In trading away ace David Price, the Detroit Tigers pulled the plug on the current season. The trade means the organization acknowledges the team is not good enough to contend this year. That de facto admission is a blow to the ego, and it makes the next two months painful. Even so, the Tigers made the right call.
Detroit is 3.5 games away from a wild-card spot and trails the first-place Kansas City Royals by 12.5 games in the American League Central Division. The Tigers are without the services of star first baseman Miguel Cabrera – and are expected to be without him for another couple of weeks – and have at various times this season missed other key players due to injury, including starting pitcher Justin Verlander, designated hitter Victor Martinez, catcher Alex Avila and reliever Bruce Rondon.
When Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski confirmed Wednesday – less than 48 hours before the trade deadline – that Detroit would be a seller, it hardly came as a shock, even though the team had insisted right up to that point that it was intent on continuing to compete.
The Tigers have enjoyed marked success in recent years, from playing in the World Series in 2012 to making it to the American League Championship Series in 2013 to winning their division for a fourth straight year in 2014.
This season, none of that was going to happen, even if the Tigers held onto Price.
Detroit could have put its head down and continued stubbornly slogging along, gutting out the final two months of the season in an effort to overcome the failures of the first four months, but the team chose a wiser course of action. As Dombrowski has so deliberately phrased it, the Tigers are rebooting – shutting down for the moment with the intent of starting up again soon.
Had the Tigers the slightest inkling that they could make a run if they got into the playoffs, they would not be selling. The fact they are means the organization recognizes that where it sits currently is far from where it needs to be in order to have success. The realization of that will undoubtedly prompt some changes.
Could the second season for young manager Brad Ausmus be the last one? Could this be the final year of Dombrowski’s tenure with the Tigers? For a fan base used to winning, the current struggles have been aggravating, and some of the team’s supporters will likely clamor for Detroit to get rid of both Ausmus and Dombrowski. The team’s ownership does not seem the type for knee-jerk reactions, however, so any dramatic moves would be somewhat surprising. On the other hand, with 86-year-old owner Mike Ilitch only getting older, the sense of urgency is growing daily.
Dombrowski is likely serious in framing Detroit’s current goal as a reboot rather than a rebuild, which connotes a much longer process. Ilitch might not live to see the results of a lengthy reconstruction, and between Cabrera and Verlander the team currently has a couple of cornerstone pieces that it should be able to build around.
Price was never going to be one of those cornerstones. The pitcher had been candid since before the season about the lure of free agency, the excitement of finally being able to choose for which team he would play. Between that element of free agency and the financial aspect – hello, bidding war – it seemed all but certain that Price would not be re-signing with the Tigers. An extension would have been the only way for Detroit to hold onto him, since on the open market other teams would almost certainly outbid the Tigers. Detroit has one of the highest payrolls in baseball, but since it did not pay up to keep ace Max Scherzer last season, it seemed unlikely the team would be amenable to shelling out a similar sum for Price.
The only logical course of action for the Tigers was to plan for the future, and in what they accepted in exchange for Price, the team acknowledged one of its main areas of need – starting pitching. The collective ERA of Detroit’s current rotation is 4.50, which is 26th in Major League Baseball.
That was with Price, whose ERA is 2.53.
In return for shipping Price to the Toronto Blue Jays, the Tigers received three left-handed starting pitching prospects. The 22-year-old Daniel Norris has a 3.86 ERA over 23 1/3 innings in five starts for Toronto this season. The Tigers also received 24-year-old Matt Boyd and 21-year-old Jairo Labourt.
Throwing in the towel on this season by trading Price was no doubt a difficult decision for the Tigers, but it was one they would have been crazy not to make.
Originally from the Kansas City area, Ashley spent the last two years in Detroit covering the Lions, Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons – and some Michigan and Michigan State – as the sports writer for CBS Detroit. She previously spent three years as a correspondent for the Associated Press, covering football and basketball at Kansas State. She grew up watching the Chiefs and the Royals, but her soon-to-be husband is the true Royals devotee. The light-hearted argument over where to put the bobbleheads in the new apartment has already begun.