By: Will Burchfield
The trade deadline has come and gone, and Tigers fans are disgruntled.
Though GM Al Avila reeled in five prospects and significantly improved the organization’s positional depth, the return lacked sizzle. Where was the foundational talent, the top-10, franchise-altering prospect?
Surely, in shopping J.D. Martinez and Justin Wilson, there was one to be found.
Not so fast.
Know how many top-10 prospects were dealt at this year’s deadline? One — Eloy Jimenez (No. 7). Know how many top-50 prospects were dealt? Two — Blake Rutherford (No. 45) being the other.
Heck, know how many top-100 prospects were dealt? A whopping total of seven, one of whom, by the way, went to the Tigers — Jeimer Candelario (No. 92).
MLB teams are more opposed than ever to giving up young assets, particularly for two-month rentals. The best the Rangers could get for four-time All-Star Yu Darvish was Willie Calhoun, the No. 69-ranked prospect in baseball.
For the Cubs to hand over Jimenez, it took Jose Quintana — a cheap, young, sturdy starting pitcher who’s signed through 2020. For the Yankees to hand over Rutherford, it took Todd Frazier, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle — a proven slugger, a proven closer and a flame-throwing, up-and-coming reliever.
The Tigers had no such asset or package to offer.
What they had was Martinez, a terrific hitter but a pending free agent; Wilson, a great asset but not quite a proven commodity; and Avila, a backup catcher who had a strong first half. They had Verlander, too, but teams were scared off by his salary and the Tigers never received an offer that made it worth eating some of the bill.
For Martinez, the Tigers received three young assets, including the No. 2 prospect in Arizona’s organization. Avila was panned for this return at the time of the trade, even though it was clear there wasn’t much of a market for position players.
That’s only become clearer since.
“Going into (the deadline) we felt that the market for hitters was going to be very limited, and I think we were vindicated in that,” Avila told the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket. “You see all the trades that were made, 99 percent of them were pitchers.”
Of those that only involved hitters, Martinez yielded by far the best return.
Melky Cabrera was dealt to the Royals. He’s a pending free agent, due $15 million this year, who was hitting .295 with 13 home runs and 56 RBI with the White Sox. In exchange, Chicago received two pitchers, only one of whom ranks among the organization’s top-30 prospects (A.J. Puckett, No. 25).
Lucas Duda was dealt to the Rays. He’s a pending free agent, due $7.25 million this year, who had 17 home runs, 37 RBI and an .879 OPS with the Mets. In exchange, New York received pitcher Drew Smith, who is now the organization’s No. 30-ranked prospect.
Howie Kendrick was dealt to the Nationals. He’s a pending free agent, due $10 million this year, who was hitting .340 in 39 games with the Phillies. In exchange, Philadelphia received pitcher McKenzie Mills, who is now the organization’s No. 24-ranked prospect.
Jonathan Lucroy, last year’s trade deadline darling, was dealt to the Rockies for…a player to be named later. (Lucroy’s had a tough season.)
Meanwhile, Jay Bruce and Yonder Alonoso, both of whom are enjoying terrific seasons on losing ball clubs and are bound for free agency, weren’t even traded. If their respective teams fail to re-sign them, a distinct possibility in each case, it will represent a botched opportunity and a grave misstep.
Back to Martinez. He’s a pending free agent, due $11.75 million this year, who was hitting .305 with 16 home runs, 39 RBI and a 1.012 OPS with the Tigers. In exchange, Detroit received three infielders, two of whom rank among the organization’s top-30 prospects (3B Dawel Lugo, No. 14; SS Sergio Alcantara, No. 23).
Martinez was the best position player moved at the deadline. He should have netted the best return — and he did. Yes, there’s some fallibility in comparing prospects based on organizational rankings — the White Sox have a far deeper farm system than the Tigers — but it’s clear that Detroit extracted as much value from Martinez as possible in a harsh buyer’s market.
How about Wilson?
His was a harder market to gauge as there weren’t many comparable assets on the move. But two stand out.
A.J. Ramos was dealt to the Mets. The 30-year-old reliever, who’s under team control through 2018, had a 3.98 ERA and 20 saves in 40 games with the Marlins. In exchange, Miami received two prospects, both of whom rank among the organization’s top 30 (RHP Merandy Gonzalez, No. 6; OF Ricardo Cespedes, No. 24).
Dan Jennings was dealt to the Rays. The 30-year-old reliever, who’s under team control through 2019, had a 3.45 ERA in 48 games with the White Sox. In exchange, Chicago received first baseman Casey Gillaspie, who is now the organization’s No. 14-ranked prospect.
Then there was Wilson. The 29-year-old reliever (he’ll be 30 this month), who’s under team control through 2018, had a 2.68 ERA and 13 saves in 42 games with the Tigers. In exchange, Detroit received two infielders, both of whom rank among the organization’s top-10 prospects (3B Candelario, No. 3; SS Isaac Paredes, No. 8).
Wilson was the most valuable reliever moved at the deadline. He should have netted the best return — and he did. Yes, he was part of a package deal with Alex Avila, but the catcher was primarily an add-on defensive asset after a cold month at the plate.
“In reality, Alex wasn’t moved because he was hitting. It was more for his catching ability,” said Avila.
It can be said that the Tigers moved Wilson when his value was highest. They leveraged his terrific first half into a bidding war at the deadline.
The Cubs had inquired on Wilson last winter and the Tigers had asked for Candelario. At the time, the Cubs said no.
“Now here we are at the trading deadline and we get Candelario plus another prospect, so it came to fruition,” Avila said.
Candelario is the Tigers’ third baseman of the future. Nicholas Castellanos will soon move to first, Miguel Cabrera will soon become full-time DH, and the line-drive hitting Candelario will slide in at the hot corner. That much seems clear.
As for the other four prospects the Tigers acquired in the past two weeks, the future is less certain. But finally, the organization has some promising position players within.
“That’s something that we targeted and we wanted to address at the deadline, because that was a big void in our organization for many years,” Avila said.
Indeed, prior to the Martinez trade, the Tigers didn’t have a single infielder — excluding catchers — who ranked among their top-30 prospects. Now they have four.
“We didn’t have a prospect at third base, shortstop, second base in the entire organization that you could say, ‘This is gonna be our next infielder,'” Avila said, noting that shortstop Dixon Machado is already up with the Tigers. “It was a big necessity of ours to get a big influx of those players, and we got guys from rookie ball all the way through Triple-A. So, we felt we did a good job there.”
No, the Tigers didn’t net a grade-A, drool-worthy prospect. They didn’t have the pieces to land one, not in this season’s trade market. Know how many top-100 prospects the Athletics got for Sonny Gray, arguably the most valuable starting pitcher available? One — outfielder Dustin Fowler, No. 77 overall, who’s recovering from a torn ACL.
Martinez is a fine player. So is Wilson. But neither was truly the ideal trade chip. The former is a rental and a defensive liability. The latter is mostly an unknown when it comes to the playoffs, which just so happens to be the stage where he’ll be judged. It seems these inconvenient facts were either ignored or forgotten in the local evaluation of each player’s trade value.
That the Tigers’ deadline haul felt disappointing doesn’t mean it wasn’t fair.