Roy Oswalt turned down a one-year, $10 million contract offer from the Detroit Tigers this week, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Meanwhile, the Tigers continue to downplay interest in Chicago Cubs right-hander Matt Garza, and GM Dave Dombrowski said the team would not include top pitching prospect Jacob Turner in a package for Garza.
From an objective, big-picture perspective, Dombrowski's public position is the right one. Turner is one of the top six or seven right-handed pitching prospects in baseball right now and looked pretty good in brief time with the parent club in 2011.
At 20 years of age, Turner is as advanced for his age as any pitcher in baseball. He could be a Garza archetype within three or four years, a front-of-the-rotation stud with a deadly breaking ball and great command. Dealing away six seasons of Turner (plus another prospect) to get two seasons' worth of control over Garza does not make great long-term sense.
On the other hand, Dombrowski and the Tigers ought not to make the long term their primary concern right now. After signing Prince Fielder for nine years and $214 million last week, the team now has a two or three year window in which they have the star power they need to win an AL pennant. However, as cliche their choice of mottos for the season, it's true: The Tigers are all-in.
That's why they should trade for Garza right now. They should deal Turner and left-handed pitching prospect Alex Burgos and ask the Cubs to throw in some cash along with Garza. That deal would be palatable to both sides, and for three principal reasons, it's the best the Tigers are going to be able to get in the near future.
The Tigers have to win in 2012. It became an organizational imperative the day they signed Fielder. That's fine right now; they well deserve to be AL Central favorites. It might force them into a corner, though, if they have a glaring need entering July.
And they will. Justin Verlander is a regression candidate for 2012—so are Doug Fister. Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello are fine back-end or even mid-rotation starters, but Turner, Andy Oliver and Casey Crosby are all unready for the fifth starter's gig. Duane Below is ready, but he isn't good.
The Tigers are going to need pitching help this summer. They're going to need someone better than a fifth starter like Jake Westbrook or Jeff Niemann in order to field a rotation capable of leading the team deep into October. Ideally, it would be someone capable of striking out more than 20 percent of opposing batters because the Tigers' defense is going to be atrocious.
Matt Garza fits the bill. In fact, it may well be that he will be the only guy who fits the bill. That will force the Tigers to go to the Cubs in pursuit of Garza. By then, though, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer should have three or four other teams interested.
The Price Tag
That competition will be trouble for the Tigers. When summer comes, more than one team will be surprisingly good, and more than one team will need an extra starter. It might be the Toronto Blue Jays; it might be the Kansas City Royals.
Both of those teams have deeper and better farm systems than the one in Detroit, and both need a pitcher more than the Tigers. It's possible the Tigers would be utterly unable to acquire Garza at the trade deadline. If they did manage it, it would cost them Turner, Crosby and Alex Burgos. It might cost them more. If they didn't pony up with that package, the Blue Jays or Royals would easily outbid them.
Right now, neither of those teams is in the market for a new starting pitcher via trade. No other team is. The Tigers have leverage right now—at least it's a buyer's market. It will not be so in a few months.
Last season, the Colorado Rockies put Ubaldo Jimenez on the trade block during the summer. They were free-falling out of the race, and Jimenez was a luxury they felt they could no longer afford. They didn't need to trade him, of course, but they had multiple buyers in place, and Jimenez was under control for a year and a half more, so they felt they could get top dollar in return for him.
Jimenez ended up in Cleveland, and he did, indeed, fetch a hefty price. The Indians sent the Rockies Drew Pomeranz, Alex White and a pair of lesser minor-leaguers in order to pursue a division title. They did it, somewhat, out of desperation. Pomeranz and White were the top two prospects in their farm system, and among the top 75 or so in baseball.
That's what happens when a team gets desperate. They overpay. The Rockies got more for Jimenez than he was worth, strictly speaking, since he had battled injuries most of the season. If the Tigers wait until the summer to pursue Matt Garza, they are going to end up giving the Cubs more for Matt Garza than he is worth, too.