Tigers weigh prospects in starter search

Tigers weigh prospects in starter search

DETROIT -- The Tigers have the building blocks of a strong, deep pitching corps for years to come with the talents of top prospect Jacob Turner, fast-tracked left-hander Andy Oliver and Minor League strikeout leader Charlie Furbush. Detroit also has a chance to contend this year and possibly do a little more than that with some help.

So how much are they willing to pay from the former to help the latter? That's the conundrum they face with baseball's non-waiver Trade Deadline a week away.

Manager Jim Leyland doesn't have the final call; that falls to team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski. But he has his opinions, and it seems like he's not a lone wolf in that.

"For us to do something and give up a pretty good young player or players," Leyland said Friday, "it would be something that we would all have to feel we're getting a difference-maker, not just making a deal where you get somebody that might be a little tad better than what you've got."

He wasn't talking about anybody specifically. Still, Arizona Diamondbacks ace Dan Haren, it goes without saying, is a difference-maker.

While the Tigers were one of a handful of teams with reported interest in Haren, multiple reports from FOXSports.com and the Bergen Record suggested the Yankees were front-runners to pick up Haren and bolster their rotation. No deal involving the Tigers on any front was close as of early Friday evening.

A FOXSports.com report states that a no-trade clause in Haren's contract includes the Tigers and Twins, but not the Yankees.

Speculation from ESPN.com's Buster Olney from rival front-office members set the expectation that the Tigers would have to offer Turner to Arizona in any package for Haren. D-backs president Derrick Hall told MLB.com Thursday night that the team would need "an A-plus deal" to move Haren.

"I think ideally what we would ask for is Major League-ready pitching," Hall told reporters, "be it starters and/or bullpen and prospects. Volume doesn't matter, it doesn't need to be four, five or six guys, it's really about the quality."

If that pans out, that could leave the Tigers with an interesting decision. If the D-backs are determined to trade Haren before his next scheduled start next Tuesday, as AOL Fanhouse's Ed Price reported, that decision could come soon.

"If you can get a difference-maker somewhere, whether it's a pitcher or a hitter, that's one thing," Leyland said in general. "If you're just going to have somebody change uniforms and be OK, maybe a little better than what you've got, that probably won't get you over the hump."

Haren has struggled to a 7-8 record and 4.60 ERA this year, allowing a National League-high 161 hits over 141 innings. But he was an All-Star each of the previous three seasons and started for the American League in the 2007 All-Star Game, when Leyland was the AL manager. His AL success with Oakland makes a huge difference.

Turner isn't ready for the Majors, but the 19-year-old is starting to overpower opposing hitters at advanced Class A Lakeland after struggling in his first few starts. He has 10 scoreless innings on four hits over his last two outings with three walks and five strikeouts.

The Tigers had Turner written into their long-term plans almost as soon as they drafted him in June 2009. They made an aggressive move to challenge him this summer by promoting him to Lakeland from low Class A West Michigan.

Two prospects closer to the big leagues are left-handers Oliver and Furbush. Oliver and his mid-90s fastball were in the Tigers' rotation for four starts before being optioned to Triple-A Toledo earlier this week. Upon sending him out, Leyland said he had the potential to win 15-20 games in a season in the Majors sometime soon.

Furbush has come out of seemingly nowhere to strike out batters galore. The Tigers promoted him to Triple-A Toledo this week after just five starts at Double-A Erie, and he responded with seven strikeouts over six innings while allowing three runs runs on five hits in his first start at the higher level.

The Tigers' interest in Haren is real, and by all indications, the fact that he remains under contract isn't a deterrent. If anything, it could help them bridge the gap before another group of young pitchers gets to the upper levels of the system.

The Tigers already have Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer under team control through 2014. Haren is guaranteed $12.5 million in 2011 and 2012, with a $15.5 million option for 2013. Conceivably, that option could become an issue if Haren asks a team on his no-trade list to pick it up.

The short-term alternative to Haren on the trade market is Cubs left-hander Ted Lilly. Like Haren, Lilly has had success in both leagues, having been a 15-game winner in Toronto. Unlike Haren, Lilly is under contract only through season's end, but his price tag is expected to be lower.

While he's just 3-8 with the Cubs this year, his ERA, hit totals and peripheral stats are better. The fact that he's left-handed also is a plus to a Tigers rotation that has all right-handers right now.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.