- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 21, 2015

DETROIT (AP) - With the possibility of significant trades looming over the Detroit Tigers, Brad Ausmus sat in the dugout and made the case for staying the course.

“I know everyone wants it to be a big story, because the Tigers have been so successful, that all of a sudden they’re at .500 with the trade deadline looming - it’s a big story to say that the Tigers are sellers,” the second-year manager said. “I don’t consider four games out of playoff position a selling position.”

As the July 31 trade deadline approaches, Detroit’s situation might be the most compelling of any team in baseball.

The four-time defending champions of the AL Central entered Tuesday night’s game against Seattle facing a 9 1/2-game deficit in the division. But as Ausmus pointed out, the Tigers were only four games behind the American League’s two wild cards.

Teams in that position rarely throw in the towel, but Detroit’s quandary is unusual. The Tigers have three high-priced players eligible for free agency after this season in David Price, Yoenis Cespedes and Joakim Soria.

If all three leave, Detroit would have money available to spend on replacements to add to a roster that includes Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez and Anibal Sanchez.

And by trading a player like Price while they can still get something for him, the Tigers could acquire enough talent to boost their outlook for 2016 and 2017.

Maybe.

The big question right now is whether it’s time to concede 2015. Detroit still has over a week to evaluate its options before the deadline.

“At this point our focus is trying to win right now. We’re trying to do everything we can to qualify for the playoffs,” general manager Dave Dombrowski said in an email Tuesday.

“Things can turn dramatically over a 10-game period. But, you have to play well, at some point, on a consistent basis,” he said.

If the Tigers do shed some of their top players, it would be a stark change of course for a franchise that has aggressively pursued a World Series title over the last decade. Last year at this time, Detroit made a bold deadline move, acquiring Price from Tampa Bay and adding him to an already-impressive starting rotation.

Now Price could be dealt for a second year in a row.

“With the amount of talent that we have in this room, and as good of a team that we feel like we have - yeah, it is a little surprising,” Price said. “We haven’t played as well as we’re capable of playing. I think everybody in this clubhouse kind of knows that.”

Cabrera’s calf injury has left Detroit’s chances looking a bit more bleak - he’s not expected back before mid-August. Even so, the bar doesn’t look particularly high in the race for the AL wild cards, which would go to Minnesota and Houston if the season ended now.

The Tigers are part of a cluster of teams around .500 that also includes Baltimore, Toronto, Tampa Bay and Cleveland.

If the Tigers decide to be buyers at the deadline, their biggest trouble spots are on the pitching staff. The bullpen continues to be a problem, and the rotation has slipped badly behind Price and Anibal Sanchez. Max Scherzer’s departure via free agency last offseason has taken its toll.

Now Detroit faces the prospect of losing Price, too - hence the speculation that they might deal him before he hits free agency. But if the Tigers do that, their four-year string of playoff appearances would probably come to a quiet end.

That’s a scenario Ausmus hopes to avoid.

“You put together a team for 162 games. You don’t put together a team for two thirds of the season,” Ausmus said. “We’re two-thirds of the way through a six-month season.”

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