Tigers looking for Deadline move to help playoff push
Front office may attempt to strengthen rotation, bolster lineup with second baseman
DETROIT -- The midway point of the season has come and gone, and the Tigers have gone from the big disappointment of 2012 to a team seemingly ready for a second-half surge. Take your pick for the missing piece separating them from the division title.
When Detroit scuffled through April and May, the Tigers were supposedly prepared to shop for starting pitching come summer, while they waited to see if Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello could pitch their way out of rough starts.
With Scherzer pitching like the front-line starter he was two summers ago, and Porcello looking more like a reliable sinkerballer over his last four starts, the rotation has stabilized a bit, though Doug Fister's shaky return from his left side strain has brought new concerns.
The Tigers are now indicating they're focused on improving the offense, despite rumors linking them to interest in Cubs right-hander Matt Garza. While a Major League source didn't rule out the possibility of Detroit dealing for a starter, it's not a priority unless something changes, such as a re-injury to Fister.
Other clubs aren't so sure about that. They still expect the Tigers to explore possible deals for starting help regardless, even if it's for a third or fourth starter -- like last summer's deal for Fister was intended to be -- rather than a front-line arm.
The Garza rumors have been ongoing since last winter. The actual substance to them has been in question. Talks last offseason never got off the ground because the Tigers were unwilling to part with top pitching prospect Jacob Turner. At the time, he was set up for a chance to win the fifth spot in Detroit's rotation in Spring Training.
Six months later, Turner is still a prospect, though he made a spot start in place of the injured Fister in June. He's showing more signs of mastering Triple-A hitting at Toledo, tossing six or more innings with and allowing runs or fewer in five of his last six starts. He closed out his first half with a complete-game three-hitter on seven strikeouts.
Meanwhile, left-hander Drew Smyly has put a stranglehold on a rotation spot, looking more and more like a long-term fixture. The fact that he's Detroit's lone lefty starter doesn't hurt. Add in the fact that Detroit's other four starters are under contractual control for at least the next two years, and the Tigers could theoretically go without a rotation void until 2015 if they can stay healthy.
It's conceivable that Turner, with just four Major League starts on his record, could be the pitching infusion they need, allowing Detroit to deal Porcello for help if they so chose, or fill in for Fister if his recent struggles are actually signs of re-injury.
The other option, of course, is to dangle Turner as the key prospect in a trade, something the Tigers have so far been unwilling to do. They probably wouldn't do it for another pitcher. Whether they'd do it for a position player is another question.
Detroit has been rumored to be in the market for a right-handed run producer, such as San Diego's Carlos Quentin. However, Delmon Young's hitting last week showed signs of a possible second-half breakout -- and for him, a free-agent contract push. If he can continue it after the All-Star break, it would give the Tigers the extra power bat Young provided down the stretch last year.
At that point, the question turns to second base, which has been a revolving door for the better part of two years. Ramon Santiago has started close to every game there for the past month, but the Tigers have never seen him as an everyday player, fearing he'd wear down over the course of a season.
One team to watch could be the Astros, who are building for the future and have middle infield prospects. They now have a great middle infield duo in speedy second baseman Jose Altuve and run-producing shortstop Jed Lowrie, who can also play second base.
The Tigers are believed to have been in touch with the Astros within the past few weeks. Houston, coincidentally, had scouts watching both Detroit and Toledo last week.
A recent report from cbssports.com also linked the Tigers with Colorado's Marco Scutaro, a similar, quietly productive infielder who could fit into the second spot in the order. However, the report suggested the Tigers were less than enthused about a potential deal.
One factor to keep in mind is the delicate balance the Tigers are running on payroll. Owner Mike Ilitch's pressing desire to win has led to a star-studded roster that most cities would envy. Ilitch responded to Victor Martinez's season-ending knee injury last winter by signing Prince Fielder to a nine-year, $214 million contract.
Every franchise has its limits. The question is where those are in Detroit. It might have as much to do with current players than prospective ones.
Between Fielder's signing and Justin Verlander's contract, the Tigers now have three players making $20 million or more this year. Verlander will have two years left on his contract after this season, which is usually the point when teams explore contract extensions with top starters. Verlander would almost surely end up among the highest paid pitchers in the game.
For that reason and many others, a deal for a high-priced pending free agent like Cole Hamels seems unlikely. The Tigers front office won't give up top prospects like Turner and third baseman Nick Castellanos, who just won Futures Game MVP honors, for a two-month rental player.