Each of the past two seasons, the Tigers have arrived at the trade deadline in a precarious position — uncertain whether their current roster would be enough to separate them from the rest of the AL Central down the stretch.
In 2011, they were just 1.5 games up on the Cleveland Indians, and general manager Dave Dombrowski traded for starting pitcher Doug Fister and reliever David Pauley from Seattle. Fister went on to play a key role in the Tigers’ run to the American League championship that year.
Last year, trailing the Chicago White Sox by two-and-a-half games at the deadline, Dombrowksi struck again. This time he acquired Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante from Miami. Again, both players significantly helped the Tigers down the stretch, but not enough to stop an embarrassing four-game sweep in the World Series. And with the tick of the clock at 4 p.m. on July 31, trade deadline officially came and went.
Two months ago, considering the gaping hole at the closer position, it seemed the Tigers were destined to get relief-pitching help before the deadline passed. Sure, Jose Valverde was the all-important closer, but it was tough to call him that because he didn’t do very much closing.
After an abysmal 5.59 ERA in 20 appearances, Valverde was finally shipped to the minors in late June (he was released last week). We all gave a sigh of relief knowing that, for at least a little while, we wouldn’t have to watch Valverde blow game after game — all while participating in some of the most ridiculous pitching antics that the MLB has seen since fictional reliever Kenny Powers graced the mound.
With Valverde gone, Joaquin Benoit moved into the closer role and has done a solid job since. But there wasn’t enough bullpen depth.
Enter Jose Veras — deadline aquisition No. 1 — who came into Detroit with a respectable 2.93 ERA. Considering the bulk of the price for Veras was only 19-year-old outfield prospect Danry Vasquez, it seemed like a good trade; at least for now.
Dombrowski wasn’t done though. Jhonny Peralta was facing an extensive suspension, which was finalized at 50 games, for the use of PEDs. Needing to stabilize the shortstop position, Dombrowski maneuvered a three-team trade with the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox. The Tigers received the quick-gloved, fast-footed Jose Iglesias from Boston in return for sending outfielder Avisail Garcia to Chicago and relief pitcher Brayan Villarreal to Boston.
From the looks of it, these two trades are following a precedent that the Tigers have set the past two years at the deadline: get your hands on players who will have an immediate impact for a bargain price.
Considering how bad Ryan Raburn hit in last year’s first half, Infante could’ve played blindfolded and done a better job. And Sanchez — we all know how that turned out. Fister fit the mold because he was acquired from the Seattle Mariners for… a set of hand towels and a bag of balls — but actually four young prospects who have had little impact in the majors.
Every season that the Tigers fail to win a World Series, it seems the front office gets a little more free-spending and a little more insistent on winning now rather than later.
Do you blame owner Mike Ilitch, who’s 84, for taking this approach? He isn’t exactly a spring chicken, and he’s still searching for his first World Series since purchasing the team in 1992.
Either way, Dombrowski has proved able to wheel and deal at the trade deadline with foresight. Some people were upset the Tigers lost Garcia, who’s a potential everyday starter, and Vasquez, who’s still very young, but the trades are the typical “buy now, save later” mentality we’ve come to expect.
Just two weeks into joining the team, Veras has had a noticeable effect on the bullpen, Iglesias’ glove has lived up to the expectations, and his bat has been more than adequate. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll be the extra boost the Tigers need to finally win that elusive World Series.
Michael Laurila writes about sports for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].