By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – In one aspect, Thursday’s deadline deal that made David Price a Detroit Tiger surprised general manager Dave Dombrowski as much as anybody else.
He had talked with Tampa Bay Rays general manager Andrew Friedman a week and a half earlier about acquiring Price, but the conversations were casual, and those dwindled considerably, to the point that Dombrowski thought a trade was unlikely to happen.
“When we first talked, I thought it was a possibility that basically diminished to feeling like yesterday, in the morning, if you’d have asked me, ‘What’s your chances of getting David Price?’ I’d have said, ‘Probably zero,’ because we had no ongoing conversations at that point,” Dombrowski said. “Sometimes you have to let things play out, too, and you just could kind of see what was happening. Not that we didn’t know what was going on with other clubs and what conversation was taking place, but my gut did not at all tell me yesterday morning that we were going to be in this at all.
“We never really got serious before,” Dombrowski added. “They were more parameters at that time, and general discussion, and just general philosophies. We never really had serious conversations at that time before.”
The conversation picked up in earnest when Friedman texted and then called Dombrowski as the Dombrowski headed home from the stadium late Wednesday night. Dombrowski told his wife Carrie that Thursday would be a busy day, and indeed it was.
Thursday morning, Dombrowski gathered together the coaching staff and the scouts who were in town and asked for their feedback on the idea of bringing in Price in return for center fielder Austin Jackson, starting pitcher Drew Smyly and minor league shortstop Willy Adames. Dombrowski ran the plan by team owner Mike Ilitch, who approved it.
Several other teams, including the New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates and Seattle Mariners, according to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, pursued Price, but when Friedman called Dombrowski five minutes before the Tigers game started, Dombrowski’s fears of another team snagging Price were allayed.
“I wasn’t confident until Andrew Friedman called me right before game time,” Dombrowski said. “At that point, it was more of a matter of some of the nuances that need to be done – medical information, people advised and all. So I really wasn’t nervous about him being traded somewhere else once that happened right before game time. Before that, I was, yes, very nervous that it could happen.”
During Thursday’s game, Dombrowski was visible in his suite, talking on the phone, texting, pacing, conversing with the others around him, until he disappeared from the view of those in the press box.
Not soon after, news broke that a deal was done, and shortly after that, Jackson was replaced in the outfield.
“Dave was right there in the dugout,” Max Scherzer said. “He’s on the phone with [MLB], and he’s screaming, ‘You’ve gotta get Austin off the field!'”
Off the field Jackson came, and he and Smyly were officially off the roster. In the clubhouse after the game, teammates stopped by to wish them well and say their goodbyes as Jackson and Smyly packed up the belongings in their lockers.
Dombrowski said breaking the news to the players was difficult because the Tigers try to foster a family atmosphere, but ultimately baseball is a business, which the players understand. Understanding it, however, did not appear to make it easier to swallow. The clubhouse was somber afterward, Jackson, Smyly and their teammates all in shock.
Smyly will be replaced by Price, and to replace Jackson the Tigers will use a combination of Rajai Davis and Ezequiel Carrera, who has hit .307 over 97 games for Triple-A Toledo this season.
While letting Jackson go was not necessarily easy, Dombrowski and the Tigers like Carrera, too.
“You have to weigh it,” Dombrowski said. “We don’t make that deal unless Austin’s involved. We think Rajai and Carrera will do a solid job for us out there. Carrera’s had a real fine season in Triple A. We’ve actually struggled on how to get him up to the big league club at times because we’ve kept saying, ‘This guy can help us up here right now.’ He’s hitting over .300, he’s a base stealer, he’s a very good defensive outfielder. He’s a left-handed hitter.
“We kept talking about it, but we just couldn’t find room for him, and then even if we brought him up, he didn’t have any place to really play,” Dombrowski continued. “Now I’m not saying he’s Austin because Austin’s an established player, but we like Carrera, and we think Rajai, between the two of them, will give us solid work out there in center field. We’ll still get some offense out there.”
Jackson and Smyly had both been with the organization 2010. Dombrowski said the Tigers like both of those players a great deal, but he and those he consulted thought bringing in Price gave the Tigers the best chance to win immediately.
“The way we looked at it and the question that we asked ourselves is, ‘What gives us the best chance of winning the world championship this year?’” Dombrowski said. “We have to get there; we know that. It’s getting there but also trying to win a world championship. We thought adding him to our rotation at this point would give us the best chance to do that.”
Essentially, the Tigers feel that starting pitching is the most essential element to winning in the postseason, so they placed an emphasis on upgrading in that area versus on offense, despite Detroit’s recent struggles to put runs on the board.
“In reality, the game today is a tough game to score runs,” Dombrowski said. “We’re not swinging as well as we can with some guys right now, but I think we’ll score enough runs … Against good pitching, offense is tough to come by, and that’s what you face against good clubs, and I think we’ve got some guys that will step up and do the job, but all in all I think you’re going to get it done with good pitching too.”