Price nets 'premium guy' in Norris, two other lefties
Baltimore — The rebooting has begun.
The Tigers restocked their minor league shelves with three top-rated left-handed pitching prospects, sending ace David Price to the Blue Jays for Daniel Norris, Matthew Boyd and Jairo Labourt.
Later, just before game time, the Tigers announced they had traded closer Joakim Soria to Pittsburgh for shortstop prospect JaCoby Jones.
“This isn’t anything that you want to have to do, to be in that spot,” president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said. “(Owner Mike Ilitch) is all about winning. He wants to win. He wants to do everything he can. He's given us that support. We want to win. We're in that spot.
“But you never want to be in a spot where you're doing what we're doing.”
The plan, by trading off pending veteran free agents, is to put the club in a position to win in 2016 and beyond.
“We’re rebooting, not rebuilding, and I think the difference is we have a good core club with some real good foundation players,” Dombrowski said. “And so, if you can get players who are close to the big leagues and ready to contribute, you can go into next year and sort of identify on the free-agent and trade market what you want to pursue to still be real good.
“And not to downplay it, but if you're getting three guys in A-ball that are three years away, that's a lot different for us than getting three guys or a couple of key guys that are close to pitching or playing at the big league level.”
Norris, ready or not, will start Sunday against the Orioles. That’s probably not optimal for him or the Tigers, but nothing about this 2015 has been optimal.
“We regard him as a premium guy and close to pitching in the big leagues,” Dombrowski said. “He’s going to pitch for us now, but I can’t tell you he’s 100 percent developed at this point. But having traded David, we needed a starter for Sunday and he gives us an opportunity to pitch well.
“He’s very close to being big-league ready overall.”
Norris, 22, is considered the third best left-handed pitching prospect in baseball. He had a 3.86 ERA in five starts with the Jays this season. In 10 big league appearances, six starts, he is 1-1, with a 4.20 ERA and a 1.500 WHIP. At Triple A Buffalo this season, he was 3-10 with a 4.27 ERA.
“Everything we hear is positive,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “He’s one of the top left-handed prospects in the game. He was pretty impressive against us in spring training. We saw the stuff was there. He’s very young and there’s a lot of upside.”
Dombrowski said Norris had a four-pitch arsenal, but it’s his fastball-slider combination that has got him to the point.
“He’s got an above-average fastball, he’s got a real good feel on the mound,” he said. “We like him a lot.”
The second left-hander that came in the deal, 24-year-old Matthew Boyd, will start in Toledo.
“Boyd’s not far behind him,” Dombrowski said. “Norris throws a little bit harder. Boyd is a 90-94 guy that has really come on this year. Our scouts really liked him a great deal. So again, he’s a guy that’s really close to pitching at the big league level.
“I think both of them have the opportunity to battle or be part of our staff next year.”
The third left-hander, 21-year-old Jairo Labourt, is a little further away. He reports to High A Lakeland. He is 6-4 and has an upper-90s fastball which may be better suited for a bullpen role.
“Well, at this point (he’s going to start),” Dombrowski said. “He could go into the bullpen. I think there's mixed emotion on that, mixed feelings. He has started this year. He has a real good arm.
“He's going to go in as a starter but as time goes on, we'll see what happens. He could go either way. Both of those other guys are unquestionably starters.”
Labourt was 2-7 with a 4.59 ERA at High-A Dunedin.
Just hours after learning he was traded to Toronto, Price was on the field at Camden Yards doing his usual between-starts work with Tigers bullpen catcher Jeff Kunkel.
Ausmus and pitching coach Jeff Jones came out to say their goodbyes.
“It was fun,” said Price of his one year in Detroit. “The city treated me very well. All the guys in the clubhouse, the entire coaching staff, everybody did everything in their power to make me feel comfortable and make me feel at home.
“I am forever grateful for that.”
Price said he was well aware that he is 7-0 in his career at Rogers Centre and he’s certainly no stranger to the American League East.
“I’m going to be a Blue Jay now,” he said. “It’s part of the business. We had a very talented group of guys here and so do the Blue Jays. I am just going to go there and ready to pitch every five days, go there and be a good teammate on the days in between and see what happens.”
Price said he was excited about how aggressively the Blue Jays went after him and Troy Tulowitzki.
"They have a good thing going in Toronto," he said. "They've been in this situation before and didn't make these kinds of moves. It shows
Dombrowski reiterated what had been known all season — the odds of signing Price to a long-term contract after the season were remote.
“We did approach him in spring training,” he said. “We did do that. Not David, but Bo (McKinnis, his agent). And it was clear we were not in the same (range financially). We like David, but ... It just was not where we wanted to go from a financial perspective.
“I saw Bo McKinnis recently in Minneapolis and kind of talked for a couple minutes, and it was apparent that nothing had changed. There was a strong part of us that would've loved to keep David, but we're also in a spot where we do have financial parameters.”
Soria, who was not on the field before the game, knew it was possible he could be traded soon.
“It’s something that I cannot control,” he said before the trade. “If I can’t control it, why worry about it? If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. If it’s not, it’s not.
“Whatever decision they make, it’s their choice.”
Jones, a product of LSU, was 5 for 10 in his brief call-up to Double-A Altoona. He was hitting .253 in High-A ball. Dombrowski said the plan was for Jones to play shortstop at Double-A Erie for now.
“He’s a good, young middle infielder,” Dombrowski said. “He does have the flexibility to play other positions. He’s played some center field and some third base. I don’t know if he’s played any at second but he does have athletic flexibility. He runs well, too.”
Soria would prefer not to leave. It took him a while, but he’s become very comfortable in Detroit. With Joe Nathan out all season, he has become the elder statesman of the bullpen.
“I like the team and I like the guys in here,” he said. “But at the same time, this front office knows what’s best for the team. If they think trading me is the best thing, well, then we’ll see what happens.”
Either Bruce Rondon or Alex Wilson likely would be used in the closer’s role.
Right-hander Jose Valdez will be called up from Toledo on Friday to replace Soria on the roster.