How can Detroit make their team better at the trade deadline?

The Detroit Tigers are trying to do something this year that only four other teams have done in the last four decades: win a division title and advance to the postseason in five consecutive years.*

The Tigers might be eyeing one or two of these four pitchers at the trade deadline next month.

The Tigers might be eyeing one or two of these four pitchers at the trade deadline: Cole Hamels, Frankie Rodriguez, Johnny Cueto, and Jason Grilli. 

But as of this writing the Tigers are floundering at the .500 mark and they’re not only not in first place, they find themselves in third place, a position they haven’t been in this late in the season since 2012. And they’re in real danger of dropping below the .500 mark for the the first time in the 1.4 years of the Brad Ausmus era.

While it isn’t necessarily time to panic yet, there’s a lot to worry about with this team. We’re less than a month away from the traditional mid-season break for the All-Star Game and the Tigers are a team staring up at not only two teams in the AL Central, but seven teams in the American League overall. The way the Kansas City Royals are playing (9-3 in their last twelve games), the Tigers are in danger of falling too far back of their young rivals to regain division supremacy.

We’re less than six weeks from the July 31st trade deadline, a time when we usually see the Tigers add firepower to their roster: in 2011 they acquired Doug Fister from the Mariners; in 2012 they snatched Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante from Miami; the following year in 2013 they traded for shortstop Jose Iglesias; and last summer they made headlines when they finagled David Price from the Rays and also dealt for Joakim Soria. Under Dave Dombrowski the Tigers are big players at the trade deadline.

What can they do this season to improve the chances of getting a fifth straight division crown?

While it’s been confounding to see the Tigers’ offense sputter over the last few weeks, Detroit still has one of the most potent lineups in baseball. Outside of Nick Castellanos and the injury-plagued Victor Martinez, the Bengals are getting at least solid production from every other spot in their lineup. They might be killing rallies frequently with groundball DPs, and they frustrate us all by leaving runners at third base, but the Tiger offense is set.

The Tigers main concerns are starting pitching and the bullpen (again). Here are four arms the Tigers should be considering at the trade deadline.

Jason Grilli, Braves: The former Tiger has been one of the most reliable relievers in the game since he left Detroit after the ’08 season. While Soria is doing a fine job closing out games, the 7th and 8th innings have been wobbly for Ausmus this season. No one really thinks Joba Chamberlain is going to pitch well all season long, Blaine Hardy isnt a top line reliever, and Al Alburquerque is unreliable as always. Grilli is a veteran and he takes care of himself, he knows how to pitch 3-4 times per week. His return would solidify the bullpen.

Frankie Rodriguez, Brewers: He’s long been a favorite of mine. “KRod” can still dial it up when needed, but most importantly he’s a battle-tested bullpen entity. With Rodriguez and Soria in the 8th and 9th the Tigers would have a formidable shutdown duo at the backend of games. The Brewers will be unloading players in July and the 33-year old righty could be had pretty cheap.

Johnny Cueto, Reds: Reportedly the Tigers have had scouts following the Cincinnati ace around for his last few starts. Cueto is a legit ace and he’d look really nice next to Price at the top of the Detroit rotation. The problem? Like Price, Cueto will be a free agent at the end of this season. Would Dombrowski give up a prospect or two to rent Cueto for two months? Or maybe Detroit wants to sign Cueto in the offseason. Either way, Cueto is a tempting target: he’s in his prime and he could give Detroit twelve starts or so down the stretch and a real chance to catch up to the Royals.

Cole Hamels, Phillies: This is the least likely deal to go through. Hamels is the marquee pitcher available this summer. The Phils are going nowhere and they need to get young prospects. They also want to unload Hamels’ contract, which has three years and $70,5 million left on it after this season. That last point is the main reason the Tigers might hesitate to take Hamels. The other reason is that Philly will demand a current major leaguer for the tall left-hander. The only chips the Tigers have to offer would be Castellanos, Iglesias, James McCann, and possibly J.D. Martinez. There’s no chance the Tigers are dealing Iglesias, and McCann and Martinez are probably not enough to pry Hamels away. That leaves Nick, but Detroit would still have to toss in a minor league prospect, maybe outfielder Steven Moya, but the 23-yea old isn’t exactly tearing up Triple-A at Toledo right now and his stock isn’t that high. The Tigers probably don’t have the prospects to get Hamels, and they probably won’t want to take on his contract with David Price’s free agency looming.

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* Atlanta Braves (1995-2005), Cleveland Indians (1995-99), New York Yankees (1998-2006), Philadelphia Phillies (2007-2011)