DETROIT -- For a second consecutive year, the Tigers find themselves in playoff purgatory as the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches. And yet, there's so much different in general manager Al Avila's conundrum compared to what Dave Dombrowski faced a year ago.
The Tigers are in a tough spot to buy. They're over the luxury-tax threshold, paying $1.30 or so for every dollar they add. Their farm system, while deeper than a year ago, does not boast expendable elite prospects. With payroll a pressing issue, Detroit needs its young, cost-controlled talent in order to stay competitive in future years. At the same time, its positions of need -- especially starting pitching -- are the same needs of contending teams with much deeper systems.
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Yet, even if the Tigers wanted to trade away veteran talent for a second straight year, they're in a more difficult position to do so. Unlike David Price, Yoenis Cespedes and Joakim Soria last year, Detroit has no major veterans approaching free agency this offseason, players who are usually most appealing on the market. Nearly every Tigers star has a long-term contract, with Francisco Rodriguez and Cameron Maybin being notable exceptions. J.D. Martinez and Ian Kinsler are eligible for free agency after next season.
Perhaps that's why Avila hinted last month that the Tigers could stand pat at the Deadline, even as his scouts eye potential starting pitching acquisitions.
"I don't want people to make too big a deal of the Trade Deadline," he said. "You have to realize, this team, we have a high, high payroll. One of the highest in all of baseball. We have a team that's pretty well set, position by position."
The Tigers will have a hard time competing with other contenders for top pitching, such as Rich Hill, but they've found success in past years acquiring underrated arms, such as Doug Fister five years ago. This year's potential versions include Jonathon Niese and Jeremy Hellickson, maybe even ex-Tiger Drew Smyly, one of which might be available for second-tier prospects.
WHAT ARE THEY PLAYING FOR?
Unless Cleveland flounders -- and the Tigers have been there over the years -- Detroit is more likely competing for a Wild Card spot.
THE ROAD AHEAD
The Tigers have just six games left against the Indians to make up for early-season struggles. However, they have 12 games against the second-place Royals, with nine games at Comerica Park, including three this weekend. Detroit also plays 19 of 28 games at home in August, with road games at Seattle, Texas and Minnesota.
Unless Avila can get creative to deal for a starter, his best chance for a rotation upgrade would come from within. That could be Daniel Norris, who made just three starts in the first half between early-season and midseason DL stints. If healthy, his stuff might beat most trade candidates.
PROSPECTS TO WATCH
Though manager Brad Ausmus has downplayed the chances of a Joe Jimenez promotion, the Tigers' future closer (their No. 8 prospect) continues to press the issue with his performance.