August 1, 2014 at 1:00 am

Lynn Henning

Five keys to blockbuster deal: Added ace gives Tigers playoff edge

Tigers prospect Ezequiel Carrera, a name mentioned by several other teams, might compensate for the loss of center fielder Austin Jackson. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

Five puzzle pieces waiting to be connected following Thursday’s whopper of a deal that sent Austin Jackson and Drew Smyly packing and delivered David Price to the Tigers:

The Tigers are built to win short playoff series with starting pitching.

In union with his devotion to power pitchers, Dave Dombrowski’s mantra is a conviction that starters who are more like locomotives are the difference in those best 3-of-5 and 4-of-7 matches that define October’s playoffs.

In just such a series, particularly in that initial best-of-five division showdown, do you want Price, or Drew Smyly, as a weapon of choice against, say, the A’s, Orioles or Angels?

And there you have it. Dombrowski believes you win with pitching — during the regular season and, particularly, when it comes to the postseason against playoff clubs that also got there, fundamentally, because of their starters.

A potential division winner decided it could dispense with its center fielder.

Yes, and even when Jackson for the past five weeks was dynamite as manager Brad Ausmus’ top-of-the-order bat.

The Tigers will live with the Jackson trade, mostly because of a left-handed batter named Ezequiel Carrera. He has played in the big leagues (Indians, Phillies) and has done nothing but hit at Triple A Toledo. His speed, glove and left-handed bat might, in fact, compensate for Jackson’s overall portfolio. Speed was never quite Jackson’s asset, and his defense on shorter fly balls and gap hits wasn’t what it might have been had he been inclined to dive for balls.

Carrera, who is 27, has been sitting at Toledo awaiting a big-league job. He couldn’t get one for two reasons: He is not a corner outfielder, which requires more power. And all other teams were pretty much set with center fielders and with more muscular bench options.

Drew Smyly was good but wasn’t the ideal Tigers pitcher.

A valuable pitcher, Smyly, who joined the Tigers two years ago and who was of immense help as a starter and as a reliever.

But there is a reason he was shipped Thursday to Tampa Bay and Price was brought aboard, just as there was a reason Smyly, a poised left-hander, was no lower than a third-round pick when the Tigers snagged him from Arkansas.

Smyly is not a high-powered pitcher. He throws a fastball that can hit 93 mph, but he is not a hard thrower, which means his secondary pitches — and they can be very good — must click across the board if Smyly is to survive with a limited throttle.

The Tigers, in essence, view him as replaceable, particularly when it’s Price who is the replacement, and when they have other similar-grade starters gestating in the farm system.

Eugenio Suarez made Willy Adames expendable.

Thursday’s Richter-rocking swap was also a testament to the Tigers belief in Suarez, their rookie shortstop they will happily accommodate for the next five or six years, depending on how Jose Iglesias heals from his season-canceling stress fractures.

Either way, the Tigers like Suarez as an answer at some station in their infield. And that is the only reason they were going to part with Adames, a splendid 18-year-old talent who could be an All-Star, and a lot more, with the Rays.

Suarez, the Tigers believe, will hit for average and for power, all while handling defense in steady fashion. Were there any doubts, Thursday’s farewell to Adames would have been impossible.

Outside appraisers consistently underrate the Tigers farm system.

Once again, Dombrowski was able to make another round of high-caliber July deals, and all because the Tigers farm system made those swaps feasible.

It does not mean the Tigers necessarily won. They said goodbye last week to two blue-ribbon pitching prospects, Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel, in a trade for Joakim Soria. And on Thursday they sent the infielder who was going to be their top position prospect in 2015, Adames, to the Rays. A ton of talent was forfeited in a bid for short-term gains.

Consistently, the Tigers are ranked as having a weak farm system. Consistently, the bigger story is missed: The farm crop is made lighter by Dombrowski’s annual deals. And those trades involve the very players who at the start of each season are typically undervalued by all but opposing scouts and front offices, as well as by a team in Detroit.

American League faceoff

Conventional thought is that Thursday’s trade for former Cy Young Award winner David Price was done, at least in part, by a Tigers team trying to match a potential playoff partner, the A’s, who in the past weeks have traded for star starters Jeff Samardzija and Jon Lester.

The Tigers have beaten the A’s in the rubber game of their last two Division Series, a pattern Oakland is desperately attempting to thwart this season, should the teams reconvene in October.

How do the Tigers and A’s match up following each club’s multiplayer blockbusters? A closer look:

Starting pitching

Tigers: Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, David Price, Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello

A’s: Jeff Samardzija, Jon Lester, Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Jesse Chavez

Analysis: A playoff series requires only four starters, which ahead of Price’s arrival meant the A’s had the clear edge with Samardzija, Lester, Gray and either Kazmir or Chavez. But with Price joining Scherzer at the top of Detroit’s rotation, along with Porcello and Sanchez, the Tigers might have a slightly better quartet, even if Verlander fails to finish in 2014 as he did in 2013, when he closed with fury and again was the difference-maker against Oakland.


Tigers: Joe Nathan, Joakim Soria, Joba Chamberlain, Al Alburquerque, Phil Coke, Blaine Hardy

A’s: Luke Gregerson, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook, Dan Otero, Eric O’Flaherty, Evan Scribner, Jason Hammel

Analysis: Not close. The A’s can come at you from both sides with effective, shutdown relief that has few at-risk relievers. The Tigers are still working to finish games and clamp down on hitters once a starter departs.


Tigers: Ezequiel Carrera, Rajai Davis, Torii Hunter, J.D. Martinez

A’s: Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, Jonny Gomes

Analysis: A’s are still adding pieces, but they’re in good shape, even without Yoenis Cespedes, who was dealt to the Red Sox for Lester. Crisp was on plenty of MVP ballots in 2013, while Reddick’s power, coupled with Gomes’ knack for knocking a ball out of the park, gives the A’s a decent everyday trio. Much depends on how Carrera fits into the picture in Detroit. But the Tigers have more flexibility and carry a bit more punch. Slight edge to Detroit.


Tigers: Nick Castellanos, Eugenio Suarez, Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera, Andrew Romine

A’s: Josh Donaldson, Alberto Callaspo, Jed Lowrie, Brandon Moss, Nick Punto, Eric Sogard

Analysis: Tigers have Cabrera and Kinsler on the right side, which is heavy in luster and horsepower. A’s have more experience on the left side, as well as Donaldson. But by a nose, the Tigers win because of the Cabrera-Kinsler tandem.


Tigers: Alex Avila, Bryan Holaday, Victor Martinez

A’s: Derek Norris, John Jaso, Steven Vogt

Analysis: A’s are superior here, by far. Norris and Jason have .800-plus OPS numbers, while the Tigers don’t come within 100 points.

Designated hitter

Tigers: Victor Martinez

A’s: They mix it around, with everyone from Donaldson, to Jaso, to Norris, to Callaspo, etc., taking a turn

Analysis: The Tigers win easily here for the steadiness Martinez and his switch-hitting bat bring to the cleanup chair.


Those who appreciate baseball being played in a toothy, tense short series will love watching these two duel in a third consecutive postseason series, should it evolve. Any such rematch is more than two months away. But if it happens, this time the A’s prevail.

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