July 31, 2014 at 10:57 pm

Tigers deal Austin Jackson, Drew Smyly for ace David Price

It’s not that often you see a legitimate World Series contender give up a significant piece of their major-league roster in a trade-deadline trade.

But that’s what the A’s did Thursday morning, and that’s what the Tigers did in the afternoon.

In the most shocking move on a wild-and-crazy day in Major League Baseball, the Tigers made arguably the biggest splash of all, acquiring ace left-handed pitcher David Price from Tampa Bay in a deal that sent center fielder Austin Jackson to the Mariners and another lefty starter, Drew Smyly, to the Rays.

The Tigers also parted with 18-year-old shortstop prospect Willy Adames, who goes to the Rays.

The deal first was discussed two weeks ago, picked up steam late Wednesday night and was finalized just before the 4 p.m. trade deadline — mere minutes, actually, making for the most awkward of scenes when Jackson was removed from the game during the seventh inning.

The fans, tuned in and astute, responded with a rousing ovation — which was part appreciation for Jackson’s four-plus year career here, and part elation over the addition of a pitcher of Price’s caliber.

“We traded two players from the big-league level that we like a great deal,” said Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers president and general manager. “What gives us the best chance of winning the world championship this year? We thought adding him to our rotation at this point would give us the best chance to do that.”

Price joins an already star-studded rotation, with Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander and a blossoming-before-our-eyes Rick Porcello. In fact, the Tigers now have the last three American League Cy Young winners in the rotation, with Verlander (2011), Price (2012) and Scherzer (2013).

Price, 28, is having another one of his phenomenal years, leading the league in strikeouts (189) as well as innings pitched (170.2) — and, full disclosure, home runs, too (20). His WHIP is a dandy 1.049, and he’s playoff-tested, if even he hasn’t performed spectacularly in nine postseason appearances.

His trade serves two purposes: It gives the Tigers another horse in the rotation for a World Series run, and it provides protection for 2015 should Scherzer leave for free-agency this winter. Price isn’t a free agent until after 2015. That’s a big reason Detroit pursued him over Jon Lester, whom the Red Sox traded to the A’s on Thursday morning, for slugger Yoenis Cespedes.

Understandably, the news, while not taking Price by surprise, was met with some disappointment.

“It’s tough to put into words,” Price, the No. 1 overall pick by the Rays in 2007, told the Tampa Bay Times. “There’s absolute sadness. This is where I’ve been the last seven years.”

Still, Price took to Twitter to embrace his new chapter with the Tigers. He is expected to arrive at Comerica Park on Friday, and he would be set up to make his Tigers debut Monday at Yankee Stadium.

Word of the trade was met by Tigers two ways: They were thrilled Price would be joining them for a World Series run, but they’re losing two popular members of the clubhouse in Jackson and Smyly.

“Is it gonna make our team better?” third baseman Nick Castellanos said. “David Price would make anybody’s team better.

“That’s baseball.”

The Rays interest in this deal was obvious. They’re a long shot to make the playoffs this year – and were even a longer shot to sign Price long-term. That’s the reality of a fiscally restrained ballclub. That’s why they had interest in Smyly and not Porcello, who can be a free agent after 2015 – and is probably staring at a contract around $100 million. They also received Adames, a minor-leaguer who has drawn more interest than you’d believe from a variety of ballclubs over the last several weeks, and infielder Nick Franklin from the Mariners.

Meanwhile, Jackson will be reunited with his former hitting coach, Lloyd McClendon, the first-year manager with the Mariners.

“I heard that they were pushing pretty hard for Price,” Jackson said, of the mood before the game. “You kind of sense they’re going to have to give up somebody for a guy like that.”

So in that sense, the move wasn’t a complete shock to Jackson, 28, who’s had a nice career with the Tigers — if not sometimes maddeningly inconsistent. A free agent after 2015, the Tigers were coming to a crossroads on whether to sign him long-term or move him in a deal like this; it was perhaps telling that their first-round pick last month, Derek Hill, is a center fielder.

For the rest of this season, Rajai Davis and Ezequiel Carrera, who’s torn up Toledo at the plate and on the bases all year, will split the center-field duties.

As for Smyly, 25, the news came as more of a shock. Like Price, he was bumming.

“I found out on social media,” said Smyly, who was back in the clubhouse following his five-inning start Thursday. “I don’t really have anything to say. It’s unexpected. I didn’t see it coming. I didn’t want to leave here. These guys are awesome. We have a great team, a winning team.

“It’s hard to say goodbye.”

The trade leaves the Tigers with a fascinating rotation, one that certainly rival what the A’s have going on — after trading for Lester on Thursday, and Jeff Samardzija earlier in the month, to stack alongside Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir. Dombrowski, of course, shot down the notion that the Tigers were, in any way, simply responding to the A’s aggressiveness.

There still are questions with the Tigers, however, namely the bullpen. It's worth knowing, the Tigers were hot on the heels of Red Sox left-handed reliever Andrew Miller earlier Thursday, but talks broke off — quite possibly because the Red Sox also wanted Adames, and he was headed to the Rays.

The Tigers weren't overly enamored with many other available arms, so they will roll the dice that the acquisition of Joakim Soria from the Rangers last week will be good enough, as, they hope, will an offense that now includes inexperience players — Castellanos, Eugenio Suarez, J.D. Martinez and Carrera — up and down the lineup.

There should be more than enough to win a fourth consecutive AL Central title. After all, the Indians and Royals did absolutely nothing Thursday to paint themselves as serious contenders. The Royals, playoff-less since 1985, made no moves, and the Indians have only sold, Asdrubal Cabrera to the Nationals on Thursday and Justin Masterson to the Cardinals earlier in the week.

Then again, it’s not about another division championship. It’s about the big one — a big one the Tigers feel might be a bit more within their reach today than yesterday.

“I want to win, we all want to win,” said Dombrowski, who, per Tigers protocol, credited owner Mike Ilitch with allowing the deal to come together. “Today, it’s great. I talked to (David) on the phone, he’s excited to be here, but we’ve gotta win. If we win, then I’ll be very satisfied.”



Tigers bench coach Gene Lamont hugs Austin Jackson after Jackson comes out of the game in the seventh inning, being involved in a last minute trade deal. The White Sox defeated the Tigers 7-4 Thursday. / Robin Buckson / The Detroit News
David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays (Mike Carlson / Getty Images)