Imagining some trades that might help the Tigers in 2014

Ian Kinsler would fill a hole for the Detroit Tigers at second base. Max Scherzer is rumored to be traded this off-season.

Ian Kinsler would fill a hole for the Detroit Tigers at second base. Max Scherzer is rumored to be traded this off-season.

Max Scherzer, we are hearing, might be on the trade market. With free agency looming for the Detroit Tigers’ 20-game winner, Detroit can’t afford to keep him, along with Prince Fielder, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Austin Jackson, and others — and still have enough money to retain Miguel Cabrera after his contract expires at the end of 2015. The time to make a Scherzer trade, say most observers, is this off-season. Other teams won’t be as eager to acquire him once the new season starts — and if the Tigers wait and lose him to free agency, they’ll only get a draft pick in return.

Such is baseball these days: a pitcher entering his prime has a Cy Young year and makes himself unaffordable, even for a team with one of the top payrolls in the game.

Fantasize, though, what Scherzer could bring in a trade. At this point, it’s more fun just to dream up deals rather than check the rumor mills to see if they’re plausible. How about Max to Boston for Daniel Nava, Koji Uehara, and Craig Breslow? With their World Series money, maybe the Red Sox have enough payroll flexibility to sign him to a big contract. If Scherzer goes, Drew Smyly gets moved into the starting rotation, and Uehara sure would strengthen the bullpen.

Perhaps, in another deal, the Tigers could get a young corner outfielder or a second baseman and let Infante, also a free agent, walk away.

Scherzer to the Phillies for Chase Utley and Jonathan Papelbon? Well, that wouldn’t save the Tigers any money. Scherzer to the Cardinals for Matt Carpenter and Carlos Martinez? To the Marlins for Giancarlo Stanton and Steve Cishek? You can play this game all day, and the dreams just get wilder.

Detroit front office honcho Dave Dombrowski says he’s going to get a proven closer, which means Joaquin Benoit and Jose Veras are bye-bye (Veras has been non-tendered already). The trouble with trading value as solid as Scherzer for a proven closer is that there aren’t many closers who are consistent year to year. What are the Tigers going to do, bring back Fernando Rodney and hope he performs like he did in 2012 not 2013? The closer position is overpriced and overrated, and the Tigers do have young Bruce Rondon and his 102-mile-per-hour heater waiting in the wings. If he’s not quite ready, he at least needs a chance to grow into his role. Maybe a veteran like Joe Nathan could help him, but I still contend that would be a waste of money.

The Tigers are an aging team and need to capitalize on the star players they have who are still in their prime. Assembling a group this good is difficult. But the 2013 season also made it clear the Tigers need more versatility — more speed and defense — and bullpen help.
An interesting trade partner might be Texas. The Rangers need a middle infield spot to open up to play promising super-prospect Jurickson Profar. Many believe they might be willing to trade Ian Kinsler. How would a Scherzer for Kinsler deal look? Well, the Rangers don’t really need starting pitching. What they do need, however, is a DH/first baseman to split time with Mitch Moreland. Would Texas be open to a Prince Fielder for Kinsler deal?

Detroit might have to agree to take on some of the money for Prince’s long, rich contract, which during Fielder’s post-season slump was starting to look like an albatross. Unlike many in Motown, I really like the Prince, I think he’s dependable and valuable, but after 2013 and the excruciating sight of a gimpy Miggy at the hot corner, the fact is quite plain: Miguel Cabrera should be a DH. And Victor Martinez can play a very decent first base.

If Dombrowski traded Fielder for Kinsler, he would have no need to re-sign Infante and he could return Nick Castellanos to his original position, third base. It’s time to give Castellanos a shot in the everyday lineup, but he’s only been a left fielder for a year or so, he’d be more comfortable back at the hot corner, and it would help the Tigers situation.

I wonder if the Rangers would even consider Fielder for Profar? Probably they wouldn’t want to part with such a young, hot prospect. But if they did, Profar could play third for now, and the Tigers could afford to re-sign Infante for a year or two. Since we’re dreaming, wouldn’t it be fun to see this lineup?

Iglesias, ss
Hunter, rf
Cabrera, dh
Martinez 1b
Profar, 3b
Jackson, cf
Castellanos/Dirks platoon, lf
Infante, 2b
Avila, c

These are what I see as priorities for the Tigers this off-season:

- Open up the DH role for Miggy—get him off third base, at least to help as much as possible to keep him healthy.

- Work Castellanos and Rondon into bigger positions.

- Consider taking the money you are spending on Fielder and spin it into keeping Scherzer and Miggy long-term. If you keep Max, you could use Smyly as a super-bullpen ace who could pitch multiple innings two or more times a week. Brad Ausmus is smart enough to consider this sort of bullpen innovation that bucks the current orthodoxy.

This is still a championship squad if you find a way to make it more multifaceted. Getting Jose Iglesias was the first step in a modest but necessary revamping. Most World Series winners have a good mix of experience and youth, of power and finesse. You can’t stand still these days and win in the MLB — either in the front office or on the basepaths.

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About Michael Betzold

Author of Queen of Diamonds: The Tiger Stadium Story and other books, former Detroit Free Press reporter Michael Betzold always wore #4 to honor his first hero, the "Sunday Punch," Charlie "Paw Paw" Maxwell.