Meet the new roster, same as the old roster


The non-waiver trade deadline has come and gone. If you were looking for laser lights and dry ice, followed by a kick-ass drum solo and some jarring guitar chords from the Tigers organization, you were undoubtedly disappointed. The Tigers made zero moves. Zero. As in, less than any number that is more than none.

If that's surprising, it probably shouldn't be, given that General Manager Al Avila said during the weeks leading up to the deadline, in so many words, "we're going to make zero moves." Give the guy points for total honesty.

So what now? From one point of view, it feels like every other team in Major League Baseball did something to improve their future, while the Tigers did absolutely nothing. From another point of view, it feels like every other team in Major League Baseball did something to improve their future, while the Tigers did absolutely nothing.

Avila had his reasons. With the imminent return of Jordan Zimmermann, Daniel Norris, and J.D. Martinez, he felt like it was almost as if the Tigers were acquiring key players for the stretch run. Justin Verlander tweeted out at the end of the deadline day, "Sometimes guys coming back from injury can be just as big of an acquisition as a blockbuster trade."

That's one reason.

Another reason is that, according to multiple sources, teams who approached the Tigers as potential trade partners all wanted one or more of Matt Boyd, Michael Fulmer, Daniel Norris, and Joe Jimenez. The asking price was just too high for anyone's comfort level.

A third reason was the condition of the trade market. There just weren't any really impressive starting pitchers out there, especially not when teams were asking so much in return.

So how should we feel about this? Let's go the multiple choice route.

#1 The optimistic view

The return of Zimmermann, Norris, and J.D. Martinez will indeed be a huge boost to the team down the stretch. Joe Jimenez -- who was just promoted to the Triple A Toledo Mud Hens last week -- will undoubtedly make his appearance in a Tigers uniform by September at the latest.

After sweeping the Red Sox and Astros back-to-back last week, the Tigers now sit a mere four games behind the first place Indians, and are only one game back in the wild card standings. Why make any splashy moves and have to give up young talent in exchange for a starter whose name would probably make most of us say "who?!"

The Tigers are positioned to make the playoffs. As of this writing, the gurus at FiveThirtyEight are drinking liquid datasets and projecting that the Tigers have a 54 percent chance of playing in the postseason, and a 22 percent chance of winning the division. They made the right moving by standing pat at the deadline.

#2 The pessimistic view

Jordan Zimmermann pitched like a beast in April, stubbornly refusing to give up runs and finishing the month with a 0.55 ERA, a 2.81 FIP, and a 1.061 WHIP. He was striking out less than a batter per inning, but hey, FIVE AND OH TO START THE SEASON, BABY!

Since that red hot start, he's battled injuries and made ten starts in which he flushed his sparkling numbers down the toilet: a 5.75 ERA, 3.97 FIP, 1.341 WHIP, and a strikeout rate of closer to one batter every two innings. Getting him back in the next week or so might help the team, but it depends entirely on which Zimmermann shows up.

J.D. Martinez has missed 39 games, but it's not like the team has suffered greatly in his absence. Before his injury, the Tigers were 33-32 (a .508 win percentage) and scoring 4.7 runs per game. Since he's been gone, the team is 23-16 (a .590 win percentage) and is scoring ... 4.7 runs per game. 

There may be a slight uptick in their offense when he comes back, but he's also been a liability in run prevention from the defensive side of the ball. The outfield as a whole this season has been worth close to -40 defensive runs above average, according to Fangraphs, and J.D. has contributed -14 runs to that figure in right field so far this season.

As for Daniel Norris ... he's a question mark, if we're being totally honest. In his last six starts, three with the Tigers and three more in Toledo while rehabbing, he's posted a 5.27 ERA with a 4.82 FIP, and a WHIP of 1.500. 

His strikeouts-per-nine-innings is a healthy 9.9, but actually watching him pitch makes the problem fairly clear: he's still missing his location with a lot of pitches, so in between all the strikeouts there are lots of baserunners and too many dingers. If he can find consistent command, if he can bring his WHIP down, if he can limit the long ball while still getting the strikeouts ... if, if, if.

Maybe the Tigers should have gone shopping after all?

#3 The realistic view

The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Al Avila was probably right to protect his young pitchers and not mortgage the future for a lick and a promise. The Tigers desperately need to cultivate their farm system, not empty it out again, especially when it probably wouldn't increase their playoff odds enough to make it worth the cost.

ROI is a real thing, folks, and it will steal your milk money and pants you in the hallway if you don't respect it.

Getting Zimmermann, Norris, and J.D. Martinez back will help to some extent, but it won't be the equivalent of going all-out and buying platinum-label talent at the deadline. Not unless, by some miracle, Brad Ausmus bumps Mike Pelfrey out of the rotation, but that's probably not happening.

Michael Fulmer began his reign of dominance on May 21, and since that time, the Tigers are 38-26. The Cleveland Indians are only 39-25 in that same stretch, so this division race is far, far from over. The Tigers only need to keep doing what they've been doing for the last 64 games, with the same group they've been running out onto the field, and most importantly of all, they need to start beating the Indians.

It's still a flawed team, and they didn't get better after the deadline, but they didn't get worse either. They've got a good shot at making the playoffs, and a reasonable shot at winning the division, but they're going to need to play consistently good baseball from here on out. 

But they were going to need to do that anyway, no matter what they did at the deadline.
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