Tigers relievers were getting ready to head out to their center-field bullpen at Camden Yards when they saw Joakim Soria called back.
“We saw Soria get pulled into the office and kind of figured,” Blaine Hardy said. “Losing a guy like that is tough, but we tried to make the best out of it out there, making [predictions] out there about who’s gonna close.”
Neftali Feliz got some picks, since he’s been a closer before. So did Bruce Rondon, because of the stuff. Alex Wilson got some predictions, too. Nobody predicted a five-out save, but when Wilson entered the game with one out in the eighth inning, they figured it was his game to lose.
“I had a feeling that if you’re gonna put him in the game, you might as well run with him,” Hardy said, “because he’s been unbelievable so far. With his cutter and his slider, locating his fastball, there’s no telling what he can do. Didn’t expect him to basically have to throw the eighth and the ninth, but he’s done it all year. It’s not like it was anything new to him.”
Wilson, for his part, didn’t know until he walked off the mound at the end of the eighth and didn’t see anybody warming up.
It wasn’t easy — not when he entered in an eighth-inning jam, nor when Matt Wieters’ two-out single in the ninth brought J.J. Hardy to the plate as the potential winning run in a game the Tigers led by seven runs at two different points. But when Wilson finished off Hardy with a ground ball to short, his first Major League save staked his claim to get the chance for more.
“It’s a little unconventional,” Wilson said, “but I’ll take it. If I have to run out for five outs every time we get a win, that’s what I’ll do.”
He would love to be the Tigers’ closer. He will get the chance at more saves, according to Brad Ausmus. He does not get the closer’s title. Nobody does. Not now.
Before the Soria trade, the Tigers had a closer, but no other set bullpen role. With Soria now gone, there are no roles.
Welcome to bullpen anarchy.
“People always say they want to assign roles, or relief pitchers would like to know their role,” Ausmus said. “But you’ve got to earn a role. It’s as simple as that. And roles aren’t handed out. You’ve got to earn them. Joakim Soria earned the role as a closer. He did it, produced that way, and he did a very good job for us while he was here.
“If somebody steps up and shows that they can pitch in a certain slot, we’ll put them there. But at this point, I don’t know that we’ve seen that.”
It might be the best opportunity Wilson could ask for. He might have the lightest track record of anybody in this bullpen, but so far this season, he has been the best performer, the most consistent reliever they’ve had.
If anybody, Tigers bullpen or anywhere, had predicted in Spring Training that Alex Wilson would end up closing games in Detroit, it would have been crazy. It’s not that way now.
“To get a chance to run back out there in the ninth inning, it’s just one more chance, one more opportunity for me to go out there and prove myself,” Wilson said.
For the second time in a year, David Price stood in front of reporters and talked about being traded away at the July 31 deadline. This time, however, he at least wasn’t caught by surprise.
The hints at the Tigers selling by July 31 had been coming long before Thursday’s trade that sent Price to the Blue Jays for Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd and Jairo Labourt. The official heads-up came Wednesday afternoon as they headed out of Tropicana Field, Price’s old home park. By the time Price filed into Camden Yards, he was no longer a Tiger.
He got in his usual workout, including some light tossing, said goodbye to teammates, packed up his gear and then slowly pedaled out on his travel bicycle. His Tigers tenure, which began with a stunning trade to Detroit last July 31, ended in an expected one July 30.
“It’s part of the business,” Price said. “We had a very talented group of guys in here, and so do the Blue Jays. Just go there and be ready to pitch every five days and then be a good teammate on the days in between.”
It’ll be the last part that will be part of Price’s legacy in the Tigers clubhouse, relatively brief as it was.
“He is in the top three of all people that have put on a baseball uniform that I’ve met in terms of being a good teammate,” said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, who played parts of 18 seasons with four different clubs. “Luis Gonzalez was one. Jeff Bagwell was one, Trevor Hoffman. They’re the elite in terms of teammates. You don’t see many people like him, that type of talent, that type of talent, with that type of selflessness.”
Current teammates agreed.
“He’s an awesome teammate, one of the best teammates I ever had,” Ian Kinsler said. “Toronto’s getting a really good pitcher and a good guy for two months. It’s tough to see a guy like that go.”
The Tigers traded young starter Drew Smyly, center fielder Austin Jackson and shortstop prospect Willy Adames to bring in Price last summer, with the hopes of not only gearing up for a playoff run, but also filling the void left by Max Scherzer’s eventual departure. He not only gave the Tigers the ace they needed, but also the fourth straight division title they wanted, earning the clinching victory on the final day last regular season.
After going 4-4 with a 3.59 ERA down the stretch, Price settled into his surroundings this season and thrived, going 9-4 with a 2.53 ERA in 21 starts. He averaged almost exactly seven innings a start this season, delivering 146 innings. The Tigers, who initially struggled to get a boost from his outings last year, went 15-3 over his first 18 starts this season before going 0-3 in his starts after the All-Star break, culminating in Wednesday’s 10-2 loss to the Rays with a gaggle of scouts watching.
“It was fun,” Price said. “The city took me in very well, and all the guys in the clubhouse, the entire coaching staff, everybody did everything in their power to make me feel comfortable and make me feel at home. I am forever grateful for that.”
It was a classy departure for Price, just not a shocking one. Even as Price won from the outset this season, the countdown to free agency was on. That clearly played a part in the Tigers’ deliberations to make a deal, but a stronger run in the playoff race this summer likely would’ve made a difference.
“We did approach [Price’s agent, Bo McKinnis] in Spring Training,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said, echoing comments McKinnis made to MLB Network Radio last weekend. “And it was clear we were not in the same [ballpark]. It just was not where we wanted to go from a financial perspective. I saw Bo McKinnis recently in Minneapolis, ran into him outside the clubhouse and kind of talked for a couple minutes, and it was apparent that there really had not changed.
“There was a strong part of us that would’ve loved to keep David, but we’re also in a spot where we do have financial parameters.”
Price is expected to be the top free agent on the market this winter.
“Everybody envisions themselves playing for one particular team their entire career,” Price said, “but it’s not the way it happens. Very few guys get to stay in one place for the duration of their career — unless you are a truly special player. It’s part of the business. We all get that and understand it. If you don’t like it, play better.”
The rumor began building early in the week, if not sooner: If the Tigers decided to become sellers by Friday’s Trade Deadlne, the Dodgers were ready to make a push for David Price.
The appearance of a Dodgers scout at Tropicana Field for Price’s start Tuesday night (he wasn’t there for the series opener Monday) furthered the notion.
Now that the Tigers have made their “rebooting” plans known, the Dodgers’ intentions are clear: David Price is their top target, as colleague Ken Gurnick states. And if they’re willing to go up their prospect ranks, they could have the parts to do it.
It’s likely not going to be a Price-for-Puig trade. Despite an environment that has proven comfortable for Cuban players such as Jose Iglesias and Yoenis Cespedes, the Tigers aren’t looking for that type of deal. They’re expected to seek more cost-controlled players, they need more pitching, and they’ve been frosty in the past about Puig, who burst onto the Major League scene with an impact in 2013 and 2014 but has struggled mightily this season.
The Dodgers do not need Puig to pull off a deal. Their prospects are strong enough that, even if the Tigers are still looking to win now (or next year, really), they can fit Detroit’s needs. Shortstop Corey Seager and left-hander Julio Urias top the list, ranking among the top 10 prospects in baseball, but the Dodgers have been steadfast about holding onto them, which reportedly played a factor in Cole Hamels talks. Seager is their shortstop of the future. The Tigers (or any team) would love Seager, who could play just about anywhere, but given their need for pitching, they’d particularly love Urias.
Given what the trade market has shown so far, one would like to think that favors the Tigers getting what they want. But if the Dodgers feel they can get Price on the free-agent market anyway, they could hold steadfast on their top guys and might still have enough to get a deal done.
The Dodgers reportedly were on the verge of acquiring a starting pitcher Wednesday in Alex Wood, but the 24-year-old could well be of more appeal to the Tigers. Detroit officials liked the left-hander previously when they were looking for young arms to add to their rotation, but never got a deal done. Frank Wren was the Braves general manager when they drafted Wood in 2012, and he was spotted around Tropicana Field hanging with the Tigers front-office group this week. Wren worked for Dombrowski in Montreal and Florida.
If the Dodgers won’t trade Urias, they could still have a prospect of interest in Grant Holmes, their top pick in last year’s draft. Holmes was rumored to be on the Tigers’ draft list before the Dodgers got him one pick before the Tigers came up. Like Urias, he’s a teenager, just 19 years old. Unlike Urias, Holmes is still in A-ball, currently in the Midwest League. He’d be an upside play, and probably not somebody who would help the Tigers win in 2016. But if the Tigers are going to give up the chance at a compensation pick in next year’s draft by trading Price, Holmes essentially fills that type of slot, a little better than that if you go by draft order.
The Dodgers have a much closer to ready youngster in Zach Lee, who made his Major League debut last weekend at age 23. You’d get more out of him now than the other guys, and the young right-hander could slot into the rotation almost immediately. Those who track the Tigers, however, question whether he’s their type of young pitcher. Still, if rebooting for next year is the primary goal, he’s closer than the others.
Other teams have prospect packages that might get noticed. The Tigers had a Major League scout at Double-A Erie last weekend to watch the Giants’ Double-A team,
including notably former first-round pick Tyler Beede in a start. He’s struggling to adjust to the Eastern League, having been rushed up, but the talent is noticeably. The Blue Jays have good young pitching, including Daniel Norris (wasn’t he a Rookie of the Year candidate) at Triple-A, but they need a lot of it right now, evidenced by Aaron Sanchez moving off the DL and into the bullpen after showing signs of success in the rotation earlier this year.
If the Tigers can’t precisely match up on prospects, there’s this: The Dodgers were willing to take on extra players and contracts a few years ago to swing a deal with the Red Sox and get Adrian Gonzalez, taking on Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford as well. It’s a much higher payroll the Dodgers have now, but when you’re carrying that kind of luxury tax already, adding another contract for the chance at a postseason rotation with Price, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke makes it an intriguing consideration. That’s something probably no other team would be able to do. It’s not even clear the Dodgers would do it, but it’s in their history.
Justin Verlander built his reputation stepping up when the Tigers needed him, whether it was a winner-take-all game in Oakland or a rubber game in a regular-season series with the lineup struggling and the bullpen taxed. In that sense, Wednesday’s 2-1 Tigers win was vintage Verlander.
“I can’t count the number of times our bullpen was strapped over the years and Ver went out and gave us eight or nine innings that day,” pitching coach Jeff Jones said of Verlander’s eight innings of four-hit ball. “That’s what it was reminiscent of for me.”
In other ways, though, Wednesday was a step towards Verlander 2.0, both in what he threw and how he carried himself. The your-best-against-my-best Verlander was replaced by a pitcher who studied scouting reports, adjusted his game and attacked hitters’ soft spots.
“His preparation and focus the last couple of games has been outstanding,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “He’s really intensively looked into what hitters can and can’t hit and attacked them at what he thought was their weakest spots, especially when they’ve matched up on his spots.”
The power fastball at the letters became a slightly slower fastball spotted on the corners. The secondary pitches weren’t so secondary.
They’re also trying to emphasize location and execution over power. A mechanical tweak before his previous start at Boston created more movement on his fastball, making it more deceptive. It didn’t do much for power, but that wasn’t the intent.
“He’s thrown some pitches this year 96-97,” Jones said, “but what we’re talking about with him is there’s so many guys nowadays that throw that hard, especially coming out of bullpens, that hitters are more used to seeing that. Not that we don’t want him to step on the gas sometimes — he’s still going to — but we have to make sure that we maintain location to go with it. There’s so many guys that throw hard that hitters are more apt to put a good swing on a 97 mph fastball if it’s in a bad spot. I mean, [Curt] Casali hit a home run off a 100 mph fastball Monday.“
With command and movement, Verlander could throw a slower fastball and get some of the results he used to with the harder.
“I think it was a lot of the command and also, I think, some of the mechanical adjustments I made,” Verlander said. “I think guys weren’t seeing it as well.
Around the same time, Jones said they worked on his slider to get more movement.
“It’s a good pitch for him,” Jones said. “He’s still got a good curveball. He’s got a good change. And he got away from the slider because it was a little flat for a little while.”
The result wasn’t just the best outing of his season, but statistically one of the better outings of his career. His 10 strikeouts marked his first game in double digits since the regular-season finale in 2013, which was better known for Henderson Alvarez’s no-hitter, and his 29th double-digit strikeout game of his career.
Of those, however, Wednesday marked just the fifth time in Verlander’s career that he struck out double-digit batters without giving up a walk. The last was Sept. 24, 2010, the year before Verlander’s MVP season. He struck out at least 10 batters four times in 2011, three of them with one walk.
The 2011 Verlander had a presence on the mound, and an intimidation factor he valued. A mound visit often met a glare from a pitcher who didn’t like the interruption. On Wednesday, as Jones made that trek to the mound to talk about their strategy for Joey Butler, Verlander didn’t glare. He held up his glove over Jones’ mouth as he talked.
“You know, everybody’s always talking with their glove over their mouth,” Verlander said, “and he’s coming out there obviously talking about our scouting report against Butler so … I don’t know. Pitcher’s out there talking like this, catcher’s talking like this, and he’s just out there talking. It was funny. He laughed. We laughed about it after the inning, too.”
Said Jones: “That was a first. It was pretty funny, actually. As soon as he put it up there, I started laughing.”
The long debate on the fate of the Tigers season appears to be over. Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski confirmed that they’ll look at trading their pending free-agents heading into Friday’s nonwaiver Trade Deadline.
“We look at it more as rebooting going into next year,” Dombrowski said Wednesday afternoon on his way out of Tropicana Field following Wednesday’s 2-1 win over the Rays.
The decision puts All-Star pitcher David Price, outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, closer Joakim Soria, outfielder Rajai Davis catcher Alex Avila all onto the market with about 48 hours to go. Price and Cespedes immediately become among the most coveted players available, while Soria and Davis become intriguing pieces added to the puzzle.
The Tigers’ win Wednesday halted a three-game losing streak, but did little to change the perception of their fall out of the thick of the playoff race. Detroit improved to 49-52, 12 ½ games behind the Royals in the American League Central. The Tigers stood four games behind Minnesota for the second AL Wild Card spot, pending the Twins’ result against Pittsburgh, but four other AL teams were between them, including Tampa Bay, Baltimore and now the White Sox.
“We’ll only make a trade if we think it makes sense for us,” Dombrowski said, “but it gives us a chance to maybe restock our club [after] some of the prospects that we traded away, get some people that will help us reboot and take it from there.”
Brad Ausmus said before the game that he moved up Jose Iglesias to the second spot today just to try to shake things up, not as a long-term move. Iglesias might eventually become a two-hitter, but not now. That said, it would be interesting to see if a strong game kept him there for the short term.
Meanwhile, Alex Avila starts at first base, putting James McCann behind the plate for Justin Verlander rather than the usual Verlander-Avila battery.
The Rays put Tiger killer Curt Casali at DH for the day game after the night game. They called up catcher Bobby Wilson to fill David DeJesus’ roster spot for the day.
TIGERS (career numbers off Chris Archer)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (1-for-12, double, walk, 5 K’s)
- Jose Iglesias, SS (0-for-1, walk)
- Yoenis Cespedes, LF (2-for-3, double)
- Victor Martinez, DH (1-for-6, 2 K’s)
- J.D. Martinez, RF (2-for-10, HR, 2 K’s)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B (1-for-7, 2 K’s)
- Alex Avila, 1B (1-for-3, HR, 4 walks)
- James McCann, C
- Anthony Gose, CF (3-for-11, 4 K’s)
P: Justin Verlander
RAYS (career numbers vs. Verlander)
- John Jaso, LF (2-for-13, walk, 3 K’s)
- Steven Souza Jr., RF
- Evan Longoria, 3B (7-for-25, double, triple, HR, walk, 5 K’s)
- James Loney, 1B (2-for-4)
- Logan Forsythe, 2B
- Asdrubal Cabrera, SS (16-for-63, 5 doubles, 6 walks, 24 K’s)
- Curt Casali, DH
- Kevin Kiermaier, CF
- Rene Rivera, C (0-for-2, walk, 2 K’s)
P: Chris Archer
Alex Avila is your first baseman of the night against Rays right-hander Jake Odorizzi. The start keeps the David Price-James McCann battery together for the 14th time in Price’s last 15 starts since early May. The Rays’ lineup against Price, meanwhile, includes Brandon Guyer, whose RBI triple was the only hit off Price when the Rays faced him for the first time here last August.
TIGERS (career numbers off Odorizzi)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (1-for-4, K)
- Yoenis Cespedes, LF (1-for-6, walk, 3 K’s)
- Victor Martinez, DH (1-for-2, double, walk)
- J.D. Martinez, RF (1-for-3)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B (0-for-3)
- James McCann, C
- Alex Avila, 1B (0-for-3, 2 K’s)
- Jose Iglesias, SS (1-for-2)
- Anthony Gose, CF (2-for-5, double)
P: David Price
RAYS (numbers vs. Price)
- Brandon Guyer, LF (1-for-3, triple)
- Joey Butler, DH
- Evan Longoria, 3B (0-for-3, 2 K’s)
- Logan Forsythe, 1B (0-for-2, K)
- Steven Souza Jr., RF
- Asdrubal Cabrera, SS (3-for-15, double, walk, 3 K’s)
- Curt Casali, C (0-for-3, K)
- Tim Beckham, 2B
- Kevin Kiermaier, CF
P: Jake Odorizzi
Andrew Romine gets the start at first base tonight against Rays right-hander Nathan Karns. Former Tiger Curt Casali gets the start behind the plate for the Rays.
- Ian Kinsler, 2B
- Yoenis Cespedes, LF
- Victor Martinez, DH
- J.D. Martinez, RF
- Nick Castellanos, 3B
- Alex Avila, C
- Jose Iglesias, SS
- Andrew Romine, 1B
- Anthony Gose, CF
P: Anibal Sanchez
RAYS (career numbers off Sanchez)
- John Jaso, DH (1-for-14, 4 walks, 2 K’s)
- David DeJesus, LF (2-for-3, double, walk)
- Evan Longoria, 3B (3-for-11, triple, walk, 2 K’s)
- James Loney, 1B (4-for-12, triple, walk, K)
- Logan Forsythe, 2B (2-for-5, HR)
- Steven Souza, RF
- Kevin Kiermaier, CF (1-for-2, triple)
- Tim Beckham, SS
- Curt Casali, C
P: Nathan Karns
Back after a couple days to find that the Tigers have shipped out first baseman Marc Krauss, optioned to Triple-A Toledo to make room for Kyle Ryan as an extra reliever (possibly spot starter if Alfredo Simon can’t make his next turn?). Krauss wouldn’t have started tonight anyway with left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez going for Boston.
Rodriguez was the return the Red Sox received last July 31 for Andrew Miller, the lefty reliever the Tigers tried to acquire but couldn’t match Baltimore on prospects for. They’ll get a first-hand look at him tonight for the first time.
- Rajai Davis, CF
- Ian Kinsler, 2B
- Yoenis Cespedes, LF
- Victor Martinez, DH
- J.D. Martinez, RF
- Nick Castellanos, 3B
- James McCann, C
- Jefry Marte, 1B
- Jose Iglesias, SS
P: Shane Greene
RED SOX (numbers off Greene)
- Mookie Betts, CF (1-for-2)
- Brock Holt, 2B (1-for-5)
- Xavier Bogaerts, SS (2-for-4, HR, K)
- David Ortiz, DH (1-for-4, walk, K)
- Hanley Ramirez, LF
- Alejandro De Aza, RF (1-for-6, 2 K’s)
- Pablo Sandoval, 3B
- Mike Napoli, 1B (1-for-1, HR, 3 walks)
- Blake Swihart, C
P: Eduardo Rodriguez
David Price’s agent, Bo McKinnis, has kept a very low profile all year about his client’s contract status and extension talks, preferring to keep any negotiations private. With Price’s name back in the rumor mill leading up Friday’s trade deadline, McKinnis appeared on MLB Network Radio Sunday morning with former MLB general managers Jim Bowden and Jim Duquette, and sounded less than optimistic about Price staying a Tiger — long term, or maybe even into August.
“When we got eight days from the deadline [that would be last Thursday], I had some folks that asked me my thoughts,” McKinnis said. “Then, I said I feel like if they were to go 5-3 in those eight, that Dombrowski would hang onto him. This team, he’s got a lot invested in it. It’s a solid club and hopefully Cabrera comes back here soon.
“Well, since I made that comment of them needing to go 5-3, they’ve actually gone 2-2, and it’s been against two last-place clubs. So it’s kind of hard to say I’m optimistic about us staying. Yet I have no doubt that Dave’s going to drag it to Thursday or Friday. If I was in his shoes, that’s what I would do, because this team was set up to win, and it’s just kind of hard to throw in the towel.”
McKinnis also responded to Bowden’s report that there hadn’t been an offer since Spring Training and indicated what many of us have felt since the season opened: The Tigers and Price have never been close enough on talks to justify Price forgoing free agency.
“To say we’ve had no talks would be incorrect. We have had talks,” McKinnis said. “It was just very evident that we were coming from different places in the very beginning. There’s no doubt the Tigers would like to keep him, and I do believe they’re going to make an effort to bring him back this winter. Now, that may or may not happen, but it was evident they wanted to keep him and we expressed a desire to stay as well. But we were just coming from two different positions from the very beginning, and the talks just never really took off from there.”
The expectation of him testing free agency was furthered when McKinnis was asked about granting a team trading for him a 48-hour window to try to negotiate a long-term deal.
“I try to never say never,” McKinnis said, “so I’m not going to give a blanket no to that, because you don’t know what’s going to be on the other end. They may offer us a billion dollars. You just never know. So I’m not going to say no to it.
“At the same time, With respect to David approaching free agency, the way he and I have viewed it, it’s as though he’s been running a marathon with all these one-year contracts, and we went into this season five-sixths of the way through the marathon. Now we’re even beyond that. We’re sitting here two months away from free agency. It’s kind of tough to not wait on that, but I’m not going to say it’s impossible to at least entertain something of that nature.”