August 15, 2022

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Could Tigers deal their ace?

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This story was excerpted from Jason Beck’s Tigers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

As Tarik Skubal wrapped up his postgame quotes following his Wednesday afternoon start against the Padres at Comerica Park, he interjected a comment unprompted as reporters began to walk away. 

“One more thing: I would like to give a shoutout to our fans this homestand,” Skubal said. “They were [freaking] phenomenal. Make sure you get that in, too. They were great all five games. It was a good environment.”  

On the surface, it was an appreciation for the fans. But in the midst of trade rumors, it was a curious comment that almost read like a just-in-case goodbye.  

He didn’t mean it to be so cryptic, he clarified a day later in Toronto. He was simply expressing gratitude for fans sticking it out and showing support through a disappointing season. But such reading between the lines, he learned, is part of life on the trade rumor mill.   

He doesn’t like any of it, but there’s nothing he can do about it.  

It’s an interesting debate that gets into the bigger picture for the Tigers, whose 2022 struggles have put the larger picture of their rebuild into some question. But while Skubal could bring a bevy of young talent, it could also create bigger issues if the Tigers get where they want to go with their movement.  

If the Tigers become serious about dealing Skubal, they’ll have no shortage of suitors, with at least a half-dozen teams in the market leading into Tuesday evening’s Trade Deadline. The market of effective starters is thin, moreso following the past weekend’s trade of Luis Castillo to the Mariners. Some teams in need of starters, such as the Yankees and Dodgers, have deep farm systems that match up with the Tigers’ needs. But with four more seasons before free agency, Skubal is so far from a rental player that he would easily garner a wider field of suitors in the offseason from teams that aren’t contending this year but want to make a push. In that sense, the Trade Deadline flirtation could be a test run for what the Tigers could expect on the Hot Stove market, when teams with deep farm systems trying to take the next step into contention might feel compelled to take a look.  

As one American League evaluator put it, “He’s their Soto.”  

And that official wasn’t talking about Gregory. He was referring to Juan, the Nationals superstar currently on the trade market. Like the Nationals with Juan Soto, the Tigers are believed to be seeking teams’ top prospects, plural, in any deal. 

While a Skubal trade would certainly help address Detroit’s need for young hitting, the team would almost have to grab a top pitching prospect or young starter as well. The Tigers have found surprising depth in starting pitching in their farm system – it has been a bright side to their injury-plagued season – but with no offense meant to Beau Brieske, they don’t have another starter of Skubal’s talent coming up anytime soon. With Casey Mize recovering from Tommy John surgery, Alex Faedo out with hip surgery and Matt Manning just now returning from shoulder issues, Skubal is the only front-line starter from Detroit’s quartet of top-ranked pitchers. Current top prospect Jackson Jobe, while blessed with potential front-line stuff, is still learning how to harness it at Single-A Lakeland, where he has a 4.96 ERA in 15 starts. He turned 20 years old on Saturday. 

Even if the Tigers grab another team’s top pitching prospect close to Major League ready, the aforementioned injuries to Mize, Manning and Faedo show how no pitcher’s path to success is guaranteed. Even MacKenzie Gore’s exit from Comerica Park’s mound in a relief appearance for the Padres on Monday shows how bringing along young pitchers of top talent is an inexact science. 

Thus, while the Skubal trade rumors produce plenty of intrigue, the more likely scenario is that the Tigers keep their left-hander and try to use their stockpile of bullpen arms to find offensive talent to help them for next season and beyond.

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