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Yankees potential trade partner: Detroit Tigers

If the Tigers opt for a full teardown, they could be a match for the Yankees.

Eduardo Rodriguez in his return from injury this week.
Eduardo Rodriguez in his return from injury this week.
Junfu Han/Detroit Free Press / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Detroit Tigers are squarely in no-man’s land. After failing to crack the .400 winning-percentage plateau from 2017-20, their rebuild appeared to be taking shape, as they finished with 77 wins in 2021. But last year, despite making a pair of big splashes in free agency in the offseason, they won just 66 games. This year, at 38-48 through Thursday, they aren’t poised to do much better, but they’re also only six games back in the AL Central. Do they tear everything down, risking another lengthy rebuild? Largely stay pat? Or even try to improve at the deadline? Let’s see what they can do on a candidate-by-candidate basis, and where the Yankees might fit into their plans.

Eduardo Rodriguez

Arguably the biggest decision facing the Tigers this deadline is what to do with the left-hander. Signed during their 2021-22 offseason spending spree, he missed some time in his first year with the Tigers due to a family issue, ultimately pitching to 4.05/4.43 ERA/FIP in 91 innings. This year, he came out of the gates hot, tossing 67.2 innings of 2.13/3.17 ERA/FIP ball through his first 11 starts, and he seemed poised to generate a lot of trade interest. But then, he suffered a finger injury that kept him out all of June and he was noticeably rusty in his return earlier this week.

Rodriguez has an opt out after this season; if the Tigers hold onto him and he looks good down the stretch, they risk losing him for mere draft compensation. But if he struggles and opts in, they’ll be on the hook for three more years and $49 million. Regardless of their level of competitiveness come the deadline, it might serve Detroit to deal Rodriguez and remove any opt-out-driven uncertainty. In that case, he would be an appealing target for the Yankees, but the asking price will likely be high and this could end up being another Frankie Montas situation if the finger issue lingers like the same problem has for the Twins’ Randy Dobnak.

Michael Lorenzen

The right-hander, a free-agent after this season, comes with markedly less upside than Rodriguez. A reliever from 2016-21, Lorenzen is in his second-straight year as a starter. Across 33 starts since his return to the rotation, he’s pitched to a 4.14/4.25 ERA/FIP in 184.2 innings. But the most frames he’s thrown in a single major league campaign is 113.1, and that was back in 2015. Without the whiff potential of Rodriguez and facing a possible innings restriction, Lorenzen isn’t the needle-mover the Yankees would need to make a deep run into the playoffs this year. But if they kick things into gear soon — perhaps with a healthy Aaron Judge — maybe they’d be in the market for more upgrades on the margins as well.

Bullpen Pieces

Is a reunion with Chasen Shreve in store for the Yankees? The lefty, a free-agent after this season, is certainly a trade candidate, but he’s more of a depth piece than anything else at this point. Besides, the Yankees seem intent on carrying as few lefty relievers as possible. Jose Cisnero, the other impending free agent in the Tigers’ bullpen, has been solid (if a bit wild) in his five-plus years in the bigs. He’s pitched to a 2.18 ERA in 33 innings this year, but ERA estimators peg him as more of a mid-to-high-3s guy.

If the Yankees want to make a bigger move, they could try for Alex Lange and/or Jason Foley. The pair of 27-year-olds each come with four more years of control after this one and have considerably more upside than either of Shreve or Cisnero. Foley has a 2.17 ERA in 37.1 innings with most of his ERA estimators also under 3. His fastball velocity is up a tick and a half this year, and his 61 percent ground ball rate is the eighth-highest among 172 qualified relievers. Lange hasn’t had quite the same amount of success, with a 3.89 ERA and estimators to match in 34.2 innings, but the former first-round pick carries more upside, especially when it comes to strikeouts — last year, he ranked third among 152 qualified relievers with a 19.1 percent swinging-strike rate.

Perhaps the two higher-end, controllable relievers would make the most sense for the Yankees; with uncertainty clouding their playoff run this year in the wake of Aaron Judge’s injury, it might serve them to keep at least one eye towards the future this deadline. As for the Tigers, dealing the pair might precipitate a full tear-down, in which case some other interesting older-but-controllable pieces — bats like Jake Rogers, Matt Vierling, and Zach McKinstry — might become available. But as of now, Javier Báez is the Tigers’ most-likely trade candidate on the offensive side, and his contract looks like a major burden; especially if Judge remains on the shelf, offense will be the Yankees’ major area of need, so it’s hard to see them swinging a deal with the Tigers unless a lot of preconditions are met. But stranger trades have come together, so you never know.