KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A year ago, the Tigers' July trading strategy was easy to figure out.
They were going to get a pitcher. There was no doubt they were going to get a pitcher. They scouted every pitcher who could possibly be available, they called the Mariners at least once a day and often twice, and they ended up with Doug Fister.
The need was obvious. The deal made perfect sense, and it worked out even better than the Tigers could have hoped it would.
This year, as baseball people gathered Sunday for the All-Star Futures Game, no one seems anywhere near as certain what the Tigers will do.
They've shown some interest in Matt Garza (enough so that the Cubs sent special-assignment scout Dave Littlefield to watch the Tigers' Double-A Erie team). But Tigers people are suggesting a Garza deal is fairly unlikely.
They've shown some interest in Marco Scutaro, but don't appear to be all that enthused about the prospect of trading for him.
Some rival executives are convinced that the Tigers need to trade for a pitcher. Some believe that they need to get a second baseman.
Some think they don't really need to make any changes, and that they can (and likely will) win the American League Central with what they have.
And others have been told that after spending big on Prince Fielder, the Tigers don't have much money available to pick up anyone big.
While it's not certain that the Tigers will make any moves, they are preparing to do so. They've stepped up the scouting of their own top prospects, so that they can better decide which they would be willing to part with.
Other notes from the biggest gathering of baseball people outside the winter meetings:
-- It's looking more and more like both Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels could be available in trade this month, but both the Brewers and Phillies continue to tell teams that they're not ready to deal them yet. The Phillies have identified about four teams that would be a fit for Hamels, and are telling teams that they want players who are close to being big-league ready.
-- Scouts who have watched the Diamondbacks believe that the team is serious about listening to trade offers for outfielder Justin Upton. They also say there's every reason for teams to be interested. "Justin's playing hard," one rival scout said. "After the All-Star break, he could be the best player in baseball for the next three months."
-- Stephen Drew did not make nearly as good an impression during his recent rehabilitation assignment with Triple-A Reno. Scouts were stunned when Drew insisted on coming out of tie game after the ninth inning, even though his team was shorthanded and he wasn't scheduled to play the next day.
-- As recently as early this week, the Royals were thinking they could be buyers and make a run at the AL Central title. They told teams interested in closer Jonathan Broxton that they wouldn't decide until after the All-Star Game whether to put Broxton on the market. Their play this week makes them look more like a seller, but Royals people caution that they won't give Broxton away. The reason: They badly want to win games in the second half of the season.
-- While the A's have had a fine first half and enter the All-Star break with a .500 record that leaves them just 2 1/2 games out of a playoff spot, they still see themselves as sellers rather than as contenders. In fact, A's people are hoping Brandon McCarthy pitches well when he comes off the disabled list after the break, so that he can join the long list of pitchers the A's have traded away.
-- Kansas City people say they expect Robinson Cano to get booed during Monday night's Home Run Derby, because Cano bypassed local favorite Billy Butler when he picked the American League team.
-- The Cubs spent $6 million and a 40-man roster spot on 20-year-old Cuban pitcher Gerardo Concepcion, but scouts who have seen him pitch in the Class A Midwest League have come away totally unimpressed. "They're trying to tell people it's just mechanics that he needs to get straightened out," one scout said. "But I'm telling you, he stinks. If he was in a junior college game you were at, you'd leave." Concepcion is 2-6 with a 7.39 ERA in 12 starts for Peoria.
-- The Mariners were telling people this spring that 2011 first-round draft pick Danny Hultzen would likely be in the big leagues by the second half of this year, but now it appears that Hultzen could spend the entire season in the minor leagues. Hultzen had a great run of success in Double-A, but has walked 12 batters in 12 innings in his first three Triple-A starts.
-- There were plenty of high 90s fastballs on display at the Futures Game, but Tigers prospect Bruce Rondon outdid everyone. Rondon needed just four pitches to get two outs, and they were all fastballs: 102, 101, 101 and 101 mph. And while he didn't show it Sunday, scouts who saw Rondon at Double-A Erie say he also has a very good slider -- and some Jose Valverde-like flair. Royals prospect Yordano Ventura also hit 100 mph on the radar gun.