July 31, 2014 at 10:35 pm

Tony Paul

MLB insider: On trade-deadline day, A's swing first -- but Tigers swing back

Justin Verlander is still often referred to as the Tigers ace, but he might not have a spot in the rotation come the postseason. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

Detroit — Were the Tigers slugging back against the A’s?

Not necessarily.

That’s not to say Tigers president and GM Dave Dombrowski wasn’t muttering to himself Thursday morning, after the A’s added another stud starting pitcher in Jon Lester from the Red Sox.

“No, we were already moving in that direction,” Dombrowski said after the Tigers officially announced they had traded for ace lefty David Price from the Rays. “But when I saw they got Lester, I wasn’t jumping up and down and thrilled they got them.

“It didn’t really make the difference in this deal, because we were already moving forward.”

The A’s and the Tigers are viewed by many in baseball as being on a collision course for yet another meeting in the postseason. The Tigers have eliminated the A’s in the division series each of the past two years.

Some suspected — and Justin Verlander brashly accused —the A’s made their big moves this month with the Tigers in mind. In early July, they acquired another ace, Jeff Samardzija, from the Cubs.

Now what we have are two teams with phenomenal starting pitching, each of whom gave up a key offensive contributor to make their big move Thursday.

Assuming both make the playoffs, here are each team’s four-man rotations:

* A’s: Sonny Gray, Lester, Samardzija, Scott Kazmir.

* Tigers: Max Scherzer, Price, Anibal Sanchez and …

You’ll see the question mark on the Tigers. It always was assumed Drew Smyly would move to the bullpen for the postseason, but now Smyly’s gone — in the trade to the Rays.

Rick Porcello would seem like the next logical choice, except for the year he’s having, and the year Verlander is not. Verlander could find himself heading to the bullpen in October, much like Tim Lincecum did for the Giants in 2012.

The Tigers, of course, weren’t quite ready to declare anything Thursday.

“Mr. Ausmus will be making that decision,” Dombrowski said.

“There’s a lot of baseball before that decision has to be made,” Ausmus said.

“I hope we have that problem to worry about,” Dombrowski added.

Three trade-deadline winners

* Red Sox: What a day they had. Not only did they get Yoenis Cespedes from the A’s for Lester, they also pawned off John Lackey on the Cardinals for some offensive depth and got a top pitching prospect from the Orioles in exchange for left-handed reliever Andrew Miller. The Red Sox weren’t going to defend their 2013 World Series crown, so they put themselves in fine position to be back in 2015.

* Mariners: They have the pitching. Everybody knows it. I mean, imagine a playoff rotation headline by Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, not to mention underrated Chris Young. But Lloyd McClendon’s crew desperately needed some offensive help, and they got it in acquiring Austin Jackson from the Tigers and Chris Denorfia from the Padres. They’ll challenge for one of the wild cards.

* Cardinals: They didn’t necessarily make massive upgrades to the rotation, but they got some much-needed depth for a team that has struggled with some injuries. And they didn’t up the world to pick up Justin Masterson from the Indians and Lackey from the Red Sox. With Lackey, too, they get an added bonus. An injury clause from his Boston days means he plays next year for $500,000.

Three trade-deadline losers

* Most of the AL Central: The Tigers made a splash, but the Indians and Royals didn’t even pretend to be buyers. That’s disturbing news if you’re a fan from one of those towns. Cleveland, in fact, probably even waved the white flag in sending Asdrubal Cabrera to the Nationals. The Twins, meanwhile, had a chance to get a nice haul for catcher Kurt Suzuki, but instead decided to sign him to an extension.

* Padres, Astros: Yes, the Astros made one move, sending right-hander Jarred Cosart to the Marlins in a six-player deal that netted them prospects. But they had two relievers, Tony Sipp and Chad Qualls, who could’ve netted a nice return in a seller’s market, but they kept them. Same with the Padres, who for some strange reason decided it was better to keep Joaquin Benoit than cash in on him big time.

* Angels: Sure, they picked up closer Huston Street from the Padres earlier in the month. That helped solidify the back end of their bullpen. The problem: They acted first, and thus way overpaid for Street, sending four prospects away. In turn, that limited the amount of tools they had to work with to make another trade, and they could’ve stood to upgrade their starting rotation.

Carrera's chance

Just who is Ezequiel Carrera, the newest Tigers who will be splitting time with Rajai Davis in center?

“We’ve actually struggled on how to get him up to the big-league club,” Dombrowski said. “We just couldn’t find room for him.”

The Tigers found themselves with a log jam of outfielders, a problem that was no more when Jackson was sent to the Mariners in the blockbuster. Dombrowski said Jackson was a necessary casualty; the deal wouldn’t have been done without losing Jackson.

Having Carrera, signed as a minor-league free agent this winter, certainly lessened the blow.

A left-handed hitter who’s spent parts of the last three seasons in the majors, he’s hit over .300 most of the year, with a .387 on-base percentage, too. He’s also stolen 43 bases. His defense isn’t great, though Dombrowski called it such Thursday.

Manager Brad Ausmus said the starter in center will be a day-by-day decision. And the Tigers, quietly, are hoping they may have struck gold – like they did with J.D. Martinez. But they’re cautious, too.

“I’m not saying he’s Austin,” said Dombrowski, “because Austin is an established player.”

Fister revisited

A lot of Tigers fans are stunned the team traded for a starting pitcher, especially since they traded Doug Fister during the offseason in a widely unpopular deal with the Nationals.

Dombrowski was asked if the Price pickup was a kind-of admission that deal was a bust — especially with word Thursday that one of the pieces, lefty reliever Ian Krol, is being demoted.

“People have a tendency to always forget time changes things, your snapshot of where you are as an organization,” Dombrowski said. “I’m not always going to be at liberty to share those. But we’re in a spot, Robbie Ray, we like a lot; we think Ian Krol is going to pitch well for us.

“I think the dynamics change at various times.”

What can you read into that? Whatever you want.

But Dombrowski’s careful choice of words lends some credibility that the Fister deal might’ve been, at least a little bit, about the future salary he was due to draw.

Around the horn

In recent years, the Tigers have had success picking up players in August — when players first must pass through waivers first. But Dombrowski said Thursday he doesn’t expect that to be any help this year, given the landscape of the game, with all the postseason contenders.

… What did Nick Castellanos first think when Rajai Davis was entering the game in the top of the seventh inning, eventually for Jackson? “Maybe in for Torii (Hunter) cuz Torii got hit with that pitch.”

… Rules state traded players must be off the field and the dugout bench when the clock strikes 4 on deadline day. And the Tigers cut it close, pulling Jackson with three minutes to spare.

… On 18-year-old shortstop Willy Adames, who the Tigers also gave up in the deal: “Every time we had a conversation,” said Dombrowski, “people mentioned his name.”

Diamond digits

14 – David Price’s number in Tampa Bay, and it’ll be his number in Detroit, too, since the departed Austin Jackson wore the same digits.

.362 – Austin Jackson’s batting average in his last 25 games, with two more hits Thursday.

10-5, 3.66 – David Price’s record and ERA in his career against the Yankees, who figure to be his first opponent as a Tiger, likely Monday night at Yankee Stadium.

He said it

“Tampa is excited to have me, so I’m excited to be there. A team that wants you is always nice.”

Drew Smyly, lefty starter, after receiving word he’d been traded from the Tigers.