After a few days of reflection, some phone calls and many more text messages around the league, there's a meme to describe the Detroit Tigers’ early returns at the trade deadline: "Not great, Bob."
At an important trade deadline, the Tigers turned two of their three biggest veteran assets into zero impact prospects. A kind description of the four-prospect collection would be "the best they could do," and an unkind one would be "underwhelming." As a whole, the collection received grades from the scouting community ranging from average to below-average.
In a breakneck final hour before Wednesday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline, the Tigers settled for a low-key package in exchange for arguably the best reliever traded Wednesday, got something instead of nothing for an impact rental bat and were curiously unwilling to realistically engage on their most valuable player.
The names on those deals and non-deals: Triple-A outfielder Travis Demeritte and Double-A left-hander Joey Wentz from the Braves for closer Shane Greene, Double-A right hander Alex Lange and High-A righthander Paul Richan from the Cubs for right fielder Nicholas Castellanos and no deal at all for lefthander Matthew Boyd.
The end result was another missed opportunity, aided by self-inflicted issues in marketing their players, a lack of creativity in finding the best returns for those players and, of course, the shrinking trade market, which has long been the Tigers’ explanation for not bringing back significant prospect hauls.
That last reason played into general manager Al Avila's rebuttal to fans underwhelmed by the returns.
“I don’t know what you mean by underwhelmed,” Avila said in a conference call. “I thought the return was pretty good considering the market for relief pitchers, and considering the competition and everything involved.”
Avila isn’t wrong: The Tigers’ trade efforts have been sabotaged recently by a near-industrywide shift in philosophy in regards to the value of prospects and team-controlled contracts, precisely when they went all-in on a rebuild. Suddenly, few teams — not even most contenders — are willing to give up high-ceiling (and cost-controlled in the long term) prospects for the short-term chance of an immediate playoff run.
But look deeper, past the four newest Tigers prospects — there's potential, but not much — and questions arise about the process that seemingly keeps resulting in returns that are merely “pretty good considering the market,” and not nearly enough to kickstart the rebuild.
Over the past three years, the Tigers — led by Avila, who received a contract extension on July 5 — have shown no sense or feel for timing when moving their players.
Two seasons ago, they were aggressively approached about right-hander Michael Fulmer, who was coming off an AL Rookie of the Year Award in 2016 and was the Tigers' All-Star representative in 2017. In what looms as the biggest mistake of their rebuilding process, the team rebuffed an offer for Fulmer involving two young players who are now among the best in baseball: According to multiple persons with knowledge of the talks, the Cubs offered shortstop Javier Baez as part of a three-player package and the Astros offered third baseman Alex Bregman for Fulmer and lefty reliever Justin Wilson.