- Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias is of interest to “at least” one team, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free-Press reports. The 28-year-old, a pending free agent on a $6.275MM salary, is enjoying one of his most productive seasons at an opportune time. With 1.8 fWAR in 350 plate appearances, he’s on pace to surpass the 2.0 fWAR mark for the fourth time. The light-hitting defensive specialist owns a .269/.307/.385 batting line and an 8.9 Ultimate Zone Rating, which ranks second among shortstops.
Tigers right-hander Mike Fiers started against the Red Sox on Saturday, but he may find himself on Boston’s roster soon. With the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline nearing, the Red Sox are one of several clubs “evaluating” Fiers, Buster Olney of ESPN tweets.
Although Boston possesses the majors’ best record (69-30) and a five-game lead in the AL East, injuries have recently taken a bite out of its rotation. Mid-rotation arm Eduardo Rodriguez incurred “serious damage” to his right ankle last week, forcing him to the disabled list, and both Drew Pomeranz and Steven Wright are currently on the DL with him. Pomeranz will return Tuesday, but he has been woeful in eight starts this year (6.81 ERA/5.37 FIP across 37 innings). Wright, meanwhile, has been battling left knee problems that have shelved him for the past month and will keep him out for the foreseeable future.
In the absence of Rodriguez, Pomeranz will join either Brian Johnson or Hector Velazquez and the high-end trio of Chris Sale, Rick Porcello and David Price to comprise Boston’s rotation. At best, the 33-year-old Fiers would be Boston’s fourth starter in Rodriguez’s absence, but he’d nonetheless provide the team a proven back-end option. A former Brewer and Astro, Fiers has generally been respectable since debuting in 2011, evidenced by a 4.10 ERA/4.31 FIP with 8.28 K/9 and 2.72 BB/9 over 141 starts (830 2/3 innings).
Fiers endured a difficult 2017 with the title-winning Astros, but he has rebounded this season with the Tigers after signing a one-year, $6MM deal in free agency. Through 111 innings, including 6 1/3 scoreless frames versus the Red Sox on Saturday, Fiers has worked to a 3.49 ERA with 6.65 K/9, 1.95 BB/9 and the game’s 17th-best infield fly percentage among qualified starters (12.7). On the other hand, some of Fiers’ other numbers aren’t so encouraging (39.4 percent groundball rate, 4.57 FIP/4.76 xFIP/4.49 SIERA), which is something the Red Sox and other teams will have to weigh when considering swinging a trade for him. In the event the Tigers do find a taker for Fiers, he could also be on the acquiring team’s roster in 2019 – his final year of arbitration eligibility.
The Tigers announced this afternoon that they have placed starter Michael Fulmer on the 10-day disabled list. He’s said to be dealing with a left oblique strain.
It’s a surprising placement, as Fulmer had seemingly been on track to remain in the rotation heading out of the All-Star break. Details on the injury are not yet available. Reliever Victor Alcantara will take the open roster spot.
Of particular note, it’s now quite difficult to imagine Fulmer as a summer trade candidate. That may not have been in the cards regardless, but the possibility had at least been intriguing to consider. Fulmer was one of several quality, controllable starters who we rated among the 75 top trade deadline candidates.
Fulmer, 25, has continued to see his results deteriorate after a sterling rookie campaign. Through 112 frames in 2018, he carries a 4.50 ERA with 7.5 K/9 against 3.1 BB/9 along with a 45.6% groundball rate. Still, Fulmer is throwing the same upper-nineties heat and getting the same range of swinging strikes (10.5%) as before. Though he has allowed more hard contact in prior seasons, Fulmer mostly seems like the same pitcher and would be of obvious interest to other organizations.
If there was any plausibility to a trade scenario, it came largely from the fact that this year’s starter rental market is not exactly loaded. Teams seeking quality starters, then, will surely at least inquire on pitchers of Fulmer’s ilk.
Affordability and future control make Fulmer an easy asset for the Tigers to hang onto, though perhaps he could appear in trade rumors again in the winter if he returns and throws well down the stretch. Fulmer is headed for arbitration at season’s end as a Super Two player. The absence will cost him in that process, though not significantly — if, at least, he’s able to return in reasonably short order.
Martin hit the shelf earlier this month with a hamstring strain. That was especially worrying given that the 30-year-old had already required one prior DL stint this year for a similar injury. Ultimately, though, he made it back in just over two weeks after receiving a bit of extra rest over the All-Star break.
That leaves some time left for Martin to show he’s at full health in advance of the trade deadline. Dealing Martin and other pending free agents sits atop the organization’s to-do list over the next ten days. As I explored earlier this summer, Martin has played his way into an interesting potential trade chip, though contenders will certainly want to be able to anticipate that he’ll be on the field.
To this point of the season, Martin carries a .257/.327/.431 batting line with nine home runs. That’s just over league-average production, which is rather appealing given that he’s also a quality up-the-middle defender and baserunner. With only $1.75MM in guaranteed salary this year and another season of arbitration control still remaining, Martin is affordable as well and even comes with some potential future value.
11:19am: The Braves have had interest in Fulmer in the past, and he’s still “on their radar,” Mark Bowman of MLB.com tweets. Atlanta discussed Fulmer with Detroit over the winter, per Bowman, and the Braves also had reported interest in him last summer.
*Note: Fulmer was placed on the 10-day DL this afternoon.
10:23am: With the Tigers gearing up to sell prior to the July 31 non-waiver deadline, most of their efforts are on trying to move pitchers Mike Fiers and Francisco Liriano and center fielder Leonys Martin, per Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com. While two of the team’s best players – right-hander Michael Fulmer and right fielder Nicholas Castellanos – have come up in trade rumors, Detroit’s not actively shopping the pair and it would take a lot to acquire either, Crasnick adds. That jibes with reports from last weekend.
Among Fiers, Liriano and Martin, Fiers could be the most valuable trade chip. Not only is the right-hander fairly priced ($6MM salary), but he comes with another year of arbitration eligibility. Of course, the former Brewer and Astro is also enjoying a respectable age-33 season, having pitched to a 3.70 ERA/4.67 FIP with 6.54 K/9 and 1.81 BB/9 in 104 2/3 innings. Notably, Fiers ranks 10th among qualified starters in BB/9 and 19th in infield fly rate (12.7 percent), the latter of which has helped to offset a paltry groundball percentage (38.8). On the other hand, Fiers’ strikeouts are down significantly from the eight-plus per nine he has recorded throughout his career, and the contact he has allowed suggests there has been luck on his side in terms of run prevention.
While the Tigers no doubt hope Fiers garners attention in a weak market for starters, it’s possible Liriano will emerge as a left-handed relief option for someone. After working out of the bullpen with the Astros late in 2017, Liriano has served exclusively as a starter this year. But the results have been poor, as the 34-year-old has posted a 4.67 ERA/5.31 FIP with 7.18 K/9 against a sky-high 5.13 BB/9 over 79 frames. Liriano’s struggles have come almost solely against right-handed hitters, who have teed off on him with a .266/.373/.458 line. If there’s a saving grace for Liriano, it’s that he has held same-handed batters to a comical .088/.200/.193 showing. Any team acquiring Liriano would be taking on a rental, one who’s owed the balance of a $4MM salary.
Martin, like Fiers, comes with another year of arbitration control, which should add to his appeal. He’s also cheap ($1.75MM salary) and has been productive at the plate this season, evidenced by a .257/.327/.431 line with nine home runs and seven stolen bases in 306 trips. On the defensive side, Martin has added to his history of well-regarded work in the field, having earned plus marks from DRS (one), Ultimate Zone Rating (7.1) and Outs Above Average (two). The 30-year-old has endured two stints on the disabled list because of hip troubles, however, and has been on the shelf since July 1 (though he should return tonight). Martin also isn’t far removed from a dreadful 2017 in which he hit .172/.232/.281 in 138 plate appearances between the Mariners and Cubs.
Here are the latest minor moves from around the game, all via Matt Eddy of Baseball America unless otherwise noted:
- A few right-handed hurlers with some MLB experience have found new homes. Casey Coleman has returned to the Cubs on a minors deal after opening the year in indy ball. He has appeared previously in parts of four MLB seasons and thrown 177 1/3 total frames at the game’s highest level, mostly for the Cubs. Coleman has a lifetime 5.72 ERA in the majors and hasn’t seen time there since 2014. Meanwhile, Mike Broadway will go to the Rays after being released by the Royals. The 31-year-old has struggled in the upper minors of late after making 25 appearances in the bigs with the Giants in 2015 and 2016.
- Another righty, Jeff Ames, has been announced as the newest member of the Brewers organization. The 27-year-old was a sandwich-round selection in the 2011 draft but has yet to make it to the majors. He had worked to a 5.70 ERA with 12.9 K/9 against 3.8 BB/9 over 23 2/3 Double-A innings this year in the Nationals organization.
- Eddy lists a variety of players who were cut loose, none more prominent than infielder Alexi Amarista. The 29-year-old, a seven-year MLB veteran, had been with the Phillies but slashed just .238/.285/.288 in his 173 plate appearances at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Amarista has a lifetime 68 OPS+ in 702 games of MLB action, so the lack of offensive production is hardly a surprise. He’s obviously valued primarily for his glovework.
- Also released were outfielder Rymer Liriano (Angels) and lefty Jairo Labourt (Tigers). Both were in the not-too-distant past considered intriguing enough players to make it into the majors and then bounce around a bit via waiver claims. Liriano had posted a robust .268/.343/.523 slash in his 65 games of action at Triple-A with the Halos organization. But he had not yet been given a shot at the big league level this year and will now go looking for a better opportunity elsewhere. The 24-year-old Labourt, on the other hand, only made it into five rookie ball games with the Chicago organization, recording 11 strikeouts over 5 2/3 one-hit innings but also issuing nine free passes and allowing six runs (three earned).
With the Tigers (40-56) having dropped 19 of 23 to fall out of contention in the AL Central, they’re setting up as sellers as the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline approaches. And right-hander Michael Fulmer and right fielder Nicholas Castellanos, two above-average players who are under affordable team control past this season, stand out among the Tigers’ potential trade chips.
The 26-year-old Fulmer is the more valuable of the two, considering he’s a proven, in-his-prime starter who’s making a near-minimum salary this season and isn’t scheduled to become a free agent until after the 2022 campaign. Fulmer, who’s due to make his first trip through arbitration over the winter, has drawn wide interest in recent weeks, as his MLBTR page shows. As you’d expect, then, he’s not someone whom the Tigers are going to give up for an insignificant return. The belief is Detroit would want “an impact bat” back in order to deal Fulmer, according to Katie Strang of The Athletic (subscription required). Unsurprisingly, Strang suggests that hitter would need to be young – “within a year or two of reaching the major leagues,” Strang writes.
With the Yankees among teams interested in Fulmer, one of their young outfielders, Clint Frazier, could perhaps be part of a trade between them and the Tigers. Frazier, 23, has the potential to serve as a quality major league hitter, though playing time has been hard to come by in New York because of a crowded outfield which features the established quartet of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks and Brett Gardner. Thanks to their presences, Frazier has totaled just 40 MLB plate appearances this year after racking up 142 a year ago. Further, with the possible exception of Gardner – who has a team option for 2019 – all of those players figure to start again for the Yankees next season. As such, the Yankees could cash in Frazier for a much-needed rotation upgrade – perhaps in the form of Fulmer.
The Tigers, for their part, are interested in both Frazier and teammate Tyler Wade, George A. King III of the New York Post reports. The 23-year-old Wade is versatile enough to play several positions, having lined up in the middle infield, at third base and at all three outfield spots in the minors. However, as with Frazier, there’s no clear path to playing time in New York for Wade – who has collected 114 big league PAs since 2017. In addition to their slew of capable outfielders, the Yankees have a set middle infield (second baseman Gleyber Torres and shortstop Didi Gregorius) and a potential long-term third baseman in Miguel Andujar (though he could be a trade chip if the Yankees upgrade at the hot corner with Manny Machado). That wealth of talent may help influence the Yankees to trade Wade, who was their 15th-ranked farmhand at Baseball America after last season.
Even though Frazier and Wade have piqued the Tigers’ interest, there’s no indication trade talks between them and the Yankees have gotten serious. In fact, New York hasn’t gone past the point of inquiring about Fulmer, per Marc Carig of The Athletic, who echoes Strang in noting the Tigers have placed a “high” asking price on him.
Castellanos, meanwhile, is “available,” Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets. An above-average hitter since 2016, the 26-year-old Castellanos is now enjoying a career season in which he has slashed an outstanding .306/.362/.523 with 15 home runs in 401 PAs. But despite that strong output – which, per FanGraphs’ wRC+ metric, has been 39 percent better than league average – there’s only “mild” interest in Castellanos, Strang writes. Teams are wary of Castellanos’ defensive shortcomings, Strang continues, after he struggled at third from 2014-17 and has been subpar across nearly 800 innings this year in right. In first extensive stint as an outfielder, Castellanos has posted a minus-5.2 Ultimate Zone Rating, minus-13 Defensive Runs Saved and a league-worst minus-16 Outs Above Average mark.
Despite his defensive questions, Castellanos could emerge as a major offensive piece for a contender if such a team acquires him in the next couple weeks. At $6.05MM, his 2018 salary doesn’t break the bank, and he still has another year of arbitration eligibility remaining. The Tigers reportedly had interest in handing him a contract extension after last season. No deal has come together, though, and thanks in part to that, Castellanos may be in the final weeks of his Detroit tenure.
The Tigers have released veteran reliever Junichi Tazawa, per the International League transactions page (h/t Chris Cotillo of MassLive.com, on Twitter). Also cut from the club’s Triple-A roster was fellow righty Mark Montgomery.
Tazawa, 32, signed with the Detroit organization in early June after he was cut loose by the Marlins. Unfortunately, his rough showing with the Fish followed him into the upper minors. In 7 2/3 innings for Toledo, Tazawa allowed eight earned runs while recording ten strikeouts against five walks.
It still seems reasonable to expect that the veteran will catch on somewhere on a minors deal. He has had plenty of success in the majors and the Marlins are on the hook for his $7MM salary (less the pro-rated minimum if he makes it back to the majors). But Tazawa has looked like a shell of his former self since making an ill-fated match with Miami. His velocity and swinging-strike rates are well off his prime levels.
As for Montgomery, the 27-year-old has long waited in vain for a MLB opportunity. In parts of six seasons at the highest level of the minors, he has thrown 182 1/3 innings of 2.71 ERA ball with 10.5 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9.
In today’s game of baseball, the 25th spot on each team’s active roster is arguably more valuable than it’s ever been. Managers are turning to their bullpens sooner than ever before, platoon situations have become commonplace, and defensive replacements and pinch runners remain a vital part of strategy late in close games. Most teams manipulate their rosters with painstaking attention to detail in order to maximize the balance of value and efficiency that each spot on the active roster yields.
That’s why dead weight on a roster can be damaging to a team in many ways. In essence, three major league clubs have committed to operating with 24 active roster spots so far during the 2018 season. Those teams are the Tigers, Red Sox and Angels, and their commitment to players who aren’t providing value (and aren’t likely to provide any this season) have not only cost them wins, but also but a strain on their teammates. Let’s explore these situations in depth…
Victor Reyes, Tigers- The number one overall pick in this past offseason’s Rule 5 Draft, Reyes must remain on Detroit’s active roster for the entire 2018 season or be offered back to the Diamondbacks. Prior to the season, he’d never played about Double-A, and ranked as the Tigers’ #25 overall prospect according to Baseball America. The biggest knocks on his game have always been his lack of power and his tendency to swing at bad pitches, which are fair concerns but fairly easy to stomach considering his speed, corner outfield defense and great contact skills.
That said, it’s painfully clear to everyone in baseball that Reyes doesn’t belong in the majors even a little bit, at least not right now. On the year, he’s hit just .241 with a nightmarish .547 OPS. Sure, it’s commonplace for Rule 5 draftees to struggle in the majors. But the difference here is that the Tigers are barely even giving Reyes a chance to work his issues out. While the young outfielder has appeared in 47 games, 16 of those have solely been as a pinch runner. In fact, Reyes has only been given 68 plate appearances, and he’s simultaneously been an offensive black hole and a defensive liability, according to Fangraphs. Those factors have led to a -0.5 fWAR figure that’s shockingly poor for someone with so little playing time. Speaking of playing time, it’s tough to expect him to develop properly if he’s getting such inconsistent opportunities, and with the way the Tigers are utilizing him it seems almost as though they’re willing to punt this year of his development entirely and wait to option him to the minors next year when the Rule 5 restrictions no longer apply.
The trade-off is that they’ll be able to add an upside contact player to their farm system if they can simply roster him at all times during a year when they’re not trying to win anyway. But even amidst a clear rebuilding phase, that roster spot could be used to give playing time to other young players who can actually be used; some of the talent they have at Triple-A at least deserve a look. Keeping an extra arm in the bullpen could also help prevent injury or exhaustion for a relief corps that’s been forced to shoulder a workload within the top 50th percentile in MLB. Sure, the whole point is that they get to keep Reyes if they hold onto him all year, but there’s a chance he’ll never develop into a useful player anyway. Is it worth the trouble if he hasn’t shown much promise yet?
Blake Swihart, Red Sox- We’ve discussed Swihart at length here on MLBTR, and while the roster around him has changed a bit, the situation has largely remained the same: Swihart’s presence on the roster is negatively impacting Boston’s contention for the AL East crown. The former top prospect’s star has dimmed dramatically since his MLB debut in 2015, and he’s only managed to scrape together enough offensive output to post a .185/.250/.210 batting line. Much like Reyes, Swihart has hardly been given any real playing time; he’s amassed just 88 plate appearances and 110 defensive innings.
Even with top backstop Christian Vazquez’ recent placement on the DL due to a fractured pinky, there’s no indication that Swihart’s benchwarming role with change any time soon. Although he came up through the Sox’ system as a catcher, he’s only appeared behind the plate a grand total of fifteen times in the past two seasons. This puts his team in quite a complicated predicament right now. On the surface, one might think the injury to Vazquez would force them to play Swihart more often. That would finally give the former top prospect one last chance to break through and prove he can stick behind the plate in the majors. However, there’s been no indication to this point that Swihart will actually receive that opportunity. The problem is that if Boston decides to acquire another catcher, they’re openly admitting to other teams that they don’t think Swihart deserves any opportunity to catch in the majors, even as a backup. That wouldn’t be a huge issue in a vacuum, but the Red Sox have been trying to trade Swihart in order to reap some value out of him, and giving up assets to acquire a backup catcher could theoretically expose their selling points on Swihart as pure bluff.
Regardless all the speculation and theory in the above paragraphs, it’s remarkably clear that Swihart is in the majors for one reason and one reason only: he’s out of minor-league options, and the Red Sox aren’t likely to sneak him through waivers with so many teams in full teardown mode. So they must either think that Swihart still retains some sort of high-ceiling potential, or that some other team will trade them something of value based on his top prospect pedigree. That might seem like a reasonable way to operate a ballclub at first glance; it’s certainly important to wring value from any place in which it can be found, after all. But problem in this situation is that the Sox are locked in a tight AL East race with the Yankees, and with each passing day he’s putting a drain on their ability to compete. To date, Swihart has been worth half a win below replacement level, and that’s in the meager playing time detailed above. If the club cuts bait later in the season, the choice to retain him for this long could be looked at as a glaring roster management error on the part of the part of Dave Dombrowski and the front office.
Albert Pujols, Angels- It’s no secret that Pujols’ contract is currently one of the worst in baseball, and perhaps among the worst contracts given out in baseball history. To date, he’s been paid about $130MM to provide about 6.4 fWAR to the Angels. That includes a -1.9 fWAR mark in 2017, and (like the other two players in this poll) half a win below replacement so far in 2018. By more traditional statistics, Pujols is hitting just .243/.281/.393 on the season, with a 4.5% walk rate that would be a career low. He’s played 400 rough innings at first base, is rated poorly on the basepaths, and continues to be one of the more shift-prone players in all of baseball.
The difference between Pujols and the other players on this list is that there’s virtually no hope that the former MVP can ever provide value to his team again. He’s 38 years old and has exhibited a steady decline in each of the past four seasons. In his prime, Pujols was not only a power god, but also enjoyed ten consecutive seasons with a walk total that exceeded his strikeouts. And while he still avoids strikeouts at an impressive rate for the current MLB climate, the walks have practically disappeared in recent seasons.
It’s clear that Pujols is only holding onto his roster spot by virtue of his past performance (and the respect he deserves for it), and the amount of money he’s being paid. But is that a wise way for a franchise to operate? The Angels entered the season as a hopeful contender, and while they’re surely disappointed to be sitting at a mere 45-45, they’ve still got at least an outside shot of a Wild Card berth. Holding onto Pujols isn’t going to help them make up the 11.5 games they’d need to over the season’s final two and a half months. There are plenty of better ways the Angels could use his spot on the roster, and even the average first baseman at Triple-A would be a better bet to improve the team.
Each of these players has cost his club half a win across half a season. There’s certainly nothing bad to be said about any of them as people, but for baseball purposes in a vacuum, which one is the worst use of a valuable roster spot on the whole? (Poll link for app users)
- Tigers infielder Dixon Machado has cleared waivers and accepted an outright assignment to Triple-A Toledo, per an announcement from Detroit. Machado had the right to elect free agency instead, but he’ll remain with the Tigers, who designated him on July 4. Although the 26-year-old opened the season as the Tigers’ starting second baseman, he lost his grip on both that job and his roster spot after hitting just .206/.263/.290 in 233 plate appearances.