Should the Detroit Tigers Trade or Extend Tarik Skubal?

With Cy Young frontrunner Tarik Skubal just a few years away from free agency, the Detroit Tigers have a decision to make with their ace.

Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Tarik Skubal delivers a pitch during game one of an MLB doubleheader against the Oakland Athletics on May 10, 2022 at Comerica Park.
DETROIT, MI - MAY 10: Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Tarik Skubal (29) delivers a pitch during game one of an MLB doubleheader against the Oakland Athletics on May 10, 2022 at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Tarik Skubal has been the Detroit Tigers best pitcher and frankly one of the best pitchers in baseball. But with the middling of this Detroit team and some of the higher-end talent not panning out, the Tigers have a choice to make with the 27-year-old left-hander.

After this season, Skubal has two years of team control left before free agency. If the Tigers look at themselves and don’t think they can win it all before the start of the 2027 season, an argument can be made that they should maximize the asset now and deal him for a haul at the deadline.

With that said, the Tigers finally have an ace. And instead of trying to use that ace for anything but winning, Detroit could instead try to leverage their remaining control of Skubal and get him to sign a long-term extension to headline the rotation for years to come.

The last option would be for the Tigers to simply hold Skubal for now, and wait until next season to make any decision about his franchise with the franchise. Let’s examine what is the best decision for their franchise.

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What Makes Skubal So Valuable?

Last year, Skubal set the wheels in motion for the breakout the Tigers have enjoyed so far in 2024. The southpaw missed the first half of the season on the 60-day IL, but returned to the mound early in July and never looked back.

Across 15 starts, Skubal pitched to 2.80 ERA, racking up 102 strikeouts in 80 1/3 innings pitched.

This year his counting stats look almost identical to last year’s with just a couple of tweaks. To this point of the season, Skubal has a 1.92 ERA with 96 punch outs. He’s let up less runs with almost identical strikeout numbers and is on pace for a top 3 Cy Young finish.

The most impressive part of Skubal’s game this year are his underlying numbers.

Look at his Baseball Savant and you will see a sea of red. He’s dropped his hard hit rate down 8% from last year, holds the best FIP in the league at 2.18, the best WHIP in the league at 0.891 and leads the league in pitching fWAR at 3.5.

His key component has been the use of his slider as his put away pitch and the increased use of his sinker. Last year, Skubal threw his slider 20% of the time, while using his sinker only 12% of the time, using his changeup and four-seamer as his two main putaway pitches.

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This resulted in his slider having a the highest average exit velocity of any one of his pitches in his arsenal, a batting average of .224 against the pitch and an average whiff rate of just 24%.

This year, Skubal has lowered his slider usage to just 15%, but has generated more swing and misses on the pitch, while also upping his sinker usage to 21%. And clearly, it has been working for Tarik.

His whiff percentage on the slider this year has went up 10% to a whopping 34% and has upped the strikeouts using his sinker from six the year before to 22 this year. And for the cherry on top of this delicious sundae that is Tarik Skubal’s pitch mix, his slider, this year, is the least hard hit of all his pitches, coming in at 85.4 MPH average exit velocity, while opposing hitters are hitting .194 against the pitch, 30 points lower than last year’s mark.

All of that is to say, Tarik Skubal is really good at baseball and that alone should make him valuable to any team in the league. But the extra bonus of having him for this year’s playoff run, and two more after that, makes him an intriguing target for any team in contention. Or somewhat close to it.

What is the Move for Detroit?

Well, each side has it’s pros and cons. A trade can land you some great assets that can help you contend for years down the road but is it worth it when your getting rid of your ace?

The deals for these type of players still under contract are usually big ones. Looking at just recent history, Jose Berrios was dealt to the Blue Jays for two top 100 prospects in the MLB at the time and was still under contract for an extra year.

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Luis Castillo was traded at the deadline a few years ago, where he was later extended by the Seattle Mariners after they sent a package of four prospects headlined by Noelvi Marte to acquire him.

In both instances with Berrios and Castillo, you can make the argument that the team that acquired the ace won the trade. Same can be said for the Pablo Lopez-Luis Arraez trade for two MLB stars from a few year ago.

If the Detroit Tigers are going to trade Skubal, it will be prospects they are after, and they can expect to receive at least two top 10 prospects from a good farm system, with some extra pieces thrown into the deal as well. This would reset the Tigers timeline a bit, but if they don’t feel that they can contend anyway, why not cash in on Skubal’s value when it is at it’s peak?

You can argue that they have plenty of time to trade Skubal, but considering the volatility of pitchers with injuries, you really never know how long the asset will be there to deal. Just ask the Cleveland Guardians with Shane Bieber.

The other option is extending Skubal, which really should be the move made by Detroit’s front office. Skubal is only 27 and is showing no signs of slowing down any time soon. He could be an ace for the next five-plus years for the Tigers, and they can absolutely contend in that window.

Extending Skubal takes pressure off of these prospects to become the ace or savior of this rotation. Skubal can go from the young fireballer ace to the frosty veteran that mentors these kids in the rotation and helps them through the bumps that the Majors throws their way.

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Just look at how well the extensions for Castillo and Berrios are playing out for their new teams. Granted a trade took place before those extensions, but they are deals for frontline pitchers all the same, which are aging very well at this point in time.

From Skubal’s perspective, the risk of injury is worth it enough to sign a deal before he reaches free agency, even if it is slightly below the market value he could attain when he gets there.

An extension to Skubal also says to your fans and players that you plan on contending soon and give hope to this already tired and bruised fan base. If you’re contending window is 2-3 years down the road, Skubal can still be that dominant pitcher he is now and not have to rely on one of your top prospects to be the ace of the rotation their first or second year in the league.

Although, this is only the beginning of the speculation for the Tigers and Skubal. If a deal doesn’t get done soon, Skubal’s value dwindles on the trade market by every aching second, making it harder and harder to cash in on such a valuable asset.

Holding onto Skubal without an extension could be detrimental for the Tigers, losing him for nothing in free agency, or worse before than to injury, where you never get to cash in on his value. A move has to be made soon, it’s just a matter of what they decide to do and when they pull the trigger on it.