KANSAS CITY – The Detroit Tigers traded away David Price, Yoenis Cespedes and Joakim Soria at the deadline two weeks ago, and the players still on the team interpreted those moves exactly how everyone else did.
“The organization obviously is planning for next year and obviously thinks that we’re out of it,” second baseman Ian Kinsler said Wednesday. “That’s obvious.”
At the trade deadline, the Tigers trailed the Kansas City Royals by a considerable margin in the American League Central Division and were several games out of a wild-card spot. Starting pitcher Justin Verlander, first baseman Miguel Cabrera and designated hitter Victor Martinez had all missed significant time due to injury, and the bullpen and rotation had not materialized the way the organization had hoped.
With all that in mind, the Tigers made what most considered the right choice. They sold their best starting pitcher, their best outfielder and their best relief pitcher – all of whom will be free agents at the conclusion of the season. Fans and media applauded the moves, but what about the players who still had two months of the day-to-day grind remaining before they too could turn the page on the season?
As the trade deadline approached, players still had faith they could make a run at a postseason berth, their underwhelming win-loss record notwithstanding. When the organization sold three key pieces of the team, players did not appreciate it.
“Obviously you’re not happy,” Verlander said. “You don’t like giving away some of your best players, but at the same time, I’ve been around long enough, and I understand the business side of it.
“If you want to be good for a long time – which we have – you have to sometimes take a shot at the future and make some trades that may not be the most popular decision in the clubhouse but from the organizational perspective [might be] the best move,” Verlander continued.
By making trades to position the club better for future years, the organization inevitably makes the current job of the players harder in more ways than one.
“It’s tough,” catcher James McCann said. “The toughest part about losing those guys is those are three phenomenal guys in the clubhouse. Obviously they can play, everyone knows that they can play, everyone can look at their stats and know how good they are, but losing the presence of a David Price in the clubhouse, of a Yoenis Cespedes, of a Joakim Soria, those are three guys that were leaders in the clubhouse, so I think that’s kind of the biggest missing piece.”
Kinsler said he and other players did not find the trades surprising but believed there was also a possibility the Tigers would hold on to everyone.
Verlander thought it was a close enough call that the team’s performance in the week prior to the deadline might have been the determining factor in the decision. The Tigers lost three straight at the beginning of the week, which made them losers in five of their last six, and that stretch included two losses in extra innings.
“If we win some of those games, it might be a different story,” Verlander said. “If we put ourselves in a position where we’re one and a half back in the wild card and not four, I think it’s a big difference there.
“I guess the way that management looked at it, and Mr. I [owner Mike Ilitch], if we’re that far back and still not playing great baseball, you can take a chance and hope that something works out, or you can cut your losses and say, ‘Let’s rebuild for next year and the future,’” Verlander said. “Obviously that’s the route that they decided to go.”
It would not be surprising if players felt that the organization pulled the rug out from under them, so to speak, by trading away Price, Cespedes and Soria. On the contrary, however, Verlander, Kinsler and McCann all acknowledged that the trades would likely not have been made were the team more competitive earlier.
“We built our own rug,” Kinsler said. “We put ourselves in that position, and we put our organization in that position to make a decision, so a lot of that’s on us, and we have to live with the decision that they made.
“Every once in a while you’ve got to look in the mirror,” Kinsler continued. “This is a day and age where everybody thinks they’re entitled to everything, it’s an entitlement age, but you’ve got to look in the mirror. And that’s what happens when you don’t play up to your expectations.”’
With that said, the injuries to Verlander, Martinez and Cabrera – not to mention others like closer Joe Nathan, who tore his ACL near the beginning of the season – were setbacks over which the players had no control.
“This team never played as a team, and when I say that, I mean myself, on the DL for two months, Victor started the season, obviously wasn’t himself, he had to go on the DL for an extended period of time, came back and has to figure it out midseason, which isn’t easy,” Verlander said. “Him and I both had to go through that, where you try to catch up. That’s not easy to do. And then Miggy. When we came back, Miggy went down.
“And you’re not talking just little pieces,” Verlander continued. “Those are major pieces to a team that’s expected to win. You lose pieces like that and never once have [all] of your big pieces on the field at the same time, that’s going to be tough.”
Just because the organization has effectively thrown in the towel on the 2015 season does not mean the players will. Some take the trades as a challenge.
“Chip on your shoulder?” McCann said. “Maybe, yeah, and I think that we do want to prove a lot of doubters that we can play. But at the same time, chip or no chip, we show up to win, and that’s our main goal, is to win.”
Even if wins continue to prove elusive, however, Kinsler said the players have plenty of motivation to give full effort in every game.
“There’s still guys in here that have pride and that enjoy playing the game, and there’s guys in here that are still working to establish themselves in the major leagues, guys that are trying to fight for a job next year,” Kinsler said. “Whatever it may be, there’s reasons for everybody to continue to play hard, and for a guy like me, to see a teammate that has something like that on the line, I have to play hard for that.
“It’s a team game, and if I’m not playing hard, it makes it that much more difficult for a guy like that to establish themselves or to better themselves going into the offseason, so there’s a lot of reasons to play hard and to still show pride,” Kinsler added.
Despite the trades, the Tigers continue to believe they have a shot at the playoffs. As McCann described it, the team is still chasing October.
“You’ve just got to continue to plug away with what you’ve got,” Verlander said. “We had a meeting and said, ‘It’s not going to be easy, we’ve got to do things right, we’ve got to do all the little things, but we’re not out of it.’”
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.