When it gets tucked away in the record books, the 2016 baseball season might be known as “The Year of Mediocrity.”
As of the All-Star break, the traditional half-way mark of the season (even if mathematically it isn’t), 21 of the 30 Major League teams are below .500 or only six games above the .500 mark. There seems to be a large lump of teams who could win anywhere between 75 and 85 games.
It’s hard for fans to get excited about teams that win a game, lose two, win two, lose two, and so on.
The Detroit Tigers are the poster children for this ho-hum mediocrity. Through the break, the Tigers have had eight streaks of three or more wins and six streaks of three or more losses. Their fans are understandably frustrated at their up-and-down behavior. Like your Facebook friend who seems to have weekly drama, the Tigers are exasperating.
But many other teams are in a similar situation. In the American League at the All-Star break, eight teams were six games apart in the loss column for the two wild card spots. Most of those teams feel like 82-win clubs, at best. The Tigers seem to be one bad month away from plummeting to the depths.
Is there anything the Tigers do to snare one of the wild card spots and a coveted appearance in the baseball postseason tournament?
Detroit’s biggest problem is starting pitching. Problem “1a” would be the bullpen. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see any tangible help coming from the tapped out farm system. The best arm on the farm is reliever Joe Jimenez, who at 21 is pitching or his first time at Double-A Erie. Given their conservative approach with young players, don’t expect Jimenez to make a big league debut this season.
Nope, if the Tigers are going to promote pitchers from within in the second half it’ll be more of the veteran minor league “Four-A-type” hurlers like Dustin Molleken, Buck Farmer, and maybe Thad Weber.
Given the sheer number of relief pitchers the team has already used, it’s possible they could catch lightning in a bottle with a few of them getting hot down the stretch, but don’t count on it. The Tigers pitching is what it is. Only snatching someone outside of the organization will dramatically change things. But how likely is that?
In this same place, on this very blog, Bruce Markusen recently identified some starting pitchers who might be available for Al Avila and the Tigers at the July trade deadline. Of that group, Oakland’s Sonny Gray is the most appealing. A change of venue might jumpstart Gray and get him back to the ace status he displayed in 2013 as a rookie when he pitched so well against the Tigers in the playoffs.
Sadly, teams don’t trade players for furniture or plane tickets. And the Tigers probably don’t have much more than that to offer Oakland or another team willing to be sellers. On the big league roster there are three players who would attract attention: right fielder J.D. Martinez, catcher James McCann, and shortstop Jose Iglesias. Third baseman Nick Castellanos has opened eyes around baseball, but he should be untouchable. The other three are young, under contract control for a while, and have some upside. Martinez’s injury makes him tough to move, while McCann’s anemic hitting doesn’t help his marketability. Also, the Tigers don’t have many other major league ready catchers in their system.
What does this mean? It means the Tigers have little to offer to get better at the trade deadline. The best they could probably do is to trade either Iglesias or minor league shortstop Dixon Machado, who can pick it almost as well as Iggy but hits with more pop. Steven Moya should be untouchable, his sweet left-handed swing will look nice in the lineup for many years of Detroit just gives him a chance.
Odds are (if they are still within a few games of a wild card spot) the Tigers will make a minor deal or two at the trade deadline to bolster the pitching staff. But don’t ecpect any marquee names, they aren’t out there. Lord knows the Detroit rotation needs a boost. Outside of rookie Michael Fulmer, the team doesn’t have a dependable starter. It will be impossible to mount a playoff run if 4/5 of the rotation is shaky at best.
After nearly a decade of contention and excitement surrounding this team, the Tigers are now just another mediocre team with faint playoff hopes. The second half will likely be a bumpy ride toward 78-84 wins. But given how average the league is right now, it might be enough to keep this team in the hunt for a wild card.