Despite whatever jokes you may have about the deal that sent Doug Fister to Washington, Detroit Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski’s reign as the most trade-savvy executive in Major League Baseball will continue at least another year after this trade deadline. Heck, make that two or three years. That’s how good the deal that brought David Price to Detroit is for the Tigers. And beleaguered executive Jack Zduriencik’s Seattle Mariners didn’t make out too badly, either. The big news is: What in the world were Andrew Friedman and the Tampa Bay Rays thinking?
The framework of the trade is as follows: Seattle sends 2B/SS Nick Franklin to Tampa; Detroit sends CF Austin Jackson to the Mariners and LHP Drew Smyly and minor-league SS Willy Adames to the Rays; Tampa sends LHP David Price to Detroit.
This is a massive win for the Tigers, a moderate win for the Mariners, and essentially just a punt for the Rays. It’s very difficult to see the logic behind any argument otherwise.
Price, 28, won the American League Cy Young Award in 2012, is one of the most durable top-end starters in the league, so on and so forth. He joins a Tigers rotation that, like him, has been accused at times of coasting on reputation — Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander are also both former AL Cy Young winners, but neither has turned in a season up to their usual standards (3.27 ERA for Scherzer against his 2.90 from last year; 4.79 ERA for Verlander after having a 2.81 ERA over the previous 3 seasons). After adding Jon Lester at the deadline, Oakland still has the best rotation in the AL going purely by 2014 performance — but it’s harder to find a more proven group of pitchers in the league than the one headlined by Scherzer, Verlander and now Price (who has a 3.11 ERA in 172 IP this year). And the Tigers get Price for next year, too, giving them some insurance in case they’re not able to re-sign Scherzer in free agency.
Smyly’s departure is an afterthought in the arrival of Price (he’s a 25 year-old mid-to-backend rotation guy who’s been on a roll of late), regardless of the team control — that’s something the Rays need and it’s something the Rays love, but it’s not a huge deal from the Tigers perspective to give up. Jackson hurts a bit more, but Rajai Davis has been just as good if not a little bit better than Jackson this season and will slot into center nicely, allowing J.D. Martinez and Torii Hunter to complete the Detroit outfield. I wouldn’t put too much stock in this group of outfielders past 2014, but for the rest of this season they should be more than adequate.
The much-maligned Mariners, panned over the last few days for being unwilling to commit to an actual deal once it was in front of them, were clear winners in this trade as well. Jackson, 27, immediately becomes the team’s everyday center fielder, and the only prospect surrendered was 23 year-old Nick Franklin, who was already blocked at second base by one of the franchise’s marquee players and isn’t a realistic shortstop at the MLB level. The trade is a strict upgrade from a position of strength to fill a hole in a contender. Good move by the Mariners.
The Rays… well, that’s a different story. The temptation is to point to David Price’s pricetag for next year — $20 million — and say that’s the reason he was moved, and that’s true as far as it goes; it’s very likely that the Rays under no circumstances were willing to pay Price what he was going to cost, which puts them in a situation where they pretty much have to find a trade partner. The problem comes with the return. It was well known that the Rays have been in high level talks for weeks with half the contenders in baseball trying to deal Price, and GM Andrew Friedman has a fantastic track record when it comes to maximizing his return on trades — take a look at the Matt Garza and James Shields deals. Compared to those, however, this one is less than inspiring: a swingman, a 2B prospect whose stock is way down, and Dominican-born Willy Adames, 18, who before the season started was the No. 30 prospect in the Detroit Tigers organization (and whose jump to No. 5 in the Tigers’ Baseball America midseason rankings says more about Detroit’s system than it necessarily does about him). As far as I’m aware, the mere fact of his acquisition by the Rays does not actually change how good he is at playing baseball or what the scouting reports on him say — absent a compelling case made by actual scouts, there is no reason to suddenly think Adames is an impact prospect just because he’s the only non-MLB ready player involved in this deal.
And frankly unless the last week has all been one giant Kabuki dance by the Rays and Price’s suitors as to the extent the pitcher is actually valued league-wide, it doesn’t matter how many good things national guys suddenly have to say about Adames: The trade is a disaster for Tampa Bay. If that seems ludicrous to you given Friedman’s reputation and track record, just remember Dombrowski’s Fister trade. Sometimes good GMs make bad decisions.