Right-hander Derek Law had an … ummm … inauspicious Detroit Tigers debut Saturday in Toronto.
Over a 13-pitch span in the sixth inning, he (in order) hit a batter, committed an error, threw a wild pitch and gave up a homer, turning a 3-1 Tigers lead into a 5-3 loss to the Blue Jays and making franchise history in the process.
Forget your Fernando Rodney flashbacks, your Francisco Rodriguez meltdowns and your Todd Jones roller coaster rides — Law became the only Tiger, in the franchise’s 122 seasons, to do all four in a single relief appearance.
Of course, because the four runs scored with two outs after the error, they were all unearned, leaving him with a 0.00 ERA. Just another flawless outing for the bullpen with the third-best ERA in baseball, right?
But Law’s brief and brutal performance is only a harbinger of what looms after the MLB trade TBEN at 6 p.m. Tuesday: Change is coming to the one rock of this otherwise crumbling season, the bullpen, with the Tigers set to finally move at least one (but maybe four?) of their relief corps.
Hello, and welcome to the Trade TBEN Newsletter.
We won’t get into what each reliever on the trade block — Andrew Chafin, Michael Fulmer, Joe Jiménez and Gregory Soto, to name a few — could bring in return. The Freep’s Evan Petzold already did that in detail here last week.
The most likely candidates, Fulmer and Jimenez, are already steeling themselves for new uniforms come Wednesday. As Jiménez told Our Man Petzold here, “Detroit, for me, has been basically my father. I’ve been here since I was young. It’s going to be tough for me if something happens, but at the same time, I just play baseball, it doesn’t matter where.”
Some non-relievers are steeling themselves for deals too, since, as the Freep’s Jeff Seidel opined, the Tigers should at least be listening to any deal for any player not named “Riley Greene.” (And yes, that includes Tarik Skubal, but we’ll get to him in a bit.)
Also steeling themselves for trades are Tigers fans, whose disappointment in the deals by general manager Al Avila grows ever more vocal as ex-Tiger Justin Verlander dominates the AL again (down to a 1.81 ERA now!) and the trio of talent received for him fails to produce in the majors (or even Triple-A).
Since the Great Verlandering — well, great if you’re an Astros fan or a card-carrying member of the “Fire Al Avila Club” (big FAAC membership drive this time of year) — on Aug. 31, 2017, Avila has pulled off five deals around the end-of-July TBEN. (He also dealt left-hander Mike Fiers a couple weeks into August 2018.) Let’s break down how the July moves worked out.
2021: Daniel Norris to Milwaukee Brewers — Normally a deal sending a rental reliever for a prospect in High-A requires development time. And yet, just a year later, it’s a clear win, with Norris is already back in the organization. Why? After Norris posted a 6.64 ERA over 20⅓ innings — not entirely a surprise, considering his 5.89 ERA in 36⅔ innings with the Tigers last season — the Brewers left him off the postseason roster. Ouch. Norris then signed a one-year deal with the Cubs, but his 6.90 ERA in 30 innings this season was apparently too awful to even attempt to dangle at the TBEN; they released him on July 22 and the Tigers signed him to a minor-league deal four days later. Meanwhile, right-hander Reese Olson has become a strikeout machine for Double-A Erie, with 118 (and just 27 walks) over 82⅔ innings. That has come with a 4.57 ERA — he’s giving up more hits these days — so don’t expect to see him in Detroit this season, though. (Head here for an update from earlier this season from Our Man Seidel.) Still, this deal would have been a win even without a player coming back from the Brewers.
2020: Cameron Maybin to Chicago Cubs — Maybin’s .726 OPS over 45 plate appearances — in his third stint with the Tigers was enough to get minor-league shortstop Zack Short from the Cubs. Maybin then put up a .669 OPS in 56 plate appearances with the Cubs (and went 0-for-2 in the playoffs) before hitting free agency. As little as the Cubs got from Maybin in the shortened 2020 season, the Tigers got less from Short the following season: In 184 plate appearances, Short had a .521 OPS, including six homers, 22 walks and 59 strikeouts. Still, his glove was above-average, and somebody has to play short, most of the time, or else a lot of balls sneak through the infield. We’ll call this a wash at best — Short’s already 27, so he’s hardly a developing prospect.
2019: Nick Castellanos to Cubs — That Castellanos has signed $164 million worth of contracts makes this one look rough. (Though he has earned only $50 million of that, and left $34 million in Cincinnati when he opted out of two years of a deal with the Reds in November 2021.) But he was never going to get that money from the Tigers; free agency was always looming, especially with a just-OK .790 OPS at the TBEN, and thus, the Tigers’ modest return of two minor-league right-handers: Paul Richan and Alex Lange. Still, Castellanos went off big when freed from his sworn enemy, Comerica National Park — in 51 games with the Cubs, he posted 1.8 WAR, with 16 homers and 21 doubles. Richan is already out of the Tigers’ org, released early this season. Lange, however, has become one of the Tigers’ best bullpen arms; In 75⅔ innings since the start of the 2021 season, he has a 3.33 ERA with 91 strikeouts and a total of 1.1 WAR. That’s still probably a season away from matching Castellanos’ time with the Cubs alone; there are only so many high-leverage innings to go around. (Lange is outproducing Castellanos in WAR this season, however, with 0.8 to Casty’s minus-1.) This one is like the Tigers’ third “bullpen day” in a four-game series — an understandable loss.
2019: Shane Greene to Atlanta Braves — The 2014-15 offseason return for Robbie Ray (who was the 2013-14 offseason return for Doug Fister), Greene was great for the Tigers in 2019, making the AL All-Stars with a 1.18 ERA over 38 innings. He was significantly less great for the Braves: a 4.01 ERA with 24 strikeouts over 24⅔ innings, plus more blown saves (2) than actual saves (1). (His ERA of 4.80 in three seasons since suggests the Tigers parted with the then-30-year-old at just the right time.) The return was almost equally lackluster: The Tigers got a .605 OPS from outfielder Travis Demeritte over 219 plate appearances in 2019-20 — hey, gotta get to nine players on the field somehow — and have gotten 6⅔ innings, with an 8.10 ERA, from Joey Wentz, who missed more than a year with Tommy John surgery. Wentz will be back with the Tigers soon — he’s rehabbing in West Michigan from a shoulder injury — so this deal could slide in favor of Detroit, but it’s at least a wash.
2018: Leonys Martin to Cleveland — Martin played just six games in 2018 with Cleveland before a bacterial infection cost him the rest of the season and caused his bat to crater to a .619 OPS in 65 games in 2019. (He has spent the past three seasons playing in Japan.) The return, utility player Willi Castro, hasn’t produced much in four seasons — even with his .932 OPS over 140 plate appearances in 2020 that earned him a fourth-place finish in AL Rookie of the Year voting — but, hey, he’s above replacement level (barely, at 0.1 WAR) this season, at least. Call it a win for that? A better Tigers team wouldn’t have given him the 247 plate appearances he needed to get there this year, but imagining a better Tigers team is what got us all into this mess back in March.
(In case you’ve just decided this month to start following the Tigers to distract yourself from the inevitable heartbreak of the Lions’ fall, Our Man Petzold took a look at the “What Ifs” that went wrong to get the Tigers to this lackluster trade TBEN.)
But back to the trade scorecard: Five trades, with two “wins,” two “draws” and a “loss” (in the only one featuring a “star,” we guess). That’s not exactly an overwhelming record, even when comparing it to the other team we’re used to watching this month — hiiiii, Lions! — but Avila really hasn’t had much to work with. (We can hear the screams of “Whose fault is THAT?” from all the way over here, but that’s a tale for another time.)
Still, those returns should temper expectations for what the Tigers get back for Fulmer, Chafin and anyone else dealt away; even with the quality of the Tigers’ relievers, it’s rare to get a big return for someone who’s not likely to top 30 innings the rest of the year.
Whoever the Tigers move, and whenever they do it, you can follow along with the Freep’s trade TBEN tracker here for the latest updates from around the league.
Now, could the Tigers get significantly more if they shopped left-hander starter Tarik Skubal? Potentially. But would it be worth it? Starters with the stuff Skubal has shown are rare, and the Tigers will go into any trade talks wanting a player who could contribute sooner than later in return. Our Man Petzold has the scoop here on why that’s unlikely, as well as how it’s motivating Skubal for the second half of the season.
Let’s get moving
Once the TBEN passes, the Tigers’ 2022 isn’t over, with 58 games left beginning Tuesday night vs. the Twins. And there will be moves needed, as the road to 2023 begins with giving some fresh faces a shot, both in the majors and in Toledo. Our Man Petzold assessed the organization this weekend and has nine moves to make in August. (We want Kerry Carpenter!) Check them out here.
One move they’ll likely be making this week: Activating right-hander Matt Manning off the injured list after his stop-and-start-and-stop-again rehab from the shoulder inflammation that has shelved him since April. His latest stint with Toledo featured “the best stuff he’s had,” manager A.J. Hinch said, according to Our Man Petzold.
3 to watch
Net everyone’s a trade candidate, technically:
JEIMER CANDELARIO: The third baseman might need a strong finish (beyond last week’s seven extra-base hits) in 2022 to return in 2023.
JACE JUNG: The Tigers’ top pick in last month’s draft has signed a deal and is headed to Florida.
EDUARDO RODRIGUEZ: The lefty could be pitching in Low-A by the end of the week, and back in Detroit by the third week in August.
Mark your calendar
The Tigers finally get a day off next Monday; but before then, they have a three-game series in Minneapolis against the Twins (Monday-Wednesday) and a four-game set against the Tampa Bay Rays at Comerica Park. That will feature the long-deserved retirement of Lou Whitaker’s No. 1, on Saturday afternoon, as well as the return (speaking of trades) of former Tigers prospect Isaac Paredes, who’s hitting .220 with 14 homers for the Rays since his April trade for Austin Meadows. (Don’t ask how many homers Meadows has.)
Tigers birthdays this week: Milt May (72 on Monday), Matt Joyce (38 on Wednesday), Harry Heilmann (would have been 128 on Wednesday; died in 1951), Dave Rozema (66 on Friday), Edgar Renteria (46 on Sunday), Steve Kemp (68 on Sunday).
After his debut Saturday, Law suggested he was too “amped-up,” “went to the well one too many times” on cut fastballs to Teoscar Hernandez before his three-run bomb, then narc’ed on MLB’s new PitchCom electronic pitch-signaling system. It was an impressive hat trick in its own right … but he could have gone farther. Here are some excuses we also would have accepted:
“Ate a bad batch of poutine on the 500 level before the game. …”
Or, “More like Labatt Blew-The-Save, am I right? …”
Or, “Huh, Comerica Park would’ve held that in. … ”
And, finally, of course: “Guess I really should have called CarShield.”
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers Newsletter: Scoring the Tigers’ recent TBEN deals