The Tigers insisted at the winter meetings here in Dallas earlier this week that they’d like to find a cheap No. 5 starter on the free-agent market, but GM Dave Dombrowski also said he’d be comfortable going to spring training counting on one of several promising internal candidates to win the job.
With Dombrowski, though, you never rule out a trade.
And, according to reports out of the San Francisco Chronicle late Tuesday, they’ve identified a target.
Chronicle reporter Susan Slusser sent off a flurry of posts on Twitter, among them one citing several sources who say the Tigers are making a “strong push” for Athletics left-hander Gio Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, of course, would qualify as the “big splash” Dombrowski so adamantly insisted the Tigers wouldn’t be making. The last two seasons, he’s 31-21 with a 3.17 ERA. He’s an All-Star. He’s got strikeout stuff – in 2011, he whiffed a career-best 197 – and hits are extremely tough to come by against him. Walks are on the high side, however. Gonzalez led the league with 91 this past season.
Still, he fits two Tigers needs to near perfection. He’s cheap for now, and he’s left-handed. The Tigers don’t have a left-handed starter, though prospect Drew Smyly is seen as a candidate to make the staff.
Gonzalez, 26, also won’t become a free agent until 2016. If the Tigers acquired him, that would give them a super-impressive staff, with each member not eligible for free-agency until 2015 or ’16. That’s, of course, unless a member of the current staff went to the A’s in any deal.
Hard to imagine any of the current four going west, though, if pressed, the Tigers probably would part with Rick Porcello before anyone else. But no way would Porcello be a sufficient headliner in a package for the A’s.
That brings up the other part of this story, the first significant buzz tied to the unusually quiet Tigers this week: What would they have to give up, and would it be enough to please A’s GM Billy Beane? Slusser reported the Yankees are interested, and might be able to offer more than the Tigers.
Now, this is worth noting: Even if Gonzalez were to be dealt way, the A’s still might be comfortable in the starting pitching department. Therefore, the Tigers’ obvious trade chip, right-hander Jacob Turner, might not be so obvious in this scenario.
The A’s might rather seek position-player help, and this where this might get tricky. If the A’s are seeking talent that’s major-league ready – or close – the Tigers might not prove a fit. Even Dombrowski acknowledged earlier Tuesday that the Tigers’ prime pitching prospects are at the higher levels of the minor leagues – and nearer the majors – while the better position prospects are in the lower levels. Among them is third baseman Nick Castellanos, though it’s pretty hard to imagine the Tigers are willing to move that blue-chipper, seeing as they shipped out their other young third-base gem, Francisco Martinez, last July to acquire Doug Fister from the Mariners.
A huge A’s need is in the outfield. They very well could lose their entire starting outfield from 2011 to free-agency. David DeJesus already signed with the Cubs, and Coco Crisp and Josh Willingham aren’t expected to return to Oakland, either.
Looking at Tigers options there, Delmon Young would be too expensive for the A’s. Even if the Tigers offered to pick up a significant chunk of his 2012 salary — it should be well north of $6 million; he’s arbitration eligible — Young, 26, is a free agent after next season, and the A’s use trades of this magnitude to build for the long term. Plus, he’s a big liability on defense.
So, if we’re speculating (note: I am), perhaps Beane would insist the starting point in negotations be Brennan Boesch, a strong left-handed slugger who plays right field. Boesch, a California native, has really impressed in two seasons in the big leagues. His offense and defense progressed in 2011, though the season was cut short with a thumb injury.
The Tigers, though, can’t be too eager to part with him. The Tigers’ rotation already is considered more of a strength than the offense, so it’s a stretch to see them letting go of Boesch, 26. Never mind he’s one of the few guys on the team who runs well. Team speed is a deficiency in Detroit, and the ballclub wants to get better in that department, not worse (if that’s possible).
Frankly, there doesn’t appear to be much more on the Tigers’ major league roster that would either be of interest to the A’s (they like cheap, and that eliminates a bunch) or that the Tigers would seriously consider parting with. And no, the Tigers aren’t ready to give up on center fielder Austin Jackson. Then again, maybe signing Cuban center fielder Yoenis Cespedes in the near future would change that. Who knows.
Dombrowski and Beane are two general managers not shy about pulling the trigger on big trades. Beane often has traded away star power for prospects, while Dombrowski’s done much the opposite during his days in Detroit.
Are they ready to do it again? Of course. It’s agreeing on the right pieces that’s the obvious challenge.
Be sure to check back with Covering the Bases, as Tony Paul blogs throughout the day Monday-Wednesday from the winter meetings.