The Tigers are interested in acquiring a bat – preferably right-handed – before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. By OPS, they rank last in the American League at second base, right field and designated hitter – leaving club president/general manager Dave Dombrowski with a number of ways to upgrade the roster.
Whether they actually trade for an impact hitter could hinge, to some degree, on reports about the health of Victor Martinez over the next several weeks. Martinez has missed all of this season while recovering from left knee surgery.
“The possibility (of Martinez returning) exists in a strong enough fashion that you have to give it some thought, but I don’t really know where that stands – and I don’t know that we will know until July,” Dombrowski said in an interview Sunday morning. “We may get Martinez and (Al) Alburquerque back. Those would be two pretty good acquisitions, and our bullpen actually has pitched pretty well in recent times.”
Alburquerque, a reliever who struck out 67 batters in 43 1/3 innings last year, hasn’t pitched this season after undergoing right elbow surgery. Dombrowski said Alburquerque could return around the All-Star break. He could be a boon for the Detroit bullpen, particularly given the recent injury to Octavio Dotel and inconsistency of closer Jose Valverde.
The streaky Brennan Boesch is responsible for the subpar production in right field, and the outfield picture has been muddled by the absence of Andy Dirks, a .328 hitter who hasn’t played this month because of tendinitis in his right Achilles tendon. Dirks wore a walking boot around the clubhouse Sunday; he doesn’t appear close to returning.
Dombrowski acknowledged that Dirks may not be back in the majors until around the All-Star break.
“We’ve been taken a little by surprise – not by anything he’s done – (but) by how long it’s taken,” Dombrowski said. “Now we’re being very careful with him – very cautious. We want to get him back, but if it takes longer than we thought, that’s what we have to do.”
One wild card in the outfield matrix: Rookie Quintin Berry, who went 5-for-5 Sunday, is making a strong argument for everyday playing time in left field. Berry has an .845 OPS in 23 games, is 9-for-9 in stolen bases and brings an element of speed the Tigers have lacked in recent years. Berry had played center field while Austin Jackson was on the disabled list; the Tigers are 6-2 since Jackson returned.
Dombrowski said trade deadline buyers and sellers are beginning to take shape – right on schedule, now that it’s the middle of June. “There are probably some clubs right now, that if the right deal came, they would make it,” he said. “There are some clubs who have already identified themselves as being willing to move some players.” (Dombrowski didn’t offer specifics, but the Cubs and Astros are among them.)
While the Tigers are expected to pursue Padres outfielder Carlos Quentin if he becomes available, their most obvious need is at second base. The team entered Sunday with a .507 OPS at the position this season, the worst in the major leagues. Without specifying where he would like to upgrade his lineup, Dombrowski said second base is one position where there is a scarcity of available everyday players throughout the majors.
Among potential deadline sellers, only the Astros (Jose Altuve), Rockies (Marco Scutaro), Blue Jays (Kelly Johnson) and Cubs (Darwin Barney) have second basemen with at least 200 at-bats and an OPS over .700.
The Tigers would be reluctant to part with third base prospect Nick Castellanos in any trade. Castellanos recently earned a promotion to Class AA Erie after batting .405 at Class A Lakeland. His early numbers at Erie (.521 OPS in nine games) are less robust. He has not played in several days because of a hand injury, which Dombrowski indicated is not serious.
“It’s only been a short time (at Erie), only 36 at-bats, and he needs to be challenged,” Dombrowski said. “When guys hit .400 for a couple months, you’re probably in a position where it’s time to move them on, because he needs to be challenged a little more. That’s part of the development of a player. We didn’t expect him to go to Double-A and tear it up.”
With Jacob Turner on his way to the majors for a spot start this week and Andy Oliver walking too many hitters at Class AAA, some of Detroit’s most desirable prospects may be at Class A West Michigan: catcher Curt Casali, shortstop Eugenio Suarez and outfielder Steven Moya.
-- Jon Paul Morosi