Shields, Vargas reportedly get a look from Tigers
The Tigers were interested in James Shields when the Rays debated whether to put him on the trade market last July, enough that Doug Fister was a Plan B of sorts when it became clear they weren’t getting Shields, at least not without selling the farm. Now that Shields could be on the market again, don’t expect the resurgence of Detroit’s rotation behind its top four starters to stop them from taking a look.
According to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Tigers special assistant Dick Egan was spotted at Tropicana Field for the Rays’ series against the Mariners, which Shields opened with 7 2/3 quality innings on Friday. Conveniently, Seattle left-hander Jason Vargas, another rumored Tigers trade target in their starting pitching search, started there on Saturday.
The Tigers usually send out Egan on special assignments, not simply to update reports on teams. If he shows up at a ballpark, it’s for a pretty good reason. You can find at least two reasons above why the Tigers would have him in St. Petersburg this weekend. Of the two, Shields would be the obviously bigger draw.
Though Shields’ ERA is up from last year, while other stats are down, he appeals to the Tigers for a lot of reasons. First, he’s a consistent innings eater, averaging better than six innings a start. Even during his recent struggles, he has lasted at least seven innings in four of his last five starts. He also has postseason experience, though he struggled in his last two Division Series starts.
The Tigers, moreover, have the pieces that would potentially appeal to the Rays, who covet a young catcher according to CBSSports.com’s Danny Knobler. While the Tigers aren’t deep in a lot of areas in the upper levels of their farm system, they have 3-4 quality catchers in their system, led by Futures Game participant Rob Brantly at Triple-A Toledo and James McCann, last year’s top draft pick, at Double-A Erie. With 25-year-old Alex Avila holding down the job in Detroit, the Tigers can afford to part with a catcher and still have depth for down the road.
By contrast, the Tigers were never heavily involved in Vargas rumors last year, zeroing in on Doug Fister instead. If they’re going to acquire a starter to replace lefty Drew Smyly, doing so with another left-hander would have a major appeal to avoid an all-righty rotation. Vargas fits that, and he does it while averaging nearly seven innings a start. His ERA, hit totals and WHIP ratio are all significantly higher away from Seattle’s Safeco Field, including six innings with four runs at Comerica Park earlier this season. However, he has quality starts in his last three outings, all on the road, all of them victories.
— Jason Beck