Detroit Tigers’ fire sale ready to commence

Steve Brownlee

From the sounds of Detroit Tigers commentators in recent days, and then the team pulling off a trade of former All-Star J.D. Martinez on Tuesday night, the Tigers seem ready to hold a fire sale — trading its aging stars for young prospects.

Thank goodness.

Not that I’m thrilled that this team seems to take two steps back whenever it takes a step forward — its season-high win streak is four game compared to a worst losing streak of eight — but it’s a pipe dream if you think these Tigers as constituted can even think of trying to win it all.

In my 45 years of following this team, the current club most reminds me of Tigers teams from the mid-1970s not long after I first began to follow them. Those teams were also creaky with over-the-hill holdovers from the 1968 World Series champions and the 1972 playoff qualifiers.

Pre-free agency, players didn’t move around nearly as much as now, so the Tigers were stuck until they could get in a new crop of players that led to their 1984 title. Guys like Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Kirk Gibson and Jack Morris.

Now is the time to trade what you can, blow up this sucker and start over. Much like 2015, but a lot more severe.

You’ll remember that year, the Tigers teetered on the edge of the playoff conversation, but decided they couldn’t make a run at it. The objective that year was to get rid of stars whose contracts were about to expire and that they’d lose in free agency unless they wanted to get into a bidding war with the likes of the Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs and Dodgers.

Most famously, they got minor league pitcher Michael Fulmer from the Mets for slugging outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who New York then had to sign to a big deal before the 2016 season started.

Trading out pitchers David Price and Joakim Soria netted them younger hurlers Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd and two others I haven’t heard from since along with outfielder JaCoby Jones.

Fulmer, hmmm … let’s see, isn’t he the Tigers’ best pitcher and only All-Star representative this season until outfielder Justin Upton was called on as an injury replacement?

Yeah, that Fulmer.

This year, the theme will probably be the fountain of youth. Players who are in their mid-30s, or will be by the time this team is ready to contend again, look to be available. Martinez was close at age 29, but he also has a contract expiring at the end of this season.

Pitching-wise, that means 34-year-old Justin Verlander and 29-year-old closer Justin Wilson should be on the block, and if somebody trusts him, 33-year-old Anibal Sanchez. Positionally, that also means 30-year-old Alex Avila, 35-year-old Ian Kinsler, 34-year-old Miguel Cabrera and 38-year-old Victor Martinez could be available.

I wouldn’t expect Cabrera or Victor Martinez to go far since they haven’t looked like their old selves this season, with Cabrera under contract until 2023 at $30 million a year and Victor looking his age, injuries and all.

I look at good trades as serving two purposes — they not only will inject some quality young talent into the franchise, but dump some pretty sizable contracts to be used on different top-notch players in the future.

Speaking of jettisoning some of the Tigers’ most familiar faces, I’ve wondered if manager Brad Ausmus is and should be on the hot seat.

While I’ve never been a big fan of letting the manager go just because he’s a lot easier to fire than all the players, too often the Tigers’ play looks like the laid-back attitude Ausmus projects during games.

One recent half-inning shone the spotlight on this lackadaisical play, and I had to go back and watch the replay of the game to pinpoint all of it.

We’re in the top of the third inning and the Tigers are in the field during what turned out to be a 5-4 home loss on July 5 to the also-struggling San Francisco Giants. With the 24-year-old Norris on the mound, three things really irked me.

First of all, there was an attempted sacrifice bunt where no one covered first base, so it turned into an infield hit and put runners on first and third. Forget about the runner, this was an opportunity lost for an out.

Secondly, a hot shot hit back to Norris bounced out of his glove and onto the ground. The Tigers’ announcer on the field, I believe it was ex-player Craig Monroe, said he heard no fielder call to the pitcher to at least look to third base, if not throw there.

Instead, Norris hurried, but made a good throw to get the batter out at first base. However, the runner on third, frozen halfway down the line, just languidly strode home. It didn’t cost an out, but it did cost a run.

And third, the color man in the booth, ex-player Rod Allen, said it was about time Ausmus or pitching coach Rich Dubee go out to the mound to settle down Norris after these atrocities ended up costing him two crucial runs. It never happened, but Norris got lucky and made the third out without another run being scored.

The Tigers came back from a 5-0 deficit with four runs in the seventh, but got no more and lost by a single run. The third inning made all the difference — that’s what really stuck in my craw that night.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.