The traveling party here this past week in Kansas City for the Tigers' three-game series against the Royals included a who's who of the baseball operations department. General manager Al Avila was on the trip, as were assistants David Chadd and Scott Bream. Senior director of baseball analytics Jay Sartori
The traveling party here this past week in Kansas City for the Tigers' three-game series against the Royals included a who's who of the baseball operations department. General manager Al Avila was on the trip, as were assistants David Chadd and Scott Bream. Senior director of baseball analytics Jay Sartori and baseball operations/pro scouting director Sam Menzin joined them, too. They weren't there to simply evaluate Detroit's players ahead of Tuesday's non-waiver Trade Deadline; they were there to evaluate any trade proposals that came about as the days dwindled.
When Tigers greats Alan Trammell and Jack Morris are formally inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, many of those same officials will be there, with a house in Cooperstown, N.Y., serving as their temporary front office. But the most important travel ahead of the Trade Deadline has quietly been going on for months on the highways crisscrossing the Minor Leagues, in such far-flung places as Daytona Beach, Fla., Fort Wayne, Ind., and Rome -- the one in Georgia, not Italy.
For much of the season, Tigers scouts have invested hours and miles to evaluate contenders' farm systems and rank prospects that could fit in Detroit's organization. Their work has all been aimed toward these final days in July, to have information at the front office's fingertips if and when offers come in.
It's a flipped script from the Tigers' run of division titles, when scouts from other clubs would make annual summer visits to West Michigan, Lakeland and Erie to try to find gems in a lower-ranked farm system. But with Detroit now the team in rebuilding mode and contenders reluctant to give up top prospects everybody knows about, "deep scouting" is vital work.
This is why Avila beefed up the team's scouting department last fall, including on the Major League side. This is also where more traditional scouting still carries high value. While analytics, Statcast™ and video can allow teams to scout big league clubs from afar, advanced data is less open in the Minors, quality video is less readily available and ballparks aren't always as technologically advanced as their big league counterparts.
By adding scouts, the Tigers could dig deeper into organizations and try to identify undervalued or overlooked talent. They have scouts at the Class A level now that they didn't have before.
"The additions in scouting are important for us in our search for impact-type players to bring into our organization," Avila said at the time of the hires.
The Tigers had a good working knowledge of Arizona's farm system during last summer's J.D. Martinez trade through special assistant Mike Russell, who spent two years in the D-backs' front office before rejoining Detroit and reuniting with Avila two years ago. Their legwork with the Cubs' system ahead of the Alex Avila and Justin Wilson trade at last year's Deadline netted them teenage shortstop Isaac Paredes, who was just promoted to Double-A Erie last week following a promising first half in the Florida State League.
The Tigers are looking for more position prospects who can hit, and they've been looking around various farm systems for it. Their clearly defined needs was one reason Michael Fulmer had a limited market before his oblique injury coming out of the All-Star break all but ruled out a July deal. While Fulmer's controllable years and upside had teams interested, finding teams with depth in offensive prospects was another matter.
Detroit could still be busy in the coming days finding deals for starters Mike Fiers and Francisco Liriano, possibly reliever Shane Greene as well. None would be a contender's first choice; if a team comes calling about them, it would most likely happen after inquiring on others. That could make a last-minute deal more likely.
When the clock is ticking toward Tuesday's 4 p.m. ET Deadline, decisions happen quickly, and information must be just as immediate. The Tigers -- and more importantly, their scouts -- have put in the legwork for the latter.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.