Dombrowski’s Dilemma: Buy or Sell?

The trade deadline usually provides plenty of fireworks in Detroit. The Tigers GM has never been afraid to make a deal and he has a great reputation for making shrewd trades.  The Tigers have added players at the deadline every year since that magical 2006 season.  Most notably, in 2009, Dombrowski procured Jarrod Washburn (looked good at the time, but ended up being a bust).  In 2010, he literally stole Jhonny Peralta from the Indians.  Dombrowski went back to Seattle’s well in 2011 and added Doug Fister to bolster the rotation for the stretch run.  Next, the 2012 deadline brought promise as the front office bought Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante and a supplemental first round draft pick.  The Tigers secured the shortstop of the future by getting Jose Iglesias from the Red Sox in 2013.  Perhaps what might be the best example of Dombrowski’s success at the deadline was bringing in David Price and Joakim Soria last year. If you are following along closely, there is a trend here: the Tigers were buyers.

This year however might be different. The Tigers come out of the All-Star break at .500. They are closer to last in the division than first. Experts are clamoring for a fire sale. Through this the logic remains constant, why waste valuable assets (IE: Price, Soria & Yoenis Cespedes) in the final years of their contracts when the only compensation may be a supplemental draft pick combined with the possibility of a post season berth being precarious? The team’s long term goals may suggest that they should sell. Given the pundits have insinuated that Detroit’s farm system is void of impact players, a promotion with the stock of prospects they currently have is risky. Among such a top heavy payroll, the last thing Detroit wants to do is turn into the 2017 version of the Phillies and re-build for the future. Which breeds rational concerns regarding what direction the organization should take.

Nonetheless, the team is still in contention for a Wildcard berth and perhaps even the AL Central crown.  Secondly, Dombrowski is in the last year of his contract, so he will most certainly not change the philosophy the organization has implored since he took the job in 2003.  Lastly, with 86 year-old owner Mike Illitch (the Little Caesars Pizza mogul who released the Tigers from baseball purgatory) calling the shots, the white flag doesn’t seem likely to be flying high at Comerica.  The win now mode that the Tigers operate on is only possible because Illitch supports and more importantly believes in it.  When talking about the farm system, it’s more barren as some imply.  Besides, if Dombrowski bolts, the Tigers have proven that its’ scouts are more than capable of identifying prospects who can not only turn into good MLB players, but also project out to be well enough that they can be included in deals that bring in MLB talent at the deadline.  If Detroit is going shopping, they need to make the move after a couple hot streaks, preferably before the end of July to justify a spending spree.  Likewise, this all changes if the Tigers start the second half like they finished the first.

So if they Tigers are going to buy, what could/should they do?  At the very least, the Tigers need a starting pitcher and a dependable bullpen arm.  When David Price pitches, the Tigers are 15-3 and 29-41 when any other player starts.  That’s completely unacceptable.  No team can compete for championships with 4/5 of the rotation in shambles. Realistically, the Tigers could go get at least one of the premier starters on the market without sacrificing Price.  They have enough talent in the system to accomplish such a feat. Then, look to trade for an “under-the-radar” bullpen arm that is under team control for multiple years.  That’s a lot to ask any front office staff to accomplish in July, but that’s why these guys make the big bucks.

Offensively, there might be a tweak here or there but nothing major is anticipated.  What could be interesting is if the Tigers obtain a pitcher but still decide to move Cespedes.  He has provided more offense than was predicted, but there is enough outfield depth to replace his production.  The offense got hot before the break and should be fine until Cabrera returns.  Overall, pitching is what is going to make or break this team in the second half.  If everything goes as planned then Dombrowski should hope and pray that Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and most importantly Bruce Rondon pitch up to their abilities.

For the short-term, the Tigers should go shopping and worry about the future next year.



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