Fake trade: Tigers get Ted Lilly from Cubs

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ted lilly throwing.jpgTigers acquire LHP Ted Lilly and cash from the Cubs for RHP Joel Zumaya.
Why it works for the Tigers:
The early signs point to the AL Central playing out much like it did last year, with Minnesota and Detroit going down to the wire and no wild card available for either. The Tigers, though, might need one more starter to hang with the Twins all season long. Rick Porcello will be fine, but Max Scherzer has been a bust and Jeremy Bonderman is probably just a No. 4 at this point of his career. They could really use a lefty capable of following Justin Verlander in a postseason rotation, and Lilly is just that. He had a 3.10 ERA for the Cubs last season, and he has a history of being an above average, if unexceptional, starter in the AL.
Of course, the Tigers would be giving up a big piece of their team in this deal. Perhaps they’d be better off waiting to see if Cliff Lee became available in July. However, realistically, they’d be a very poor bet to win a bidding war for any top talents. While losing Zumaya would hurt quite a bit, the Tigers would still have a hard-throwing right-handed setup man in Ryan Perry, a couple of solid lefties in Phil Coke and Fu-Te Ni and a potentially huge wild card in Scherzer. The Tigers would be crazy to give up on Scherzer as a starter, but if the rotation seems sound without him, then a temporary shift to the pen would make sense.
Why it works for the Cubs:
I don’t think it does. But it was the Cubs’ idea to move one of the game’s winningest and highest-paid starters into a setup role last month. Since that didn’t work out, they’re still looking for an eighth-inning guy to put in front of Carlos Marmol, and they now have an extra starter to barter with. Ideally, they’d trade Carlos Silva instead. But Silva isn’t going to bring this kind of return. Lilly might.
Zumaya, for what it’s worth, has been positively dominant this year, amassing a 1.90 ERA and a 26/4 K/BB ratio in 23 2/3 innings. The greatly improved walk rate has come as a very pleasant surprise. Still, he’s very risky. Since pitching 83 1/3 innings as a rookie in 2006, he’s been limited to 111 2/3 innings over 3 1/4 seasons. More shoulder problems are always a possibility.
Why it won’t happen:
There’s just too much downside for both teams. Both Lilly and Zumaya have battled arm woes in the recent past, and it’d be risky to give up such a substantial piece for either, even if it’d be trading risk for risk in this case. There’s also the fact that Lilly is making $12 million this year, while Zumaya is earning $915,000, meaning the Tigers would likely want some money to change hands. Furthermore, Lilly has no-trade protection and might not be interested in such a deal.

Video: Nelson Cruz hits second-longest home run of 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his solo homerun with Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Seattle Mariners to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 14, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.

It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.

Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.

Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.

Report: John Farrell won’t rule out a postseason return for Pablo Sandoval

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout before the Red Sox home opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Orioles defeat the Red Sox 9-7.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.

On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.

At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.

If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.

Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.

Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.