July 14th, 2017
To be a fan: In baseball, we always
covet thy other teams’ best players
By KEITH GAVE
Yeah, sure, it’s tempting to watch all those ex-Tigers playings in the MLB All-Star Game the other night and think, “Gees, I wish we had those guys back.”
For a team fighting to stay out of the last place in the American League – come on, let’s stop kidding ourselves that this team is a legit threat to compete for the playoffs – the Tigers were well-represented. Michael Fulmer, their most effective pitcher this season and last year’s American League Rookie of the Year, was named to the team.
But since he couldn’t compete, having pitched six solid innings in Sunday’s win at Cleveland, Justin Upton, the Tigers’ left-fielder, was added. Upton had a single in two at-bats and made a nice running play in the 10th inning on a liner slicing away from him in right field. It helped preserve the save for Andrew Miller – the most prominent of those ex-Tigers among Tuesday night’s all-stars.
No question, Andrew Miller would have looked mighty fine in a Tigers uniform over the past 10 years. But so has Miguel Cabrera, eh? Miller, the game’s most dominant left-handed reliever for the past several years, was the centerpiece of a deal that included outfielder Cameron Maybin, catcher Mike Rabelo and minor-league pitchers Eulogio De La Cruz, Dallas Trahern and Burke Badenhop to the Marlins for Cabrera and lefthander Dontrelle Willis.
Want a do-over on that one to keep Miller? I didn’t think so.
Among Miller’s teammates on the AL squad was outfielder Avisail Garcia, who made his debut in the majors in 2006. Garcia was hailed as a clone of Cabrera, his Venezuelan countryman. It’s taken a decade for Garcia to develop the skills that earned him an all-star invitation, but nobody is confusing the guy for Cabrera. Other than what was just mentioned, the two don’t belong in the same sentence.
But would Garcia look good in the Tigers’ outfield? Sure, but where? In Upton’s spot in left field? In right, where J.D. Martinez – who arguably deserved to be in Tuesday’s game as well? Does Garcia run well enough to track down balls in Comerica Park’s expansive centerfield? Moot questions, of course.
This one is not, however: Would you give back Jose Iglesias, one of the finest defensive shortstops in the game, an all-star in 2015 and a developing contact hitter, for Garcia in a do-over that three-team deal with the White Sox? I didn’t think so.
The National League All-Star team boasted three ex-Detroit pitchers, including the whopper that got away, starter Max Scherzer. The Tigers tried to keep him. Even before Scherzer became a free agent, owner Mike Ilitch offered him a boatload of money. But Scherzer got, even more, money when he hit the market, signing a seven-year deal worth $210 million, which included a $50 million signing bonus. That far surpassed the $144 million Detroit offered to keep its Cy Young Award-winner.
The two other former Tigers were not among the nine pitchers the NL deployed in Tuesday’s game, Arizona’s lefty starter Robbie Ray and Milwaukee reliever Corey Knebel.
Ray looked like a keeper right off the bat when the Tigers acquired him in a package from the Nationals in the deal for Doug Fister. But Ray went 1-4 in nine games, six of them starts, in 2014, and he was sent to Arizona in a three-team trade that brought Shane Green to Detroit. Green and lefty Justin Wilson have been the most reliable arms in the Detroit’s embattled bullpen this season.
Would you prefer a do-over in that deal, too? I wouldn’t think so.
Detroit made Knebel it’s first-round draft pick in 2013 and he made his MLB debut a year later. But he was gone before the trade deadline when GM Dave Dombrowski traded him to Texas for reliever Joakim Soria – a move that made sense at the time then.
And now – much like when the Tigers traded 20-year-old prospect John Smoltz, a right-handed starter and reliever who wound up inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015, to Atlanta for starter 36-year-old Doyle Alexander. The Tigers were in a three-team race, chasing the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East, and were in desperate need of starting pitching.
In 11 starts, Alexander went 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA to help the Tigers overtake Toronto on the final day of the season in one of the most memorable races in club history. Two years later, he was out of baseball while Smoltz was just beginning his journey toward immortality. It was a good trade at the time, and it makes sense even now because it gave the Tigers another shot at the World Series three years after they’d won it 1984.
It’s what teams chasing dreams this time of the season do, which is why – as long as we’re on the subject of coveting other teams’ players – there’s so much talk of today’s best performers in Detroit playing for other teams soon.
With the MLB trade deadline looming just 18 days away, the rumor mill is in overdrive, with J.D. Martinez, Wilson and catcher Alex Avila making most of the headlines.
Predictably, and strictly because of their unwieldy contracts, there has been little serious talk about teams inquiring about Justin Verlander – especially since GM Al Avila has said the club won’t retain any of the $70 million owed to the team’s ace over the next three seasons – or Cabrera, Upton, pitcher Jordan Zimmermann and DH Victor Martinez. And the limited no-trade clause in Ian Kinsler’s contract is scaring a lot of teams off in a soft marked for second-basemen.
I’d say it’s early, still, but Avila likely lost a critical trading partner today when the Chicago Cubs – who had inquired about Verlander, Fulmer and lefthander Daniel Norris – gave up four prospects, including their top two, to the cross-town Chicago White Sox for left-hander Jose Quintana.
The Sox, who got a similar cache of prospects in last summer’s deal for Chris Sale, now have one of the most well-stocked organizations in baseball. Watch out for that team in a few years.
It’s what we’d like to be saying about the Tigers, but until Avila can pull the trigger and make some deals, this team will continue to be mired in quicksand.