Nine questions about the Tigers’ acquisition of David Price

With the acquisition of David Price, the Detroit Tigers have the best left-hander in the American League.

With the acquisition of David Price, the Detroit Tigers have the best left-hander in the American League.

Just when we thought the biggest news of this trade deadline was going to be how the Oakland A’s got more pitching to shore up for the postseason, the Detroit Tigers made the big splash.

David Price was the best player who changed teams during this July 31 trade deadline season. He’s a Cy Young Award winner and a favorite to make a run at that award again this season. He leads the league in strikeouts and he’s probably the second best left-handed pitcher in baseball.

And now he’s a Tiger.

Though we had predicted here and on Twitter that the Tigers should and would get Price, the deal was still a stunner. First word started to spread throughout the ballpark on Thursday afternoon that Detroit was going to get Price for “prospects,” but then in the seventh inning Dave Dombrowski poked his finely-coiffed hair into the Tigers’ dugout and beckoned Brad Ausmus to get Drew Smyly and Austin Jackson out of the game and off the bench ASAP. Rather quickly, the fans at Comerica Park started to put 2-and-2 together, and the answer came up “PRICE.”

After Thursday’s game the Tigers announced that Jackson and Smyly were sent to Seattle and Tampa Bay respectively, in a deal that netted Rays’ ace Price.

This deal makes some unhappy, puzzles a few, leaves some saying “let’s wait and see” and thrills others.

Put me in the last camp. Here’s my assessment of the major questions that arise after the latest Tiger megadeal.

I thought we needed bullpen help, why get another starting pitcher?
If you want to win a World Series, you have to navigate three postseason series. It’s not easy, but Detroit has gotten 2/3 of the way in each of the last three seasons. They’ve done that largely because of their starting pitching.

But as talented as Detroit’s starting staff was supposed to be in 2014, they’ve been inconsistent this season. Justin Verlander has really struggled, Anibal Sanchez looks unhittable for a start or two, then he has a terrible inning that blows up his next start, plus he has a history of nagging injuries. Even last season’s Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer has had a few rocky starts, though he’s been real sharp lately. Only Rick Porcello has been consistent, and he doesn’t have the natural stuff that the other three possess. The Tigers know that if they want to get back to the World Series they need dominant starting pitching. Scherzer, Verlander, and Sanchez have shown that in October, but Price gives them another stud to throw at their foes in the playoffs.

The Tigers got the best reliever (Joakim Sorai) and starter (Price) available at the trade deadline. In fact it’s not even close. Prior to his arrival, Soria was having an historic season with Texas in regards to runners allowed and runs scored. He’s had two shaky outings with Detroit, but don’t expect that to continue, he’s the real deal. Also, if Detroit makes the postseason, they will be able to shift one of their starters to the pen. That was probably going to be Smyly, but now it could be Porcello or even a hard thrower like Verlander (if only between his starts or in emergency). This trade lengthens and deepens the Tiger rotation for the postseason.

Won’t we really miss Austin Jackson?
Jackson was a popular player in Detroit and his defense in center field will be missed, but given the return the Tigers got, it’s a great trade for Detroit. Jackson is notoriously streaky, he’s prone to slumps, and at the age of 27 he should be improving his power, but he hasn’t shown that he will. Jackson is a good player and it’s likely he’ll have some good seasons elsewhere in the future (he has one more year on his contract before he could leave Seattle via free agency). But overall, AJax is probably as good as he’s ever going to be. He may still have his “career year” in him, but Price at 28 is entering his prime years as a pitcher. Don’t overestimate Jackson’s impact — so far in 2014 he’s been worth about two wins to the Tigers (according to WAR), and he doesn;t do a lot of the peripheral things that you;d like to see in a maturing big leaguer, like draw walks or steal bases at a good clip.

Who will play center field?
Rajai Davis and Ezequiel Carrera. Who is Carrera, you ask? He’s a 27-year old journeyman outfielder with his sixth organization who’s played about 130 games in the big leagues, none with the Tigers so far. But mostly Carrera has been in the minor leagues where he’s been impressive with the glove (he’s an above average major league defensive outfielder) and quick enough to steal 273 bases. He’s basically a better Quintin Berry — much better with the leather and marginally better with the bat. He has a left-handed bat, which will come in handy too.

This arrangement is for the short-term, as Detroit goes for it now. In the offseason, the Tigers will most definitely pursue a center fielder. Don’t expect Torii Hunter, who won many Gold Gloves in center in his younger days, to see any action there unless it’s an emergency. His serious fly chasing days are behind him.

How good is David Price?
Real good. So good that he leads the AL in strikeouts this season and gives Detroit their third Cy Young winner. Consider this: Price has more quality starts than any other left-hander in the league over the last five seasons.

Is Smyly going to come back to haunt us?
Most likely not. Smyly is a solid big league pitcher, and at 25 he has plenty of time to mature and get even better. But his numbers don’t project him out to being much more than a #3 starter or so. Even if he does get better, the Tigers are trying to win NOW. They had to give up something to get one of the best pitchers in baseball. Remember that the Tigers have young lefty Robbie Ray (acquired in the Doug Fister deal), Jake Thompson, and a few other young starters who are likely to knock on the rotation door in the next few years.

Who is Willy Adames, and have we let go of a prospect we shouldn’t have?
Adames is an 18-year old shortstop. That’s about all you need to know about him. His impact years are (at best) 3-4 years away. The Tigers are going to be a much different team in 3-4 years. They are built to win and win now. They’re going for it and giving up prospects is the cost of doing business. The next time Dombrowski gives up a prospect that becomes a star will be the first time. How much do you miss Cameron Maybin, Avisail Garcia, and Jacob Turner? I thought so.

Was this trade made with Max Scherzer’s free agency in mind?
I don’t think Dombrowski was specifically targeting a starting pitcher at the deadline so he could have insurance in case Max bolts town this offseason for more cash. But it is a nice residual effect of this trade. Price is under contract through 2015, so if Max leaves, Detroit will still have a big three of JV, Price, and Sanchez.

How much of this deal was a response to what Oakland did at the trade deadline?
The Tigers would have made this deal any way, even if Oakland had sat on their hands. They would have been crazy not to. If Tamp calls you and offers the best left-handed starter in the league and all you have to give up is a teenage prospect and two good (but not great) players off your current roster, you do it. You make that deal every time.

Having said that, it sure helps to get Price after Billy Beane added three starters to his rotation with deals this summer that Verlander said were done specifically to get past Detroit in the playoffs. If the Tigs and A’s square off in October for a third straight year, it will be a clash of two fantastic starting rotations. How about Max vs. Sonny Gray, JV vs. Jon Lester, Price vs. Scott Kazmir, and Sanchez vs. Jeff Samardjiza? That’s some must-see postseason baseball.

Why does anyone trade with Dave Dombrowski?
Anyone with a #14 Detroit jersey or an unhealthy attachment to Drew Smyly is probably irritated by this trade. But that’s silly. People all over baseball are already applauding the Tigers for pulling off this blockbuster. The question is, why do any GMs even call Dombrowski or return his calls to talk trade? After he’s fleeced so many teams (Max and AJax for Granderson, Miggy for a bunch of prospects that never panned out, Kinsler from Texas for The Fat Player & Contract, etc.), the amazing thing is that anyone ever deals with him. While his critics will point out the very few trades that didn’t pan out (you have to look really hard to find one, and the Fister deal might look the worst but give it two more years to see how Ray turns out), Dombrowski deserves the benefit of the doubt. All you haters just stop and think about this when you want to whine about Dombrowski: if you like what Miguel Cabrera and Max Scherzer ahev accomplished in a Detroit uniform just stop and thank The Wizard of Woodward Avenue.