In case you haven’t noticed, the Tigers are rebuilding. General manager Al Avila has spoken often in the past about the need to build toward a better tomorrow, and he was frank during Spring Training about Nicholas Castellanos’ trade candidacy. MLB.com’s Jon Morosi wrote today that the Tigers are willing to listen on veteran players, but that’s already a well-known fact — not exactly a new revelation.
The greater question is: just how many appealing pieces do the Tigers even possess? Morosi lists the usual suspects, citing Castellanos, Matthew Boyd and Shane Greene as potentially movable assets. Beyond that trio, appeal in Detroit veterans will be limited.
Most of the one-year signees the Tigers added over the winter have minimal value because they’re on the injured list and/or performing poorly. Josh Harrison underwent hamstring surgery this month and didn’t hit when healthy. His double-play partner, Jordy Mercer, is on the IL for the second time and has turned in the worst offensive rates of his career in the 19 games he’s managed to play. Tyson Ross is out indefinitely. Matt Moore looked great for two starts… before he had season-ending knee surgery. Jordan Zimmermann’s contract has looked impossible to move since 2016, and now he has a UCL injury (though he’s trying to pitch through it). Miguel Cabrera? No one was touching that contract even before the Tigers announced the “chronic changes” to his knee that will impact the rest of Cabrera’s career. Aside from Greene, the bullpen’s numbers aren’t especially impressive.
Detroit does have a pair of somewhat interesting, relatively young options it could market in addition to Boyd, Greene and Castellanos, although neither is anywhere near free agency.
Super-utilityman Niko Goodrum has played all four infield positions and all three outfield slots since the Tigers picked him up as a minor league free agent in the 2017-18 offseason. In 740 plate appearances as a Tiger, Goodrum has batted .241/.315/.419 with 22 homers and 16 steals. This season, his average exit velocity (89.3 mph) is in the 77th percentile, while his average sprint speed is in the 93rd percentile of MLB players, per Statcast. In some respects, he’s like Detroit’s version of Marwin Gonzalez — albeit with a lesser overall track record. He’s controlled for four years beyond 2019, so there’s no urgency to move him, but teams looking for a versatile upgrade on the bench could look at Goodrum as an intriguing possibility.
In the outfield, Detroit has seen JaCoby Jones explode at the plate recently. On May 4, the 27-year-old Jones’ OPS sat at a lowly .413. In 127 plate appearances since that time, he’s mashed to the tune of a .315/.389/.595 slash with 16 extra-base hits (eight doubles, a triple, seven homers) and a perfect 5-for-5 in the stolen base column. He’s had his share of BABIP luck, but Jones’ K/BB numbers have improved over that stretch as well. Contact seems like it’ll always be an issue, but there’s a fairly interesting blend of power and speed with Jones. Stastcast puts him in elite company (93rd percentile) both in hard-hit rate and average exit velocity. He’s in the 81st percentile in terms of sprint speed.
Defensively, Jones was excellent in 2018 (10 DRS, +6.1 UZR, 7 Outs Above Average), but those same metrics have soured on his center field glovework in 2019 (-7, -6.4 and 0, respectively). Like Goodrum, he’s controllable through 2023. I don’t know that teams are going to line up to acquire Jones based on what amounts to five weeks of strong offensive output, but he’s at least worth monitoring over the next several weeks. There aren’t going to be too many appealing center fielders on the trade market, after all.
As for the three most logical chips — Boyd, Greene and Castellanos — they’ll face varying levels of interest. Boyd is appealing to any club within a stone’s throw of contending, as he’s in the midst of what looks to be a legitimate breakout season. The 28-year-old is controlled through 2022 and has thus far pitched to a 3.08 ERA with 11.2 K/9 against 1.6 BB/9. Fielding-independent metrics are buying him as a breakout star (2.91 FIP, 3.20 SIERA), and only five qualified pitchers have a better K-BB% than Boyd’s 26.2 percent mark. The cost to acquire him should be enormous, given the time he’s still controlled.
Greene won’t carry as high a price tag, given that he’s controlled through 2020. But he’s sitting on a 1.00 ERA with career-best marks in strikeout percentage (27.4 percent), walk percentage (6.6 percent) and ground-ball rate (52.2 percent). He’s unequivocally elevated his stock in 2019, making the Tigers’ decision not to move him at last year’s deadline look wise. Like Boyd, Greene is appealing to any contender.
Castellanos, meanwhile, faces a less robust market. Defensive metrics suggest he’s improved in right field but is still below average there. More concerning is the fact that Castellanos hasn’t hit that much in 2019. His 21 doubles lead the AL, but his overall .263/.315/.454 slash is roughly league average, per OPS+ and wRC+, and he’s on pace for fewer home runs than last year’s 23. Casteallnos has seen his line-drive rate dip by more than seven percent, and his hard-hit rate has fallen off a bit as well. Corner bat rentals never yield all that great a return these days — as the Tigers learned in trading J.D. Martinez two years ago — and Castellanos’ downturn in production won’t help the team’s cause. There’s certainly time for a rebound, but it’s tough to see Castellanos fetching a sizable return even if his bat wakes up in the next few weeks.
The general expectation is that the Tigers will continue their tear-down this summer, but the pieces they have to market, in the end, aren’t that plentiful. Greene seems like a lock to be moved for a decent haul, and because Castellanos isn’t playing like a qualifying offer candidate, it’s probably best to move him even if the return is modest. But the Tigers’ best asset, Boyd, is controlled for three more years and the only other somewhat interesting pieces are controlled even longer. If the team doesn’t move Boyd between now and July 31, the summer market might not boost the Tigers’ farm as much as fans would hope.