February is here, and that means that Spring Training and the regular season aren't far off.
With the start of the Detroit Tigers' season on the horizon, let's get right into it with five trade-related bold predictions for the Tigers in 2019.
(This is all speculative mind you.)
At least 3 starting pitchers will be traded
You can look at the Tigers roster and see a team nowhere near Cleveland in terms of the playoffs, and while that might be true, you’ll also see a team with actual pitching depth.
That depth, largely in the rotation, features plenty of potential trade candidates.
Tyson Ross and Matt Moore were seemingly signed with the intent to eventually trade. They could be two of the three. Michael Fulmer seems like a decent bet to be moved if he bounces back. If Matthew Boyd pitches like he did last season (170.1 IP, 2.0 fWAR, 4.45 FIP) some team could bite on a controllable, back-of-the-rotation southpaw.
Jordan Zimmermann could also develop into a trade chip. Like Fulmer, he’ll have to be healthy and more effective, but the possibility is there.
Blaine Hardy should probably be used in the rotation more, and if he is, he could be an interesting trade chip for teams. In 13 starts last season, the lefty notched a 4.30 FIP and a 0.9 fWAR. Those aren’t earth-shattering numbers, but Hardy deserves more of a look as a starting pitcher among Detroit’s current starters, Hardy ranked fifth in starts with at least five innings pitched and two or fewer earned runs with seven.
The swingman had seven of those starts in 13 total starts. The next two pitchers ahead of him on the list (Fulmer and Zimmermann) both had 11 starts each with at least five innings and two earned runs or fewer. However, the duo made 24 and 25 total starts respectively.
Even Daniel Norris could be come a trade target for other teams if he starts realizing his potential and the Tigers front office wants to cash in on the centerpiece of the David Price trade.
Of Detroit’s current nine rotation options, only Spencer Turnbull and Matt Hall seem like sure bets to be around when the rebuild reaches its conclusion and the team returns to contention. While both have the potential to find success in shorter relief roles, the Tigers should try to see what they have in the duo as rotation pieces before all the pitching prospects start to graduate from the minors.
Clearing out some of the veterans starters by (at least) mid-season, if not sooner, would accomplish that while also bringing back more prospects to accelerate the rebuilding efforts.
Jordy Mercer will be moved
Of Detroit's three rental signings made so far this winter, Mercer might have the least trade value. At this point in time, Tyson Ross comes with the best potential from a trade return standpoint. After him things aren’t as clear, with Matt Moore potentially gaining the edge over Mercer.
In the apples-to-oranges comparison system, Mercer has been more dependable at shortstop than Moore has as a starter. Still, most contending teams are set with starting shortstops and every team can always use an extra starter or swingman like the southpaw.
Plus, if Moore bounces back, his value will be superior to most infielders on the trade market.
But, regardless of what happens with the left-handed hurler, Mercer will be traded.
The shortstop has been nothing if not consistent as a Major League player in Pittsburgh. He’s posted positive fWAR in each of his six seasons with at least 360 plate appearances. He’s a dependable fielder, and while his bat leaves much to be desired, he’s been remarkably consistent. Mercer has posted an wRC+ in the 85-to-92 range in four of the last five seasons.
The glove and consistency will help find a suitable trade partner at some point, whether it be May or August.
Milwaukee will need help at the position if Orlando Arcia can’t continue his postseason heroics at the plate and slumps back to the player who notched a 54 wRC+ in the regular season. Further south in the National League Central, the Cubs are a fit if they move on from Addison Russell. Bringing Mercer aboard would allow Javier Baez to shift back to second more often, in turn letting Ben Zobrist move around the field with more frequency.
Other speculative fits include San Diego, Seattle and Minnesota. Though that list could grow with injuries. And considering how unpredictable injuries are, it’s likely a team or two will emerge as a potential suitor for Mercer as the season progresses.
Detroit probably isn’t going to get too much in return for Mercer. If he plays like he has the past few years, the Tigers are probably looking at a trade return lesser than either of the Mike Fiers or Leonys Martin hauls. And that’s perfectly fine.
Mercer is just holding down the position until Isaac Paredes, Willi Castro and Sergio Alcantara are ready. All three should be in the big leagues by 2020 at the latest, so the front office shouldn’t worry about flipping Mercer part way through the season if they can get some kind of return.
Ronny Rodriguez, Niko Goodrum and a waiver-wire claim or two can cover shortstop for a few months to wind down the season in what could be another losing year.
Some unlikely player will become a trade chip
Niko Goodrum was undoubtedly one of the few bright spots for the Detroit Tigers last season. Essentially Don Kelly with a much better bat, Goodrum managed a 1.1 fWAR, a .187 ISO, a .322 wOBA, a 103 wRC+ and 16 home runs in 492 plate appearances as a rookie while also logging games at every position except center field, pitcher and catcher.
If the Tigers were as far way from contention as a team like the Orioles or Royals, Goodrum might be a trade chip right now. But, given the proximity of so many prospects to the upper minors and Majors, Niko looks like a long-term piece.
And while a player who arrives from the minors and breaks out in the same way the ex-Twins farmhand did could develop into another long-term piece, a player already on the Major League roster could very well develop into a trade chip with a similar breakout campaign.
Drew VerHagen could continue to pitch like he did last season (3.84 FIP, 0.6 fWAR) out of the bullpen and warrant trade interest. Ditto Daniel Stumpf or Victor Alcantara if he can keep his walks in check. Provided they perform well, Grayson Greiner or John Hicks could appeal to teams in need of a backup catcher or a bench piece—although that particular scenario would also have to involve Jake Rogers obliterating minor league pitching to the point of earning a call up.
Elsewhere, Mikie Mahtook and Ronny Rodriguez could have bounce-back years given expanded roles. Neither are exactly long-term pieces or locks, so strong play from either could lead to a deal that nets Detroit more prospects, even if the return isn’t substantial.
The Tigers will deal a prospect or two
No, not to buy older, expensive veterans in the same way the team did during their contending years. And no, not any of the higher-end prospects like Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Franklin Perez, Daz Cameron or Isaac Paredes.
But depending on how the draft plays out and the trade value/returns of Nicholas Castellanos, Detroit might still be without much position player prospect depth in the minors.
The Tigers have plenty of promising prospects who aren’t pitchers. Cameron looks like, at worst, a Major League regular in center field. Isaac Paredes’ bat is legit, so is Christin Stewart’s. Rogers and Sergio Alcantara winning Gold Glove awards sometime in the next decade wouldn’t be a shock to anyone. Wenceel Perez, Parker Meadows, Kingston Liniak, Jose De La Cruz, Alvaro Gonzalez and Adinso Reyes are all prospects worth keeping an eye on.
However, there aren’t a ton of all-around slam dunks as it were. There are plenty of question marks. Paredes’ defensive home is currently to be determined. Stewart’s glove work isn’t on the same level as his bat. Rogers and Alcantara need to take significant steps forward at the plate, otherwise they’ll be glove-first players in the Majors. Perez, Meadows and the others are still years away.
If the Tigers can’t grab some bats closer to the Majors in the draft or in a trade involving Castellanos or Fulmer, they should consider dealing from their deep stores of pitching prospects to bring in some position player prospects.
That’s not to say that the organization should flip Matt Manning for a similar bat, but perhaps shopping pitchers from the prospect tier that includes Gregory Soto, Kyle Funkhouser, Logan Shore, Grayson Long or even Beau Burrows and Alex Faedo.
Detroit needs more surefire position player prospects to build around. And if that means trading someone like Burrows for a similarly-valued batter with a similar ceiling, the Tigers should, at the very least, consider it.
At least 10 current Tigers on the 40-man roster won’t be with the team by the end of the year
Of course, this isn’t entirely trade related and teams often go through plenty of players in any given season. In fact, Detroit utilized 50 players last year, 17 of whom are no longer with the organization.
(More players like Pete Kozma, Harold Castro and Louis Coleman, are also off the 40-man roster, although they’re currently slated to be non-roster invitees, so they’re still in the organization.)
So, in that regard, maybe this number is a bit light and not all that much of a bold prediction.
Still, the Tigers have an incredibly young roster in places and are on the look out for long-term fits. There aren’t many at the present, so it’ll be an audition of sorts for many players. An audition to see if it’s worth keeping them around once the waves of prospects start to hit in late 2019 and early 2020.
Similarly, there are plenty of veterans who could be flipped.
Any of the following players, for one reason or another, could all be elsewhere by the time the season finishes:
- Buck Farmer
- Mikie Mahtook
- Daniel Stumpf
- Jose Manuel Fernandez
- Brandon Dixon
- John Hicks
- Ronny Rodriguez
- Nicholas Castellanos
- Jordan Zimmermann
- Zac Reininger
- Michael Fulmer
- Matthew Boyd
- Blaine Hardy
- Victor Alcantara
- Jordy Mercer
- Matt Moore
- Tyson Ross
- Shane Greene
- Dawel Lugo
- Ryan Carpenter
- Drew VerHagen
- Reed Garrett
- Kaleb Cowart
More from Getting You Through the Tigers Rebuild
(This is the kind of writing you can expect throughout the season. Most of these are FREE to read now to give you a preview of the kind of exclusive, in-depth content you'll be getting during the regular season and beyond.)
- Top 20 Tigers Trade Chip Power Rankings for January (FREE) This piece will be a twice-a-month staple during the regular season.
- Predicting Tigers’ 25-man Opening Day Roster: The Way Too Early Edition (FREE) This too will be a recurring series of posts throughout Spring Training
- The Tigers and addition by subtraction going into 2019
- The Tigers are holding themselves back by not spending more, but not in the way you might think (FREE)
- What a rebound season from Michael Fulmer would mean for the Tigers (FREE)
- The Tigers and addition by subtraction (FREE)
- The Best Remaining Trade Fits for Nicholas Castellanos. One of them will surprise you (FREE)
- Nicholas Castellanos trade ideas with the teams mentioned($)
- 3 Jordan Zimmermann Trade Ideas ($). (Spoilers. Get a FREE sneak peek here)
- Why the Tigers need to be more aggressive on the waiver wire ($) (Exclusive)
- Four roster-trimming trade ideas for the Tigers ($) (Exclusive)