7/27/2014 9:10 P.M. ET
Bullpen remains Tigers' focus at Trade Deadline
Dombrowski keeping tabs on relief market even after making deal for Soria
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
DETROIT -- Could last week's trade for Joakim Soria be the opener of a two-part move to upgrade the Tigers' bullpen? Possibly.
"Our bullpen has been a situation that has been our major focus, and I guess would continue to be our major focus if we are going to do something," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said on the heels of the Soria deal. "I'm not sure if we will or will not, but we're still open-minded to it."
Could Detroit shift direction and make that much-speculated move for a left-handed-hitting outfielder or a veteran shortstop? That seems less likely.
"I don't know that either one of them would be real high on our priority list at this point," Dombrowski said.
The Soria trade has done little to take the focus off of the Tigers' bullpen heading towards Thursday's 4 p.m. ET non-waiver Trade Deadline. All it has done is change the question.
Before the deal, the question was what Detroit was going to do to address a bullpen that ranked near the bottom of the big leagues in almost every major category. Now, the question is whether what the club has done is enough.
Given the Tigers' situation, it's a complicated question.
Under Dombrowski, they've done a very good job of becoming perennial World Series contenders, not simply because of their division but because of the young talent Detroit acquired and developed. With Max Scherzer and Victor Martinez on track for free agency this winter, however, the Tigers' best shot at another World Series run seems to be now.
Their core group does not include the bullpen, but it's the group that could determine how far this core group goes. If not for two rallies off the team's bullpen in Boston last October, Detroit might be seeking to cement its place in history with a second consecutive World Series title.
It's no less of a question now.
"Our bullpen has scuffled at times," Dombrowski said. "I think that a real key is you want to have people out there who put up zeros for you, that can put down shutdown innings and also throw strikes on a consistent basis.
"We've scuffled, not everybody, but a lot of guys collectively at that. Again, we remain open-minded if something happens that makes sense to make us better before the Trade Deadline."
At what cost, however, will it make sense?
The Tigers have quietly prepared themselves for the next phase by assembling talent in the lower and middle levels of the Minor Leagues. As evidenced in the Soria deal, they cannot upgrade without taking away from that group.
"I believe that Corey Knebel will be a closer in the big leagues," vice president and assistant general manager Al Avila said. "I believe that [Jake] Thompson has the potential to be a solid starter. That's their potential."
Whether the Tigers can win a World Series without additional help is a matter of debate.
Avila estimates that at least half the teams in baseball are looking for relief help. Few, however, have as much perceived urgency about it as Detroit.
"All 30 Major League clubs have real good general managers, and they all have personnel out there scouting," Avila said. "They know the situation we're in. And we know what's out there. We know what guys are available, what guys are not available.
"It's a game of musical chairs, so to speak. Every time you go around, you take a chair away; go around, take a chair away. Well, eventually somebody's going to be left with nothing. So you have to know when to attack. Dave's been a master at it over the years in getting the guy that we need at times. They don't all pan out, but that's what the process is."
The number of scouts watching Tigers prospects at Double-A Erie and at the Class A levels shows that other teams don't think Detroit is done dealing. In turn, it shows Dombrowski, who spent much of last week in Erie, Pa., what it's going to take to get a deal done.
In Soria, the Tigers added a versatile arm to cover outs anywhere from the seventh inning on. The lingering question is whether Detroit will try to do the same from the left side.
The Tigers have reportedly had a scout watching the Phillies, whose bullpen includes much-rumored lefty Antonio Bastardo. Meanwhile, two Marlins scouts, one a high-ranked player evaluator, were spotted in Erie, which raised thoughts about the potential return Miami could get for arbitration-eligible lefty Mike Dunn.
Other candidates include Houston's Tony Sipp, a lefty Detroit knows well from his Cleveland days but whom the Tigers missed on signing when the Padres released him at the start of May.