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Why the Tigers will buy at the trade deadline

There are compelling arguments to sell, but no team has a better bird-in-the-hand argument than the Tigers.

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They're booing Justin Verlander in Detroit.

Not everyone. Not a majority of the fans. Probably not even close. This was on Sunday, and everyone has since moved on to booing the bullpen, but enough people booed Verlander to be heard. Verlander is diplomatic about it, but it has to hurt. He'll get a standing ovation for his next quality start, but right now there are boos.

At the risk of playing armchair psychiatrist to the masses, it makes sense. The boos weren't dissatisfaction with Verlander the player, person, or teammate. The boos weren't for a cheap owner or a laughably incompetent front office. The boos weren't frustration boiling over in the middle of a third straight 100-loss season. The boos are this:

I'm confused. This is awful. What are we watching? We were promised different things. This isn't what we were promised. Everything is on fire. What is going on with the Tigers, and when is it going to stop?

Verlander was just the wrong player at the wrong time, specifically because he was once the right player at the right time. Booing Justin Verlander is an impolite way of screaming, "I'm freaaaaaking out."

So it goes for Tigers fans, who are watching a team that's a game under .500 in July. It's the first time since 2010 that the Tigers have been under .500 this late in the season, except that team still had a young Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer. This team has an older Miguel Cabrera on the disabled list. Tigers fans are used to MVPs and Cy Youngs and MVPs. Now they're watching A Christmas Carol reboot with the Philadelphia Phillies rattling chains behind them. The window appears to be closing, and everyone's looking around for a chair to toss through the window.

If that seems apocalyptic, well, yeah. Everyone thinks like that after a rough loss, and then they shake it off before the next game. (Which was also a tough loss, but bear with me.) Here's the twist, though: There's still a chance for the Tigers. FanGraphs has them at a 24 percent chance to make the postseason, and they'll probably be active at the deadline. There's just some debate about what "active at the deadline" is going to mean for them.

From Bless You Boys:

What *should* the Tigers do? The fanbase seems to be divided down the middle, though the respective size of the "buy" and "sell" camps seems to be directly related to whether the Tigers won or lost their last game. This morning? Sure, buy! Go all in! If Shane Greene gives up six runs tonight? Sell everything! We are all irrational beings, and wasting pages of words on a bunch of grown men playing a game in funny costumes.

Greene gave up only five runs after that was written, so Tigers fans are probably optimistic today. Baby steps.

You can make an argument that the Tigers should trade David Price and Yoenis Cespedes, empty the roster of whatever other teams will take, and start the reloading process. You can also make an argument that this is as good as the Tigers are going to have it for a while, so there's no sense jumping out of the moving car now. It's time to explore both of those arguments.

The best-case scenario if the Tigers sell

They get eight different prospects, all of whom become major leaguers. A few of them become stars and usher in a new era of Tigers dominance.

The worst-case scenario if the T--

Wait, wait, wait. Go back to that first one. It seems a little ... much. When the Rangers built the frame of a pennant winner with one trade (Mark Teixeira), they got a shortstop, a starter and a reliever. When the Indians traded Bartolo Colon, they got an outfielder, a starter and an infielder, and the infielder didn't even blossom until years later. Yet, those are lopsided trades we remember years later.

Give me a realistic best-case scenario.

The realistic best-case scenario if the Tigers sell

They'll get a star. Maybe two if they make an all-time lopsided deal, but if we're being rational, the best-case scenario is that they get a star. A realistic scenario is they get a couple of very nice players.

If you think that's too cynical, look up any list of trade deadline blockbusters. Here's one from 2012 that will do nicely. The Indians got Michael Brantley for CC Sabathia. The Red Sox got several years of Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Slocumb. The Mariners got Carlos Guillen and Freddy Garcia for Randy Johnson. Trading away veterans at the deadline can make roster-building easier for years to come.


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But prospects aren't tomato plants. If you put them on your windowsill and water regularly, you aren't going to get nice, predictable results. Some of the prospects will arrive right away; some of them will take their time; some of them will move on to other teams before they figure it out; most of them will never be productive major leaguers. The teams built from the biggest prospect hauls had ups and downs, and very, very rarely did they lead to championships. Lowe and Varitek are the clear exceptions, not the rule.

This isn't to say that it's never a good idea to trade veterans for prospects. The argument for dismantling the Reds didn't take a lot of abstract thought. But there's always room for a reminder that prospects are the weird kids from high school. Some of them start software companies, and some of them spend their days making YouTube comments. And you don't know what kind of team will be around those prospects if they arrive.

I'm a convert. I wanted the Giants to blow the 2013 team up and mail the parts to Abu Dhabi. Hunter Pence could have given the Giants prospects, don't you see? Prospects. The acquisition of prospects is the ultimate goal for baseball fans ... in July ... watching a frustrating team. For the people paid to have long-term outlooks, though, things usually aren't that simple. Pence was hard enough to replace that the Giants valued the exclusive negotiating window after the season. The core was compelling enough to reload instead of rebuild. What looked like a predictable deadline fire sale became a missed opportunity, and the missed opportunity became an extremely fortuitous and well-timed strategy.

The Tigers have a different set of circumstances, but the point remains the same. The core is special enough to consider reinforcements instead of replacements, and that's true for the last two months of the season.

The ultimate best-case scenario is a couple of greats, maybe. A Jeff Bagwell or a John Smoltz. A more realistic best-case scenario is a couple of really nice players for a long time. Those are fine scenarios. You just have to weigh them against ...

The best-case scenario if the Tigers buy

The good players keep it up, the disappointing players stop being disappointing, the hurt players get healthy and the bad players are replaced with better players. The Tigers outplay the rest of the American League for two months, and they get another postseason chance with Cabrera.

That's as flip as the "new era of Tigers dominance" portion up there, except it's not meant to be absurd. A starter or two, some bullpen help and maybe a third baseman would do wonders for this team. Enough to make them favorites? No. Enough to justify the loss of prospects, which are already a little scarce? Can't answer that, but it would sure make me nervous as a Tigers fan. If prospects are erratic, well, so are the fortunes of a team that's five games out of the wild card race.

I just know that David Price is an ace, and I don't know what the 2018 Tigers will have. I know that Miguel Cabrera is an MVP, and I don't know what he'll be like in two years, when the prospect bounty is ready for harvest. Rooting for a team that's attempting to come back from a five-game wild card deficit is like rooting for a pair of doubles off an All-Star closer -- against the odds, but you've seen it happen.

If you're looking for me to answer this question, ha ha, forget it. I'm just a baseball nerd on the Internet. But I forgot to mention, these scenarios aren't really meant for you. They're meant for Tigers owner Mike Illitch. Re-read them with him in mind. He just turned 86 on Monday. Happy birthday, Mr. Illitch! The best-case scenario for buying is a dream you can touch. The best-case scenario for selling is a trailer for a movie you're not sure you'll ever see.

There could be a lot more bad baseball between now and the deadline, which would make the choice obvious. If there's any ambiguity, though, you should have a good idea of which direction the Tigers will head. The best-case scenarios of both sides give you an idea why. If the Tigers are close, they're going for it.

Can you blame them?


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