NOAH TRISTER, AP Baseball Writer
DETROIT (AP) - Over the past few years, baseball's trade deadline has been a source of excitement and anticipation in Detroit.
Whether he was pulling off a blockbuster deal last year for David Price or adding players like Anibal Sanchez and Jose Iglesias in previous seasons, general manager Dave Dombrowski has always been ready to act.
Now, with the deadline approaching again, Dombrowski is facing questions about his team's short-term goals.
"We're trying to win this year right now," he said recently.
The fact that Dombrowski had to reaffirm that philosophy was telling. The Tigers entered the All-Star break at 44-44, in third place in the AL Central. After four straight division titles, they now trail first-place Kansas City by nine games, and there is speculation around Detroit that the team might be better off trading some of its top players and reshaping the roster for next year.
That talk may be premature. Although they have a significant deficit in the division, the Tigers are certainly still in contention for a wild card. At the very least, they can wait a little longer before evaluating what their next moves might be. But so far this year, Detroit has looked average.
"We have to get on a roll and the only way to do that is with good starting pitching," Dombrowski said.
It was just one season ago when the Tigers traded for Price at the deadline. In Price, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, Detroit had the American League's previous three Cy Young Award winners in the same rotation.
Scherzer is gone. Price is still excellent, but Sanchez is having an up-and-down season and Verlander has made only five starts because of injuries.
Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon, who were acquired last offseason to fill out the back of the rotation, have not pitched well lately. Greene was even sent to the minors for a bit.
"Probably I am a little surprised our pitching hasn't been better overall," said Dombrowski, whose contract expires this year. "Some guys have pitched very well, but overall as a group, I am surprised we haven't pitched a little better."
Detroit's rotation took a hit when Scherzer left via free agency, and the Tigers now face the prospect of losing Price, who can become a free agent after this season. Outfielder Yoenis Cespedes can also test the market.
Both of those players would certainly be of interest to other teams if Detroit made them available, but the Tigers are by no means giving up on 2015 yet. Their offense â bolstered by the offseason addition of Cespedes and another big year from J.D. Martinez â has scored the third-most runs in the American League and leads the AL in on-base percentage.
"I've said it many times: Over 162 games, I think good teams end up having good records," manager Brad Ausmus said. "I firmly believe this is a good team."
Last year, the Tigers were certainly a good team, albeit a flawed one, with a shaky bullpen that cost them dearly in the playoffs. Now the bullpen is still a weak spot â as evidenced by Minnesota's seven-run ninth inning in an 8-6 win over Detroit on Friday.
The difference between 2014 and 2015 is that the starting rotation has not been strong enough to mask some of the team's other problems.
Detroit comes out of the All-Star break with a seven-game homestand against Baltimore and Seattle. Win enough of those games, and the postseason race will look more promising â especially with injured slugger Miguel Cabrera due back next month.
But the clock is ticking, and these days, each defeat adds another bit of doubt to this team's immediate future.
"We have to get on a roll at some point," Dombrowski said. "We're not going to be able to play a couple of games, get three games above, then one game above and then back to .500. We are not going to be able to do that and make the postseason."
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