Tigers deadline primer: Why Detroit could be caught between buying and selling

Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila effectively dampened much enthusiasm heading into this year’s trade deadline, announcing that he viewed standing pat as “the most realistic option.”

But he didn’t exactly shut the door on making a deal, either.

Keep in mind that it’s difficult to ever deal in absolutes at this time of year. Some teams get desperate. An arms race within the division can make rival clubs antsy. Also, don’t discount what sort of driving force an impatient -- or impulsive -- owner can be when motivated to win.

The Tigers indicated they won’t be vulnerable to these sort of short-term temptations, but we all remember what happened this offseason, right? Avila basically said the team was done adding after an aggressive pursuit at the winter meetings and, one month later, the Tigers made one of the biggest splashes of free agency, inking outfielder Justin Upton to a six-year pact at the behest of team owner Mike Ilitch.

Could we be in store for another surprise this week?

1. Should the Tigers be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline?

Practically speaking, probably neither. With regards to the Aug. 1 trade deadline, the Tigers are in a bit of an unenviable position. They aren’t demolishing teams and cruising through the division, but they aren’t amidst a free fall, either. Instead, they’ve played pretty middling, uninspiring baseball. That can make it difficult for a team’s front office to take a hard-line stance one way or the other, so it’s not a shocker that the Tigers are leaning toward making the safe choice by standing pat. It’s not as if the team is just one piece away from playing like world beaters (they have won only one game against the division-leading Cleveland Indians in the past 12 games), but it hasn’t hit the skids recently in a way that might embolden the organization to unload some key pieces. Gut feeling? The Tigers will make a minor roster upgrade, but nothing that will drastically change the complexion of the team.

2. Who should they attempt to buy/sell? Who should they keep?

If the Tigers intend to make a playoff run, then bolstering the club’s pitching depth is never a bad option. That doesn’t mean they will be in the market for any of the big names -- White Sox ace Chris Sale and teammate Jose Quintana, for example -- but perhaps a fifth starter for the back end of the rotation (especially should anything go awry with Jordan Zimmermann or Daniel Norris' injury rehab) or an extra bullpen arm if the cost is not prohibitive. Certainly, the Tigers could get a haul for closer Francisco Rodriguez or veteran second baseman Ian Kinsler -- the type of proven professionals that come at a premium this time of year -- but good luck competing for a wild-card spot in their absence. It would make little sense to move either player unless the team wanted to write off this season with hopes of stocking the cupboards for the future.

3. Which prospects should they be willing to move? Which should be untouchable?

If there is any prospect considered “untouchable,” that would be rookie pitcher Michael Fulmer, though you’d hardly call him a prospect anymore with the impact he has had since his call-up at the end of April. Since then he has compiled a 9-2 record with a 2.41 ERA. The former first-round draft pick, acquired last season in a deadline deal that sent Yoenis Cespedes to the Mets, would definitely be considered “untouchable” within the organization. Fulmer and Norris, a young lefty, are often the two names brought up by other clubs looking to engage in trade discussions. According to Avila, that’s a non-starter for the Tigers, who have repeatedly espoused the utility of having a fresh young crop of arms added since last year. JaCoby Jones, Joe Jimenez and Steven Moya are all regarded as top prospects in the pipeline, though Moya has shown some defensive struggles while up with the big club recently. Other prospects that would likely draw interest from other clubs? Beau Burrows, Derek Hill and Christin Stewart, the latter of which earned a spot in the Futures Game, along with Jimenez, because of his scorching first half to his first pro season.