DETROIT (AP) – The move was a bold one.
A few weeks after losing a one-game playoff for the American League Central Division title, the Detroit Tigers traded Curtis Granderson to the New York Yankees. Sure, the Tigers received a quartet of players in return, but they gave away a fan favorite in the prime of his career and the reaction to that deal in December 2009 was predictable.
“Any time you’re trading a known for the unknown, people are very skeptical, I guess,” general manager Dave Dombrowski said recently. “They’re in a position that they don’t know the players, but those guys there are all quality talents.”
The Tigers are a season removed from that complex, three-team trade, and their fans have begun to embrace the four players Detroit acquired. Austin Jackson, Max Scherzer, Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth are all expected to play important roles this season.
In fact, if the Tigers do live up to expectations and contend for the AL Central crown, they might look back on that swap as the catalyst for their resurgence.
Granderson had played with Detroit his entire career and hit a career-high 30 home runs in 2009, helping the Tigers finish even with Minnesota through 162 games. Parting with Granderson wasn’t easy, but he was owed $25.75 million through 2012. Dombrowski acknowledged at the time there were financial considerations involved – but this was more than just a salary dump.
By trading Granderson and pitcher Edwin Jackson – who was sent to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the deal – the Tigers were able to restock their roster with four young, cheap additions, all of whom turned out to be ready for major league duty last year.
“We had to get a young starter back, which was Scherzer, and a young center fielder,” Dombrowski said. “Those were necessities if we were going to make that type of deal, and then the other players we’d try to fit around that.”
Austin Jackson was given the difficult task of replacing Granderson, and he stepped into the center field spot and performed well, hitting .293 with 27 stolen bases and finishing second in the AL Rookie of the Year vote.
And he might not even be Detroit’s best acquisition from the trade. Scherzer struggled at the beginning of last season, but he went 11-7 with a 2.46 ERA from May 30 on, averaging more than a strikeout an inning during that span.
The 26-year-old Scherzer will team with ace Justin Verlander to form what could be one of the league’s best 1-2 starting tandems.
“Last year, I tried to dial it up too much. This year I am settling down and doing things different,” Scherzer said. “I had to work on my mechanics at the start of last season. I worked on things and it got better after I made some adjustments.”
Coke and Schlereth, a pair of left-handers, pitched out of the bullpen last season, but Coke is now joining the rotation, where he could be more valuable.
“Our reports on Phil Coke were basically as a starting pitcher, long before we made this trade,” manager Jim Leyland said. “He’s got a starting pitcher’s repertoire – curveball, changeup, fastball. I think it’s just a matter of getting him settled back into that role.”
The Tigers aren’t necessarily gloating about the deal. After all, Granderson hit 24 home runs last year for New York and didn’t turn 30 until about a week ago.
“It wasn’t like we didn’t give something up,” Leyland said. “We’re very happy with it, but I’m sure everybody else is happy with it, too. That’s the way trades are supposed to be.”
San Diego executive Josh Byrnes, who was Arizona’s general manager at the time of the deal, agrees. The Diamondbacks got Ian Kennedy from the Yankees, and he posted a 3.80 ERA in 32 starts in 2010. They didn’t keep Edwin Jackson for long, trading him to the Chicago White Sox last July for promising right-hander Daniel Hudson.
“I think the trade has made sense for all the teams involved, which is rare for a three-way deal,” Byrnes said in an email. “From our perspective, we wanted to add depth to our rotation. As much as we liked Scherzer and Schlereth, getting Kennedy and Jackson (Hudson acquired after I was gone) led to two long-term starting pitchers for Arizona.”
The Tigers are hoping they found a couple long-term starters too, along with an effective reliever – and a new center fielder who might become just as popular as the old one.
“It wasn’t a deal we were going to make just to make a deal. We were going to have to get some quality players in return,” Dombrowski said. “They’re very quality individuals – great work ethic, all of them, all driven to be successful. So they’re the type of guys that fit into an organization, and I think you can win with all of them.”
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