names, the arrival of Detroit's top pitching prospects gives Avila the flexibility to listen to interest on other arms. Daniel Norris, now out of the rotation and a year away from free agency, could fit teams as a lefty swingman. Spencer Turnbull, who isn't arbitration-eligible until after next season, could bring the kind of top-level talent the Tigers have sought in trades the past few years. Setup man Buck Farmer provides bullpen versatility with two more seasons before free agency. Even closer Joe Jiménez could be a draw, though the club would be selling low amidst a struggling season.
Chance of a deal
Give it 60 percent. The uniqueness of this season makes it nowhere near the certainty that existed last year. But between a 16-team playoff setup and a wave of pitching about to arrive in Detroit, the Tigers have a chance to get creative to help their long-term outlook.