Could Tigers swing a trade for starting pitching?
The Tigers headed into the final full day before Thursday afternoon’s non-waiver trade deadline in much the same position as they were over the weekend — still looking for relief help, notably left-handed, still seemingly finding the asking prices high. The same supply-and-demand issues that inflated the market coming into the heart of the traded still hold, at prices resembling the starting pitching market in a lot of years, and the late-inning relief market already.
Which begs the question: If the Tigers would have to pay prices for another reliever resembling that for a starter, could they simply trade for a starter instead, then move lefty Drew Smyly back to the bullpen?
It might not be that far-fetched. One AL talent evaluator raised the possibility earlier in the month. And while there’s nothing suggesting a deal is close, there are signs not to rule it out.
The Rays have had a scout watching the Tigers’ Double-A Erie team since early last week, including Jake Thompson’s start just before his trade to Texas in the package for Joakim Soria. The SeaWolves are currently in Altoona facing the Double-A affiliate of the Pirates, whose search for starting help and deep prospect ranks have made them a much-speculated suitor for starting pitching. The scout, however, is believed to be watching both clubs.
Six weeks ago, the Tigers and Rays seemed like a logical match for Ben Zobrist, but shortstop is no longer a trade target in Detroit. While the Rays have relievers who would carry some appeal on the trade market, there’s little urgency to make a deal. Their main remaining trade bait, even amidst their charge back into the AL East race, is David Price.
It’s shaky at best that the Rays would decide to buck their recent charge and trade Price. If they did, even with the Tigers enjoying some depth in prospects, they can’t match other clubs in what they can offer. If Pittsburgh to St. Louis were to make a serious run, their best push would beat anything the Tigers could come up with, especially after trading Thompson and Corey Knebel to Texas. Something crazy would have to happen. Still, it’s interesting to have the Rays scouting them.
Meanwhile, a Tigers senior scout spent the weekend in Houston, where the Astros were swept by the Marlins. Both clubs have lefty relievers rumored to be on the trade market — Mike Dunn for Miami, Tony Sipp for Houston. However, the Marlins aren’t expected to sell, according to reports, and the Astros aren’t inclined to deal relievers at this point. By contrast, the Astros are reportedly more willing to deal from a surplus of starters.
If the Tigers traded a starter and shuffled Smyly back to relief, it would certainly be an end-around to address their pitching needs. The problem is that it doesn’t actually add to their bullpen depth when it counts. Though Smyly has spent all season in Detroit’s rotation, he’s likely to shift to the bullpen in October anyway, since the Tigers need just four starters for the postseason. Essentially, then, all a trade would do is put Smyly in the bullpen sooner. So if the Tigers were to trade for a starter, he’d have to be be worth it.
That said, trading for a starter who’s under control for next year could conceivably help fill the void if Max Scherzer leaves as a free agent at season’s end.