When Al Avila promoted third baseman Isaac Paredes and pitchers Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal on Aug. 17, he made his intentions clear:
He wants the Detroit Tigers to make the playoffs in 2020, and in a shortened MLB season, there never has been a better opportunity for a rebuilding organization to join the hunt.
“We’re still trying to win as many games as we can,” said Avila, the Tigers’ general manager.. “I mean, we’d love to be in the playoffs this year. Obviously, we’re going to make some efforts to get there.”
Less than a week after those comments, the Tigers already have fallen to the fringes of any realistic playoff conversation. That fall is sure to impact whether Avila ends up as a buyer or seller at the only trade deadline of the season.
The 60-game season makes Aug. 31 the most unpredictable trade deadline in history — thanks to COVID-19 concerns, roster restrictions (teams can only trade from the 60-man player pool) and an expanded 16-team playoff, which gives nearly every team a chance for a late push.
That even is true for the Tigers, despite following a 9-5 start with a nine-game losing streak, which finally ended Friday in a win against the Cleveland Indians.
Still, with each loss, it becomes harder for Avila to approach the trade deadline as a buyer. He alluded to this fact Aug. 17. .
“We can’t lose sight of the future,” he said. “Because we can’t be short-sighted. We have to make sure that what we do today helps us as we move along — next year, the following year and so on.”
He accomplished that in the short term by promoting Mize, Skubal and Paredes for their debuts, which will help prepare them for when the Tigers try to contend in the coming seasons. And he can double down on that effort later this month by trying to flip some of the Tigers’ one-year contracts for a prospect who might help in the future.
The Tigers’ most tradeable options include catcher Austin Romine, second baseman Jonathan Schoop and right-hander Ivan Nova — all signed in the winter and set to become free agents at the end of this season. Down the road, the Tigers have veterans under control beyond that, which could help their trade appeal: Left-hander Daniel Norris can enter free agency after next season, with lefty Matthew Boyd and righty reliever Buck Farmer eligible the following year.
“I do still think that if a club needs to add a hitter or add a pitcher, and there’s a club that maybe has a guy who’s going to be a free agent at the end of the year, there might be a match there,” Avila said. “There also might be matches where you trade prospect for prospect within the 60-man limit.
“… (But) I find it hard to believe that in the environment we’re in that guys are gonna be making a lot of trades and picking up high-salary guys. It seems highly unlikely.”
Since then, they have spiraled against the tougher portion of their schedule, with just 3.2 runs a game over that nine-game skid.
Before catching a plane from Chicago to Cleveland, Cabrera, Romine and outfielder Cameron Maybin — all big-league veterans — spoke up in the clubhouse to rebuke the team’s shortcomings. While Boyd, who took a 9.64 ERA into his start Saturday, said the result is “never as bad as it seems,” the Tigers were losers of 20 straight against the Indians before Friday’s win and nearly broke the Royals’ record of 23 consecutive losses (against the Baltimore Orioles) against a single opponent, set in 1969-70.
“We haven’t played our best baseball yet,” Boyd said Friday. “We haven’t pitched our best. We haven’t hit our best. I know there are lots of things we can do better.”
Perhaps. But it might be too little, too late, for this season’s trade deadline.
Expanding the playoffs from 10 teams to 16 gave anyone above .500 hope, but the Tigers (10-14) are at the bottom of the AL Central, trailing the Twins (17-10), Indians (16-10), White Sox (16-11) and Royals (11-15).
With 36 games left to play, the Tigers can see what happens over the next week before making a final decision on what to do at the deadline. But they’re just as well to use the remainder of this season to help players such as Mize, Skubal and Paredes adapt to the big leagues. .
After all, there’s little chance the Tigers win the World Series in 2020. Even the postseason seems unlikely after dropping nine consecutive games.
So sell now, develop now and buy later.
And see what happens in 2021.
“It takes a while for guys to ease themselves into the day-to-day routine and find their way to successful longevity,” Avila said. “But the talent is there. We’re getting that first wave, and it’s a time to be excited as far as being a Tiger fan at this point.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Detroit Tigers content.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers making GM Al Avila’s trade deadline decision easy