August 1st, 2014
The first game of life without Austin Jackson has Rajai Davis in center field and batting leadoff against lefty Franklin Morales. Bryan Holaday gets the start behind the plate for Justin Verlander. Interestingly, Verlander has had better success against hitters with Holaday catching than with Avila catching, but it’s a relatively small sample size (114 plate appearances with Holaday catching, compared with 511 PAs with Avila). On the Rockies side, D.J. LeMahieu gets the start at second base close to home. The Brother Rice graduate is expected to have a pretty big contingent of alumni in attendance this weekend.
TIGERS (career numbers off Morales)
- Rajai Davis, CF (4-for-7, double, 2 walks, K)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (1-for-2)
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (1-for-4, walk)
- Victor Martinez, DH (3-for-4, double, walk)
- Torii Hunter, RF (2-for-4, K)
- J.D. Martinez, LF
- Nick Castellanos, 3B
- Bryan Holaday, C
- Eugenio Suarez, SS
P: Justin Verlander
ROCKIES (career numbers against Verlander)
- Charlie Blackmon, LF (1-for-3)
- Corey Dickerson, DH
- Nolan Arenado, 3B
- Justin Morneau, 1B (12-for-49, 5 doubles, 2 HR, 8 walks, 15 K’s)
- Carlos Gonzalez, RF (0-for-4)
- Drew Stubbs, CF (2-for-5, K)
- Wilin Rosario, C
- Josh Rutledge, SS
- D.J. LeMahieu, 2B
P: Franklin Morales
The Tigers didn’t have the prospects to beat out teams like the Pirates, Cardinals or even the Dodgers for David Price. If another team decided it was willing to go all-out to get him from Tampa Bay, the Tigers didn’t stand much of a chance. Teams like Pittsburgh could give up too many prospects for Tampa Bay to turn down and still have a rich system.
That didn’t happen. And while teams in desperate need of starting help either hesitated or moved on to other options, the Tigers added to their star-studded rotation by getting creative.
If they couldn’t match other teams on prospects, they could offer young, cost-controlled talent. Drew Smyly is eligible for arbitration this winter, but he has four more seasons before he hits free agency. Austin Jackson isn’t cost-controlled with free agency looming after next season, but his trade to Seattle drew the Rays a young infielder in Nick Franklin, who fits the profile.
The one prospect the Tigers dealt from their system, shortstop Willy Adames, is a high-riser at age 18, but comes from a position of relative strength in the system, the middle infield.
“The way we looked at it,” president/GM Dave Dombrowski said, “the question that we asked ourselves is, ‘What gives us the best chance of winning a World Championship this year?’ We have to get there. We know that. It’s getting there but also trying to win a World Championship. We felt that adding him to our rotation gives us the best chance of getting that. We think with the addition of Joakim and David Price, that that really does help our ballclub.
“We traded two players from the big-league level that we like a great deal. We just thought that it would give us a better chance to win with David Price taking the ball the rest of the season.”
That part, giving up not only big-league players but key ones, was a twist in the deadline deals, one which Pirates general manager Neal Huntington noted.
“It was interesting, in that the majority of impact players went for Major League talent instead of teams trying to grab the best prospects they can, as has been the case in recent years,” Huntington told MLB.com’s Tom Singer and reporters in Arizona for the Pirates series against the Diamondbacks. “We engaged teams for the top guys on a lot of fronts, and didn’t find the right situation for us.”
For Dodgers GM Ned Colletti, the focus was always on the prospects.
“Winning and developing at the same time is not always easy to do,” Colletti told MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick and other Dodgers writers. “We’re trying to do both. This is the first time in maybe eight or nine years we think we have the prospects that can be everyday or even star players.”
The flip side of that, of course, is filling the holes left by the players traded. The A’s traded Yoenis Cespedes, but received outfielder Jonny Gomes as part of the return. The Tigers received nothing to fill the void in center field left by Jackson’s trade.
“It’s difficult, but I think you have to weigh it,” Dombrowski said. “We don’t make that deal unless Austin’s involved. We think Rajai [Davis] and [Ezequiel] Carrera will do a solid job for us out there. Correra’s done a real nice job for us in Triple-A. We’ve actually struggled on how to get him up to the big-league club at times. We’ve said this guy could help us now, he’s hitting .300, he’s a base stealer, he’s a very good defensive outfielder. He’s a left-handed hitter. Even if we brought him up, we didn’t really have a place to play him.
“We like Correra and we think Rajai, between the two of them, will give us solid work out there in center field. We’ll still get some offense out there.”
This was Torii Hunter’s reaction Thursday morning to the Jon Lester trade:
“Oh my God, that’s impressive. That’s all I could say. You lose Cespedes, a guy with power, but you gain another pitcher. And we all know in the playoffs, when you get there, pitching and defense win games. You have to give a little bit to get a little bit, so I think it’s a pretty good trade.”
He was talking with Austin Jackson about the deal and what Cespedes could do at Fenway Park. He had no idea at the time that he’d be looking at his own club doing the same thing by the time he left the ballpark Thursday evening.
“I mean, we’re neighbors in the offseason. We hang out. We worked out this offseason,” Hunter said. “Just talking to him all the time, on the phone or a text or being together going to dinner, whatever it may be, we’re always together. It’s tough to see him go. But you know, that’s why I try to pour into him so much at a time, because you never know what happens in this game. I told him that several times and this happened. He kind of gets it. I’ve been preaching that for the last couple years.”
That was the personal side. He had to divide that from the professional side.
“As players, as human beings, you’re like, ‘Look, Lester went to Oakland. OK, I want to know if we’re going to do something.’ And it actually happened,” Hunter said. “But that’s something where we might not even play Oakland. We have to get to the postseason first. We’ve got these next two months and I think David Price is going to help us out. Once we get through these next two months, I think getting to the postseason, David Price is a bulldog. That was a great pickup for us. Can’t worry about what Oakland’s doing. We only have to worry about what the Tigers are doing.”
A lot of Tigers were dealing with those dueling emotions. Jackson wasn’t a prospect, and he wasn’t really a young talent. He’s 27, but he was one of the core Tigers in their run of three straight division titles. Just five Tigers had been with the Major League squad longer than Jackson (Max Scherzer and Phil Coke were tied, having come up at the same time in the same deal). In many ways, he grew up with a lot of these players together.
“It’s hard,” Scherzer said. “I mean, you’re super sad because you have to see Smyly and Austin go, and they’ve been a huge part of what we’ve done here. But at the same time, I know what Price brings to the table, watching him pitch. He’s an unbelievable pitcher. It stings today, but tomorrow when we come to the park, I’m sure we’re all going to have huge smiles on our faces. …
“It’s tough. It’s real tough. Today stinks. Today we lose Smyly and Austin, and I know we’re getting David Price and he’s a great pitcher and everything. But in this moment, it stinks. You have to remember, we’re family in here. Austin and Smyly are part of this family, and we’re losing two of our guys. I get that the guy who we’re getting is very talented as well, but right now it stinks.”
Justin Verlander, the longest-tenured current Tiger, reacted much the same.
“You have mixed emotions,” Verlander said. “I’m paying attention to the game a little bit, trying to check and see what’s going on with the trade deadline. I’m just as intrigued as everybody else. And Mr. Dombrowski is pretty tight-lipped. He doesn’t let anything leak. But you see him running out there and you think, ‘Oh, man, something happened.’ Well, there goes my brother running off the field. I know he’s going somewhere else. You definitely have mixed emotions.
“I wish those guys the best of luck. They’re two extremely talented players and extremely good guys. They’ll be great.”
Verlander has also had the chance to be teammates with Price on the AL All-Star team.
“You’re talking about a caliber of pitcher who has one a Cy Young two years ago, and I think that answers how he can fit in and help this team,” Verlander said. “He’s one of the best pitchers in baseball. He’s left-handed. He’s a power pitcher, which always plays well in the playoffs. We have to get there first. You don’t want to look beyond. We’re not there yet, but we’ve got a good quality team. Just continue to play good baseball and hopefully you make it, then power pitching’s always a good thing.”
On the emotions as he left the field, Jackson said: “It was kind of hard to explain. It was kind of weird because I knew what was happening, but at the same time, I was in a daze a little bit. I really wanted to go hug all my teammates, really. But it is one of those situations where you don’t know what to do. You’re just stuck.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet. But I think when I put that Seattle uniform on, I think it’ll turn the page and start a new chapter.”
Asked to recall his best Tigers memories, Jackson had a list.
“There’s a few. It’s hard to just really go to one,” he said. “Getting to play in the World Series here in my short career was probably the best moment that I’ve had here. The Gallarraga catch. I get chill bumps when I see that still. When we beat the Yankees and seeing Coke point that ball out. “
I have a lot of good moments here and good memories. Go try to start it somewhere else now.”