The Detroit Tigers are not a fun team to talk about in 2019. They have the worst offensive stats in the American League (by far), they’ve suffered injuries across their major league roster and they’re one of the worst teams in baseball. But they have some players who have performed well enough to be shipped off to contending teams to bring back some prospects and improve the future for Detroit. Without trying to predict what the Tigers and General Manager Al Avila and his newly extended contract are going to do, but we’re going to look at the most likely players to be traded, some logical fits for them, and what pieces they might bring back.
The Tigers have gone back and forth on wondering whether or not Castellanos is a part of their future for a few years now, and he’s now in the final year of arbitration which will make him eligible to be a free agent for the first time in his career this winter, meaning the time to move him is now or never. His defense in right field is poor, but it’s improved enough in 2019 that it shouldn’t scare away contending teams from picking him up to help them offensively. I see two potential good fits and a few longshot candidates for where he could go.
After an unexpected All-Star season, Nick Markakis’ hitting has stayed close to level but down a touch from 2018, and at 35, he’s clearly losing speed in the outfield. The Braves have been reluctant to move him out of the starting lineup, as they’re already using Matt Joyce and Charlie Culberson as pinch-hitting threats, and it looks like they want to keep them in that role. It’s unclear, then, how they would fit Castellanos on their roster, but if they see it as an upgrade then any major league front office would figure it out. Options that could come back in return for Castellanos could be Alex Jackson, the former #6 overall pick in 2014 draft, a catcher who has shown some power in the minors and played three games in the majors this year but failed to collect a hit, as William Contreras, the younger brother of Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, is considered the top catcher in the Braves’ farm system now. The Tigers are mostly looking for hitters as prospects right now, but the Braves also have a plethora of pitchers in their farm system, so the Tigers could try to get someone like Freddy Tarnok, their third-round pick in 2017 out of high school, or Tucker Davidson as a lefty whose stock is on the rise, as the former 19th round draft pick made the unusual change from the bullpen to starting and took off, currently holding a 2.04 ERA in double-A this year. The Tigers could also try to go for Greyson Jenista, an outfielder who was Atlanta’s second-round pick last year, though he might be too good for the Braves to be willing to part ways with for Castellanos, and they might negotiate down to Jeffrey Ramos, who would remind Tigers fans of a current young corner outfielder of theirs in Christin Stewart as a power-hitting corner outfielder.
The Indians make sense, assuming they decide to be buyers at the deadline, as they have had one of the worst combined outfielder WAR totals in the league, especially among contending teams, and they also haven’t gotten much production out of their designated hitters, where Hanley Ramirez, who was released on April 22nd, has still logged the third-most games there, behind Carlos Santana, their regular first baseman, and Jake Bauers who has played a good amount of left field and some first base along with DHing some days. The Indians are going to need hitting help to make a playoff run, and Castellanos could be a somewhat inexpensive option for them. Cleveland has a lot of prospects on the left side of the infield, and the Tigers could try to get Yu Chang, a nearly Major League ready prospect who can play shortstop or third base but figures to land at third with a strong arm and some power in his bat. Another big-league ready prospect is first baseman Bobby Bradley, who’s hit 51 homers since the start of 2018, and his contact has improved during his time at triple-A. Younger shortstops that Detroit could try for include Brayan Rocchio, an 18-year-old former international prospect who figures to have good speed and defense at shortstop, though he or Bradley might be a big ask from Cleveland. Another option that the Indians might give up easier is another international signee from 2017 in Aaron Bracho, a current shortstop who scouts think might have more of a future at second base, who projects to be a solid 5-tool type player.
The Diamondbacks are a longshot because they’re not very likely to be buyers and have Adam Jones in right field who hasn’t been great but isn’t someone the D-backs are likely to move someone in ahead of. The Tigers could try to get Jake McCarthy, a 21-year-old outfielder who has the speed to stick in center and has good contact hitting skills, or infielders like Drew Ellis, a third baseman who has improved defensively since becoming professional and has good power potential, or Andy Young, another potential power hitter whose primary position is second base, but scouts think he may end up in a utility role as he likely won’t excel anywhere in the field. The Diamondbacks also have a young infielder in Domingo Leyba, who just made his MLB debut and was in the Tigers organization until the trade involving Shane Green, Robbie Ray, and Didi Gregorius sent him to Arizona.
Another team that isn’t likely to be buyers for short-term rentals, the Rangers could be interested in Castellanos if they were to make a push due to the relatively light-hitting outfielders in Nomar Mazara and Delino DeShields, and while Mazara is only 24, he’s now in his fourth consecutive season of being a slightly below-average hitter, and he’s not great in the field either, so Castellanos’ subpar defense shouldn’t turn them off. Texas prospects that the Tigers may target include Leody Taveras, cousin of the speedy Willy Taveras, he projects as something similar to him and Ender Inciarte defensively, and possibly better at the plate. They could also go for a good speed/defense type player at shortstop in Chris Seise, or a player who optimistic projections say could be similar to Chris Taylor in a super-utility role in Eli White, who has been in triple-A for all of 2019 and is just about Major League ready.
Shane Greene is a reliever under team control through 2021, and Greene has been one of the best closers in all of baseball in 2019. His value will never be higher and the Tigers need to capitalize on what he can bring back in a trade right now. But MLB front offices aren’t stupid, and they all know Greene had a 5.12 ERA just last year, and relievers tend to be a bit volatile in their numbers, so he won’t bring back as big of a haul as a reliever that’s viewed as a true star. But Detroit isn’t going anywhere between now and 2021, and they can get a player who will help their future more than a currently 30-year-old relief pitcher will. Just about any contending team will take bullpen help, but we’ll focus on the teams that might need a true closer, as Greene has logged exactly 1 inning in all 33 appearances this year.
Back to the Braves as one of the most logical spots for a Tigers trade chip. Atlanta’s bullpen has actually been improving as the year has gone along, with Luke Jackson having settled into the closer role, but he does have 6 blown saves on the year and hadn’t had a season with an ERA below 4.4 before this year, while Greene has shown some ability to perform well in the past (2.66 ERA in 2017). Rookie Jacob Webb has also been a pleasant surprise for them, coming from being just the 28th ranked prospect in their system to post a 1.39 ERA in just over 30 innings so far. But more bullpen arms never hurt, and Detroit could try to get William Contreras, a catcher with the potential to be a well-rounded starter behind the plate, Greyson Jenista, an outfielder who projects to have good power and a good arm, or go for a pitcher with high potential upside in the left-hander Luiz Gohara.
The Nationals have an established closer in Sean Doolittle, but the rest of their bullpen has been a major negative for Washingon overall, to the point where it’s been a bit of a carousel of players moving in and out of their bullpens, with promotions/demotions, signings, releasing players, it’s been a mess. Greene would likely be a stabilizing reliever to help prevent some of the bullpen meltdowns they’ve had and keep them on the right path to make the playoffs. The Tigers could target Yasel Antuna, a shortstop who may slide over to third at the big league level with 5-tool potential who scouts believe could develop into a plus hitter and solid fielder, Israel Pineda, a catcher who looks like a good defender with solid contact ability, or any of a trio of similarly rated outfielders in Gage Canning (22, best traits running and contact), Telmito Agustin (22, good defense for corners and improving power), or Jeremy De La Rosa (17, highest raw potential of the three but younger and less proven).
If this is beginning to feel like a lap around the NL East, well, they could all use bullpen help more than most playoff contenders. Héctor Neris has 54 saves since the start of 2017 for the Phillies, and a 3.43 ERA is good enough to probably keep closer duties, but Greene might slot into the eighth inning if he should head to Philly come the trade deadline, as the Phillies only have 3 relievers with an ERA below 4 with at least 13 innings pitched, although they might want to get a starter and move Vince Velasquez back to the bullpen more than simply adding a bullpen arm. The Nationals have a few interesting prospects that Detroit could be after, like 2016 #1 overall pick Mickey Moniak, who struggled upon turning pro but has shown good signs in the past year, and is still likely a plus defender in center field if nothing else, or smooth fielding shortstop Arquimedes Gamboa, who hasn’t hit with any consistency but has shown flashes of being able to put together a decent bat to allow his defense to shine. Other options in Philly’s farm system include Jhailyn Ortiz, a power-hitting corner outfielder, and Simon Muzziotti, an outfielder who has solid speed and contact and is working on putting everything together to get ready for the majors.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox bullpen hasn’t been bad, as they have 6 relievers with an ERA+ above 100 (league average), but they don’t have a true closer on the team either, as they have no one with more than 7 saves this season on their roster, no one who had ever been a closer before this year on the roster, and only 19 saves as a team (Greene has 22). They may want a starting pitcher, but the return of Nathan Eovaldi from injury likely coming in a few weeks might persuade them to go for the cheaper option of bullpen pieces. The Red Sox don’t have a great farm system (top prospect Triston Casas ranked 95 by MLB Pipeline), but no prospects we’ve mentioned yet have been top 100 prospects, so that shouldn’t be a problem. The Tigers could target Antoni Flores, an 18-year-old shortstop who some think has the highest ceiling in Boston’s farm system but teams are more willing to trade away players who aren’t nearing major league ready. They could also go for Jarren Duran, a center fielder who switched out there from second base thanks to his burning speed which pairs nicely with his contact skill as a hitter, where he’s also shown a bit more power in the minors than he did in college. Danny Diaz is another young infielder Detroit could try to pry away from Boston, with a strong arm and good power-hitting potential at third base.
I want to be clear. I don’t think the Tigers should be actively trying to trade Boyd like they should be with Castellanos and Greene. But people really like having good left-handed pitchers, and Boyd being under team control through 2022 is both why the Tigers shouldn’t want to trade him and why teams might put together an offer too good to say no to. Just about any contending team could try to trade for him, because even if a team’s fifth starter isn’t bad, they’ll move them to the bullpen to make room for someone better, but we’ll try to find teams with good enough assets to make the Tigers listen and a deep enough farm system to be willing to give that much up. That makes for a very short list.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The LA Dodgers, top to bottom, have been almost inarguably the best pitching team in baseball in 2019. Why, then, add a starting pitcher instead of trying to get a catcher or a second baseman, the two positions they’ve gotten the least offensive production out of? Because pitching is easier to find because every team has so many pitchers that bad teams are bound to have some good ones, whereas there are maybe 10ish catchers or second basemen who would make a difference for a playoff team, and most of them are already on contending teams. So the Dodgers could get Boyd, decide who between Kenta Maeda and Ross Stripling they want to send to the bullpen, and load up for a World Series run after coming up just short each of the last two years. There are plenty of options the Tigers could go for among LA prospects, though a problem could be that their best two prospects (Kiebert Ruiz and Gavin Lux) could be the solution to their catcher and second base problems as soon as next season. Detroit could try for Will Smith, another catcher who just made his MLB debut for the Dodgers, or use that as a reason they should give up Ruiz, and Boyd will get a multiple-high-caliber-prospect haul if traded, so they could add in Jeter Downs, a middle infielder with 5-tool potential, or DJ Peters, a 6’6 outfielder who projects somewhat similarly to Joey Gallo or Jayson Werth with his power, arm and surprising athleticism. If they decide they want to get at least 3 of the Dodgers’ mid-level prospects, they still have a catcher option in 17-year-old Diego Cartaya, with good defensive skill and plate discipline for his age and time to develop a more well-rounded offensive game.
The Astros have had 4 solid starters all year and the fifth spot in the rotation has been made open by the poor performance from Collin McHugh so far this season. Matt Boyd would probably slot in as their fourth-best starting pitcher right now, ahead of Brad Peacock, currently on the IL with shoulder soreness, and would deepen an already solid starting rotation to keep less pressure on a bullpen that has really only seen three members (Will Harris, Ryan Pressly, Roberto Osuna) have success so far in 2019. It would be interesting to see if the Tigers could get either Kyle Tucker or Yordan Álvarez as part of a prospect group or if they could get multiple of their next tier of hitters in shortstop Freudis Nova, who projects as a strong fielder with 20-20 potential, Seth Beer, a big hitter whose primary position is left field, but his lack of athleticism makes him project better as a first baseman or DH, and outfielder Ronnie Dawson, who has seen significant time in both center and left with good power in his bat but a relatively weak arm in the outfield.
New York Yankees
The Yankees, like the Dodgers, already have a good thing going for their pitching staff as a whole, and I’m not sure which starter moves to the bullpen to make room in a situation in which they get a starting pitcher like Matt Boyd or Madison Bumgarner. JA Happ has been their worst-performing starter, but he hadn’t pitched this bad since 2011-2012 when he was on the Astros when they were terrible, though he is 36 and could finally be losing a beat to the younger players and therefore having his effectiveness diminished. I’m not sure if any trade with New York makes sense without including Clint Frazier, who exceeded rookie limits in 2017 but at 24 and with just 107 career games played is very much so still thought of like a prospect, though he hasn’t looked good in the field as a corner outfielder, so it would be interesting if the Tigers just essentially gave him Nick Castellanos’ current spot as a poor-fielding outfielder whose bat is good enough to make up for it, or if they would try to convert him to first base. They wouldn’t make a deal for just Frazier though, as Boyd has too much value right now to even remotely justify it, so they could still get one or two mid-level prospects such as Antonio Cabello, an 18-year-old prospect still adjusting to center field after primarily being a catcher as an amateur but with 5-tool potential, or Josh Breaux, a catcher with good power and a good arm behind the plate who needs more work on other aspects of defense as a catcher.
I’d love to be able to talk about more potential trades for the Tigers as we near the trade deadline, but they don’t have many other pieces that anyone covets. It’s hard to find talented players on a team on pace for around 110 losses. But Greene is likely at his highest value that he ever will be right now, and with Castellanos being a free agent this offseason it’s now or never to trade him. Boyd, on the other hand, should only be sent away for a package that will help shape the direction of the rebuild in Detroit, as if they hold onto him he could be a veteran presence when their talented group of pitchers currently on the road to Detroit get there to help them learn what it takes to be a successful pitcher in the MLB. I’ll probably be totally wrong and the Tigers will make other moves and make some trades with teams I didn’t mention. I’ll do a recap after the trade deadline and make fun of myself for how wrong I am. Until then, here’s hoping I get something close to right to salvage some pride because predictions are hard. Until next time,