The middling Detroit Tigers are in the thick of the American League wild-card picture, but time is running out for president and general manager Dave Dombrowski to assess which side of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline his team will be on.
The Tigers, biding time until slugger Miguel Cabrera returns from a calf strain sometime in August, evened their record at 46-46 and pulled within four games of wild-card position with Monday's 5-4 win over the Seattle Mariners. There is speculation, however, that the team is positioning itself to be a deadline seller for the first time in years, according to a USA Today Sports report.
With such prized pieces as staff ace David Price and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes set to become free agents at season's end, the Tigers have incentive to flip their most coveted players for big returns before potentially losing them for nothing in free agency. The report cites team sources familiar with strategy plans who say the organization is poised to do just that.
Dombrowski is not tipping his hand about his deadline plans despite the tension that comes from being so close to a playoff spot with a star-laden roster that has shown in recent seasons how quickly it can put together a win streak.
"At this point, our focus is trying to win right now," Dombrowski told USA Today. "We're trying to do everything we can to qualify for the playoffs. Things can turn dramatically over a 10-game period. But you have to play well, at some point, on a consistent basis. We're at a point where we have to do what's best in our heart for the franchise."
Price, the 29-year-old lefty acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays at the 2014 deadline, will be the crown of the pitching market if Detroit makes him available. Cespedes, who came from the Boston Red Sox in a December trade, boasts a middle-of-the-order power bat for contenders in need of an outfield upgrade.
Dombrowski acknowledged the unfamiliarity of this position for a team that has made the playoffs as the AL Central champion in four straight seasons.
"We haven't been in this spot for a lengthy period of time," he said. "No question, it hasn't been in recent years."