It could be said that the best trades occur when a team receives a lot and gives almost nothing. The Detroit Tigers are the rare team that may have exactly this type of fortune coming to them in the near future.
Detroit, which has been linked to almost every mid-rotation starting pitcher available during the trade season, may actually have better fortune coming their way than many had expected — due to the impending return of Jordan Zimmermann (as well as that of Daniel Norris).
Zimmermann, 30, began his rehab for the Toledo Mud Hens (AAA) this past Sunday, tossing four scoreless innings and allowing only four hits during his abbreviated start. Because Zimmermann was so good and so efficient during the start (throwing only 50 pitches), he will be called on again for Toledo’s rotation — making what will likely be his final “tune up” start on Friday, July 29th.
During his eight seasons in MLB, Zimmermann has pitched to a career record of 79-54, with a 3.37 ERA and a 1.166 WHIP, in 1189.2 IP. This year in Detroit, his first of five contracted years, he has pitched to a 9-4 record with a 3.95 ERA in 95.2 IP. His FIP of 3.57 shows that he had been a little unlucky and should be able to trim his ERA and perform as a very solid #2 or #3 SP for the Tigers during the rest of the season.
The news for prospect Daniel Norris hasn’t been as good lately, as Thursday in his third rehab start he pitched 6.2 IP, allowing only five hits and striking out seven; however, he also gave up three earned runs, three walks and two home runs in a AA start for the Erie SeaWolves. Remember, Norris was supposed to solidify the Tigers’ #5 spot in the rotation. Now he seems like an afterthought thanks to the recent performances by SPs Matt Boyd and Michael Fulmer.
Assuming that Boyd (has shown flashes) and Fulmer (pitching like a Cy Young candidate) stay in the rotation, along with Justin Verlander, and Zimmerman can come back strong, you would have only one rotation slot to fill with Norris (4.85 ERA and 4.37 FIP), Anibal Sanchez (6.56 ERA and 5.16 FIP) or Mike Pelfrey (4.98 ERA and 5.28 FIP) — assuming a trade for a SP does not happen. This is much better than having to fill three slots with these three names!
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Of course, if your pitching is failing you on a certain night, you can always look forward to a lineup that is top-10 in runs scored (t-9th), hits (5th), BA (6th), HR (7th), SLG (7th) and OPS (8th). These numbers may look even better once RF J.D. Martinez comes back from his broken elbow, which has cost him almost six weeks since he injured it running into an outfield wall in Kansas City on June 16th.
Martinez, who was hitting .286 with 12 HR and 39 RBI in 252 AB this season, will be a major upgrade in RF over Mike Aviles, who Tigers manager Brad Ausmus has been playing regularly in this position as of late. Aviles is currently hitting .211 with 1 HR and 6 RBI in 152 AB on the season.
In his last two seasons, Martinez combined to hit .296, with 61 HR and 178 RBI, plus 150 runs scored, including a .282-38-102 line last season. With 60 games left in the season and his return impending, even if Martinez could hit a “typical” .275-12-45, he would be an enormous upgrade.
While the Tigers could certainly use another arm in their rotation, the smart move (not to be confused with the sexy move) may be to stand pat and let the return of Zimmermann and Martinez propel the team toward the AL Central crown or the AL Wild Card, which they are right in the mix for.
Sometimes acquiring two All-Star level players — Martinez (2015) and Zimmermann (2016) — and giving away nothing is the best thing a team can have happen to them during a playoff push. GM Al Avila claims the Tigers won’t sell off young talent for rental players this season, so the return of injured players may be the only chance the Tigers will have at the playoffs this year. Wait and see. Wait and see.