Drew Sharp: Tigers stuck with too many holes, too few options for help

Looking for a fresh metaphor to describe the Detroit Tigers over the first half of the season?

They’re spinning their wheels in a mud hole. Dirt’s spraying. Tires are screeching. Rocking back and forth. Every promising inch forward quickly stifled by a discouraging inch backward.

The Tigers are stuck.

They’re stuck with what they have. They’re stuck with who they are. They’re limited in what they could buy at the trading deadline. They’re limited in what they could sell at the deadline.

There are no readily available remedies because there is no single flaw that’s easily diagnosed and treated. If the issue were simply starting pitching depth, add a rental for a reasonable cost of minor league prospects (like Doug Fister in 2011 and Anibal Sanchez in 2012).

But the timing hurts the Tigers most.

Their time has passed. They just can’t admit it just yet.

It’s not that they’re old and overpaid. It’s that other teams are a little younger and much hungrier for that first taste of playoff success. It happens. It’s unavoidable. It’s the natural evolution of contention.

When new teams rise up (Cleveland, Kansas City, Toronto, Houston), the old standard bearers can’t help but fall (the Yankees, Angels and Tigers).

Nobody wants to think the Tigers are quitting on themselves or their passionate loyalists. But doing nothing by the Aug. 1 non-waiver trading deadline increasingly becomes the most viable option for a franchise with little to no fiscal and personnel options. Just ride it out and see what happens.

There are only three quality veterans they could “sell” right now and potentially receive a Michael Fulmer-like top-five prospect in return: Ian Kinsler, J.D. Martinez and closer Francisco Rodriguez. All three provide contractual certainty through the 2017 season, making them more attractive to contenders and enticing those buyers to perhaps part a little more freely with a premium prospect.

But the problem for the Tigers is that all three are integral facets of general manager Al Avila’s two-year contention plan because of the relative inexpensiveness of their contracts. According to Spotrac.com, Kinsler, Martinez and Rodriguez will combine for $29 million in 2017. That’s one million more for those three together than what Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander each will make next season.

Avila’s off-season sales pitch to owner Mike Ilitch was that the Tigers still had two more years of serious playoff contention. Ilitch ponied up more millions to sign Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Upton, giving Upton an opt-out clause at the end of the 2017 season.

It’s highly unlikely Avila abandons that plan after one season.

He’s stuck.

If the Tigers opt to “buy” half-year rentals at the trade deadline, there isn’t anyone out there even remotely close to the high impact of David Price and Yoenis Cespedes, whom the Tigers traded last year for a covey of quality minor leaguers. And even if there were, the Tigers would be crazy to part with top-flight prospects such as outfielder Christin Stewart, reliever Joe Jimenez or starting pitcher Beau Burrows because this season isn’t merely one patched hole shy of staying afloat.

They’re stuck.

The Tigers have underachieved … period.

It doesn’t matter that the payroll’s $200 million or 200 cents. It’s counterproductive to cry about outrageously ballooning salaries and any conspiratorial relationship between that and an individual player’s supposed indifference toward winning. Players aren’t paid what they’re worth, but rather what they can freely negotiate. And anyone who honestly believes that these guys aren’t pushing themselves as hard as possible every single day is clueless.

But the approaching second half is increasingly less about the money spent and more about the moment lost.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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