Why the Tigers Shouldn’t Sell, in One Graph

Last night, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale made some pretty big waves with his report that the Tigers are preparing to become sellers, making David Price and Yoenis Cespedes available to teams looking to upgrade their rosters for the stretch run.

It’s going to be awfully painful, and the Detroit Tigers sure hate to do this, but for the good of the organization, they simply have no choice.

The Tigers, barring a veto from owner Mike Ilitch, are going to surrender and be sellers within the next 10 days at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

For the first time since 2008, the Tigers have no choice but to inform teams that two of their marquee commodities will be dealt by the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

That’s some pretty strong language, and given that “they simply have no choice”, you’d think the Tigers were in the midst of a total meltdown, or had squandered any chance they had of reaching the postseason. But while Nightengale may be right in his reporting, his editorializing isn’t really all that rooted in factual basis. Consider, for instance this graph of the projected final standings in the American League, based on our depth charts forecasts.


The Royals, Yankees, and Angels have put themselves in strong positions to win their divisions, and the Astros remain the most likely Wild Card team, with a real shot at the AL West themselves. Those four teams are each more likely to make the postseason than not.

But look at the drop-off after Houston. The Blue Jays, Twins, Orioles, and Indians are in a virtual tie with the Tigers for fifth place, with none of them expected to finish with more than 82 wins. Someone will break out from the pack and likely win 85-87 games and capture that second Wild Card spot, but the Tigers are just as likely to be that team as any of the other four, and in no way are they in a position where 2015 is a total write-off. In fact, the Tigers have better odds now than the 1997 White Sox did when they initiated the infamous White Flag Trade.

The Tigers should probably be listening mode, as it’s possible a team will make them an offer that justifies giving up their estimated 26.5% playoff odds; if you can flip Price for a guy who can step right in to the big leagues and is under control for next year as well — similar to last year’s Jon Lester for Yoenis Cespedes trade — then it could be worth downgrading this year’s chances to upgrade next year’s shot. I wouldn’t say that the Tigers odds are so strong that they shouldn’t even consider moving Price or Cespedes.

But I just don’t see how we can look at the landscape in the American League and determine that the Tigers have to move Price and Cespedes for whatever they can get. The Tigers season is far from over, and there are plenty of reasons to keep this group together and try to make a run. If someone makes a crazy offer that you just can’t turn down, okay, but the Tigers shouldn’t be throwing away legitimate playoff odds just because they aren’t as good as they’re used to.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Dick Trickle
7 years ago

Tigers, as is, aren’t a playoff team. They need more pitching. Now they could be buyers, but do they have the farm for it? Not likely. Do they/are they capable of re-signing Price and Cespedes? Maybe, that’s something only they know. But if they can’t, they might as well rebuild their farm by moving two guys they’re gonna lose and call it a day.

7 years ago
Reply to  Dave Cameron

What are the tigers going to do in the post season with two serviable pitchers? Who knows what Lobstien is going to look like, if he even comes back?

Not to mention what are the tigers going to give up to get at least one more pitcher? Our minor teams have been gutted the last couple of years, and we need just about every starter we have.

That’s not even touching on what a dumpster fire the bullpen has looked like.

7 years ago
Reply to  Justin

“What are the tigers going to do in the post season with two serviable pitchers?”

That’s a far better problem to have than not making the postseason at all.