7/31/2014 1:01 A.M. ET
Tigers already have pieces in place
AL Central leaders sitting on the sidelines at Trade Deadline
By Tracy Ringolsby / MLB.com
DETROIT -- In the days leading up to Thursday's 4 p.m. ET non-waiver Trade Deadline, there is a rumor or 10 involving just about every big league team, except the Tigers.
And there's a reason for that.
Just about every big league team has an area of concern, except the Tigers.
The Tigers patched up that one little hole a week ago, acquiring reliever Joakim Soria to fill a seventh-inning need (and provide insurance just in case for eighth-inning specialist Joba Chamberlain and closer Joe Nathan).
But what else is there for general manager Dave Dombrowski and Co. to do?
Not much, except wait for October and see if all those offseason and late-spring moves they gambled on continue to pay dividends, like they have in this regular season.
Think about it. Even the Dodgers, with the biggest payroll in the history of the game, have been looking around for rotation help in the last few days, along with the Orioles and Yankees, who also would like a right-handed-hitting outfielder with some power. The defending National League champion Cardinals felt they answered that need with Wednesday's acquisition of Justin Masterson from Cleveland, and would like some offensive help, but the price is too steep.
The A's, who opened the month filling rotation voids by acquiring Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs, were still looking for another starting pitcher and some center field help. The Angels did add three relievers in a 22-day span this month, and Seattle, having already acquired Kendrys Morales from Minnesota, wanted another right-handed hitter who could play the outfield and wouldn't mind rotation help.
San Francisco was frantically checking out second base possibilities along with a possible starter. Washington was looking at third baseman. Atlanta was hoping to find a low-price left-handed reliever given they blew their budget in the $14.1 million late spring signing of starter Ervin Santana. Kansas City wanted a right-handed power bat, and Toronto had a starting pitcher, reliever and a catcher on a wish list.
Well, they wouldn't mind an experienced lefty for the bullpen, like Andrew Miller, but they aren't going to overpay, knowing that in the postseason, when the rotation goes to four, they can move Drew Smyly into the bullpen, where he has worked in the postseason his first two big league seasons.
Meanwhile, they are enjoying life atop the American League Central, a 7-2 victory against the White Sox at Comerica Park on Wednesday night allowing them to maintain a five-game lead over the second-place Royals, and enjoying the continuing emergence of third baseman Nick Castellanos, the former first-round pick whose three-run home run keyed a six-run first inning and RBI single in the seventh added the Tigers final run.
And Castellanos, as much as any single player, underscores just how things have fallen in place for the Tigers this year. Just 22 years old, and four years removed from his high school graduation, his development was a key reason that the Tigers were able to fill that second base void by acquiring Ian Kinsler from Texas for Prince Fielder.
The confidence in Castellanos allowed the Tigers to move Miguel Cabrera back to first base, where he was playing before Fielder came to the Motor City.
But that's not all.
-- Victor Martinez responded to the challenge of hitting cleanup (.324, 21 home runs, 57 RBIs);
-- J.D. Martinez, released by Houston the final week of spring training and told by Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow there was no room for him in the Astros Minor League system, took a Triple-A deal with the Tigers, forced their hand by hitting 10 home runs in his first 65 at-bats at Toledo, and has not only hit .320 but has 13 home runs and 45 RBIs in 225 at-bats.
-- Eugenio Suarez came to the rescue at shortstop after it was discovered this spring that those "shin splints"' which were a problem for expected shortstop Jose Iglesias last year were instead stress fractures, the temporary fix of Alex Gonzalez was a nightmare, and it became apparent that a Danny Worth/Andrew Romine time share wasn't working. Fifty-four games into a season that began at Double-A and then saw him spend two weeks at Triple-A, Suarez had opened eyes with his fielding and a .288 average that included eight home runs and 36 RBIs.
-- Nathan, signed to a $10 million free-agent deal after converting 80 saves the last two seasons in Texas, has rebounded form an early nine-game scare (12 earned runs 6 1/3 innings) to convert eight of his last nine save opportunities.
-- And Chamberlain, no longer living under that New York microscope, has slipped into an eighth-inning setup role, and proven to be $2.5 million bargain, appearing in 47 of the first 104 games, and compiling a 2.70 ERA and leading AL relievers with 20 holds.
Now granted, there are a few warts on the Tigers.
But they aren't about to give up on Justin Verlander, figuring at some point he will regain his domination after opening this season 9-9 with a 4.79 ERA in his first 22 starts.
OK, a few of the pieces have been bent a little to make them fit into the puzzle, but stand back and take a look, and it's apparent that the Tigers are looking pretty good right now.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.