J-Up sees Tigers as contenders, potential buyers

J-Up sees Tigers as contenders, potential buyers

DETROIT -- Justin Upton took a puzzled look Monday night when asked if the next 12 games were vital for the Tigers buying or selling leading into the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline. To him, there shouldn't be much debate.

"That's a pretty iffy statement," Upton said. "I mean, we're in second place [in the American League Central]. We're pretty close in the Wild Card.

"I don't think selling is on our mind. Everybody in this clubhouse thinks we can still win this division. I don't see why we can't. So I don't think we put any pressure on ourselves these next 12 games. It wouldn't make any sense."

Upton's manager, Brad Ausmus, was a little more guarded when asked Tuesday afternoon. Being in on discussions behind the scenes, he said general manager Al Avila -- going into his first Deadline as the guy in charge -- is "preparing for all possibilities."

That said, Ausmus believes the Tigers can add if they stay in contention.

"Based on recent history, I think the Tigers' organization has shown if they're in the hunt, they're buyers," Ausmus said. "But there's been no decision."

To some degree, this is what a manager says at this point in the year, to put the onus on the team to show it deserves to contend. The Tigers were 3 1/2 games back in the AL Wild Card race when they became sellers last year, and Ausmus felt they had a chance. So did players such as Ian Kinsler. The prospects Detroit brought in at the Deadline -- notably Michael Fulmer in the Yoenis Cespedes trade -- are part of the reason the Tigers are as close as they are this year.

Unlike last year, the Tigers don't have a large number of pending free agents. Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Mike Aviles are on one-year contracts, while closer Francisco Rodriguez and center fielder Cameron Maybin have club options for next season. Everybody else is either under contract or some sort of team control for 2017 -- including Upton, whose six-year contract includes an opt-out after next season.

The contract situation creates the possibility the Tigers stand pat, which would be fine with Upton.

"I mean, why not?" he asked. "We break camp in Spring Training expecting these 25 guys to be here. Obviously some guys are going to come up with injuries, but the guys that are in camp are the guys that you expect to win with. At the end of the day, if the team we broke camp with is still here, we're still pretty confident."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.