Tigers reach 2 deals, but little progress for 2023: Takeaways from MLB trade deadline

MINNEAPOLIS — The Detroit Tigers reached two deals in the 24 hours before Tuesday’s MLB trade deadline.

But anyone who is too upset or too excited about the trades of outfielder Robbie Grossman and reliever Michael Fulmer should keep their outrage. The Tigers were ready to accept any hot body for their players whose contracts were expiring. They found takers for two of them.

The real story is the agreements that were not performed within the last 48 hours.

Tigers general manager Al Avila said he and his top advisers have been locked in a “war room” for the past five days. Clearly, they were anticipating the possibility of taking bolder steps. That they ended up with two small transactions that probably could have been executed by SMS from the beach is a bit surprising.

If that lack of action was a vote of confidence in the Tigers’ in-house options for next year’s team, it would be an ominous sign. But it’s more likely rooted in the belief that the offseason is a better time than the trade deadline to meet next year’s needs.

Here are seven takeaways from the Tigers’ ultimately quiet deadline day:

1. This probably wasn’t good news for Tucker Barnhart.

The Tigers were clearly ready to accept anything for the players on the expiring deals. They moved Grossman and Fulmer. Pitchers Wily Peralta and Michael Pineda were injured. That leaves wide receiver Tucker Barnhart as the only impending free agent remaining.

Plenty of receivers have changed hands over the past week, but Avila couldn’t find a taker for Barnhart, who is 31 and in the midst of the worst offensive season of his career.

This is bad news for his hopes of landing a Major League contract in the off-season. It also puts the Tigers’ acquisition of Barnhart last winter in a different light.

At the time, it seemed like a steal to get Barnhart from the Cincinnati Reds for next to nothing, having only to commit to a one-year, $7.5 million deal. But after a terrible year, the Tigers find themselves with an underperforming asset no one else wants.

American League relief pitcher Gregory Soto of the Detroit Tigers throws during the seventh inning of the MLB All-Star baseball game against the National League, Tuesday, July 19, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)PA

2. The Tigers haven’t sold any of their relievers.

The relievers are notoriously erratic. Pitchers are notoriously prone to injury. That’s why it’s tempting to get what you can for them when you catch lightning in a bottle.

It wasn’t too long ago that the Tigers were almost ready to release Joe Jimenez. They haven’t thought enough about Will Vest to even put him on the 40-player roster before the 2021 season. Wouldn’t it be tempting to see what you could get for them now?

The Tigers have put a high price on closer Gregory Soto. But is it too high?

Soto is not Aroldis Chapman, who had already established himself as the most dominant reliever in the game at the age of 27. Soto walks or hits 5.6 batters in nine innings. For that irregularity, he delivers about one strikeout per inning, which is about average for relievers.

Yes, there is an understandable reluctance to dismantle a bullpen that has been so good. But there’s no guarantee these guys will be as good or healthy in 2023. All are candidates for regression, including – or maybe even especially – Soto.

“There hasn’t been as much conversation as I think the media has suggested,” Avila said. “But there were. And we just decided that the possible return that we’ve talked about with some of these clubs just didn’t move the needle at this point.


Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Andrew Chafin throws during a baseball game against the Minnesota Twins a baseball game Monday, May 23, 2022 in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)PA

3. Maybe Chafin will stick around.

Left-handed reliever Andrew Chafin has what is essentially a player option for $6.5 million for 2023. He has hinted that he would like to exercise it and stay with the Tigers.

“It’s a conversation to have on the road. But, probably,” he said on Tuesday.

Chafin said he loves the organization and would like to stay in Detroit, which is close to his home in northern Ohio. But if he was traded to, say, Seattle, maybe that decision would be different.

The uncertainty surrounding Chafin’s contract in 2023 has made it difficult for the Tigers to get full value from any trade. The Tigers potentially have another full season of Chafin’s services, but teams would only be willing to pay a few months’ worth.

It’s a good transition to the next takeaway.

4. Not the best time to restock in 2023.

Let’s take the example of the recent Juan Soto competition. The Nationals were handling two years and two months of service from Soto. For out of contention teams like the Tigers, those two months in 2022 are meaningless. For competing teams like the San Diego Padres, those two months are critical.

The Tigers weren’t chasing Soto, but the same logic applies to virtually any other deal the Tigers might have made for an impact bat in 2023 and 2024. The Tigers would be competing against teams ready to pay a high value for August. or September 2022 — two months that don’t make sense for Detroit.

If the Tigers are going to hit the trade market — and they likely won’t have a choice if they want to improve the roster — the best time to do so will be in the offseason, when all teams are on an even playing field. .

“Obviously there’s still an opportunity before the offseason to add some batting talent,” he said. “It could come from a trade in the offseason or, quite frankly, free agency as well.”

Al Avila, AJ Hinch

Detroit Tigers executive vice president of baseball operations and general manager Al Avila, left, and manager AJ Hinch hold a season recap press conference, Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)PA

5. Among a certain pocket of fans, Avila can’t do anything.

For days, some fans were appalled that Avila and the Tigers would trade pitching ace Tarik Skubal. When it didn’t happen – or apparently even about to happen – the same people again accused Avila of inaction.

The biggest hits against Avila are the year (2022) and the Tigers’ record (20 games under .500). It’s not what everyone signed up for in 2017, and the man in charge ultimately owns it.

But some of the individual critics of Avila’s tenure are comically misinformed. Blame him for the Tigers rejecting journeymen like Trayce Thompson? Or not get a better return for Robbie Grossman? Twitter is not real life. Talk radio is not real life. And it’s unclear to what extent the dissatisfaction with the Tigers’ leadership extends beyond those two camps.

A surprising indicator: The struggling Tigers and first-place Twins have played two series against each other since the All-Star Break. The Detroit series attracted far more fans than the Minneapolis one.

Do you think team owner Christopher Ilitch cares more or means tweets?

6. Winter will tell the tale.

The Tigers’ lack of action at the trade deadline can’t translate to a lack of action this winter. If the Tigers choose to stay loyal — trading Ryan Kreidler for Jeimer Candelario and Kerry Carpenter for Robbie Grossman, then calling him a day — it would be hard to take them seriously.

This winter requires a fresh infusion of money from the owner, creativity from the general manager, or ideally both.

“At the end of every season you ask yourself, ‘OK, what are our needs?’” Avila said. “Obviously at the moment improving the attack would be a priority.”

Neal T. Doss