The Tigers are eight games above .500, feature a powerful lineup and dominant rotation, and seem as good or better than last year's World Series entrant. According to Fangraphs, Detroit projects to finish with the second-best record in baseball. But the team has one much-discussed weakness: the back of the bullpen. Long rumored to be exploring trade options to fill the closer role, the Tigers will generate even more discussion given the team's recent shedding of incumbent Jose Valverde and the approaching trade deadline. Here are a few notes on that and other topics:
- Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski insists that, in spite of designating Valverde for assignment, the team "still think[s] he can close games for us." As Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press reports, the team hopes Valverde will clear waivers and accept an assignment to Triple-A.
- In the same piece, Sharp offers that the true purpose of Dombrowski's supportive words is to position the club on the trade market. According to Sharp, Dombrowski is confident that the team can take the division even if it bides its time solving its 9th-inning dilemna. By playing it slow, then, the GM is trying to avoid being forced to overpay for a big-name arm well in advance of the trade deadline.
- While the closer role will always get more attention, the Tigers are also looking for better consistency amongst their setup men. The club recently recalled Al Alburquerque, who has dominating stuff but struggles to control it. In his first outing since returning to the big club, his control issues featured prominently. The performance of the club's middle relief/setup corps could also factor into its trade deadline plans.
- Meanwhile, the Tigers have enjoyed incredible production from starter Max Scherzer, who rates in the top five league-wide as measured by fWAR. (In fact, look at the rest of the list and you will notice that the club has four of the league's top twelve starters by that metric.) As FOXSports.com's Jon Paul Morosi writes, Scherzer's breakout has set him up for a big payday. Agent Scott Boras says that Scherzer is "one of the top pitchers in the game," and will enter a "changed" pitching market "when [he] hits it" after 2014. With Scherzer posting remarkable strikeout totals and superior results, he will not only get a nice arbitration raise next year but has greatly raised the price of a hypothetical extension. Detroit may regret not taking up Ben Nicholson-Smith's suggestion before the 2012 season that a four-year, $30MM extension was a fair target. Now, the team will have to decide whether it can afford to lock down both Scherzer and fellow 29-year-old starter Doug Fister, with long-term deals already on the books for Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez.