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Tigers' deadline deals: A matter of delayed gratification

Nolan Bianchi
Special to The Detroit News

July 30, 2015 was judgment day for the Detroit Tigers and their near-decade run as World Series contenders. 

They sat third place in the American League Central, 11.5 games back of a Kansas City team that was fresh off a World Series bid itself and would eventually return to capture a prize the Tigers failed to claim during trips to the Fall Classic in 2006 and 2012. 

Pitcher Matthew Boyd, who is a source of trade rumors heading toward July 31, came to the Tigers in a 2015 deal involving the Blue Jays.

Detroit was reigning champions of four consecutive division titles. The year prior, the Tigers’ starting rotation heralded five pitchers that, today, boast a combined six Cy Young awards. That team was swept by Baltimore in the Division Series.  

Without having captured the ultimate prize to that point, there was an inclination that perhaps the Tigers would close out July by pushing their dwindling amount of chips to center table. After all, they spent the offseason indicating that was the plan: Detroit acquired Yoenis Cespedes and Anthony Gose to bolster their lineup, and added starters Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon to subdue the blow of losing 2013 Cy Young winner Max Scherzer in free agency.

Alas, the Tigers instead pulled the trigger on a rebuild. Or, they at least hinted that one was on the horizon by shipping the expiring contracts of starting pitcher David Price and Cespedes, both acquired by Detroit less than a full calendar year prior before being re-dealt, within 48 hours of the deadline.

Since then, the Tigers have had three more deadlines to stock the cupboard with prospects in exchange for pieces that might help a contending team — though competing for a division title in 2016 forced them to take a temporary leave of absence from the seller’s market. A fourth deadline awaits on July 31. Greene, now an All-Star closer, starting pitcher Matt Boyd and hard-hitting outfielder Nick Castellanos are all liable to start life over in a new city in the following weeks.  

With that in mind, here's a look back at the trade deadline deals Detroit has made over its rebuilding stage — including 2015 — and check on what the prospects who landed with the Tigers are up to these days. 

July 30, 2015

Detroit receives: LHP Matthew Boyd, LHP Daniel Norris, LHP Jairo Labourt

Toronto receives: LHP David Price

Each deadline seems to present a different case of what teams can generally get back for a major piece on an expiring contract. As we’ll see with the J.D. Martinez trade later on, it’s not always much, though market supply on a position-to-position basis is generally the greatest dictator of that (and most contenders could use another arm in one way or another come the final week in July).

In one of his final trades as Tigers general manager, Dave Dombrowski managed to squeeze a trio of left-handers out of Toronto for a few months of Price. With Boyd, 28, putting up career numbers in ERA (3.87) and WHIP (1.121) in 2019, and Detroit’s hopes for a fielding a contender still years away, there’s expectations that the Tigers will kick the can further down the road and turn Boyd into another package of prospects before this year’s deadline hits. 

Norris has endured quite the roller coaster since joining Detroit. Going into the 2015 season, had Norris — then with Toronto — ranked as the league’s third-best left-handed pitching prospect. Myriad injuries have since kept the 26-year-old from maximizing his full potential, and over his last three seasons, he’s struggled to keep his ERA below 5.00.

Labourt’s career with the Tigers was rather unproductive. His only opportunity in 2017 was a six-appearance stint in 2017, during which time he gave up three runs and four hits in six innings pitched. He was released before the 2018 season.

Michael Fulmer is out for the year with Tommy John surgery.

July 30, 2015

Detroit receives: OF JaCoby Jones

Pittsburgh receives: RP Joakim Soria

Soria’s 13 regular-season appearances with Detroit in the year it traded for him, 2014, were not great. His two postseason spots, though, were a downright disaster. Soria’s line from the series: One inning pitched, four hits, five earned runs, two walks, no strikeouts.

Now seems like a good time to mention that to acquire acquire Soria, the Tigers gave up a package that included right-handed reliever Corey Knebel, who made an All-Star Game as a closer with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2017.

Fortunately for Detroit's front office, Soria's 2.85 ERA and 23 saves through July of the following year would make him a valuable asset at the deadline, however, and the Tigers landed Jones, who made his first opening-day roster a year ago, in a one-for-one deal with Pittsburgh.

The 27-year-old center fielder has earned a reputation in the Motor City as a standout defender, but his bat remains a work in progress. His average sits at .244 — up from .207 in 2017 — and while he’s collected extra-base hits at a more frequent rate this season, he’s struck out 75 times in 69 games and averages 4.1 strikeouts per every walk he draws. 

July 31, 2015

Detroit received: RHP Michael Fulmer, RHP Luis Cessa

New York Mets received: OF Yoenis Cespedes

While he didn’t stick around to see it through, Dombrowski made evident by his final deadline deals with the Tigers that he intended to start Detroit’s rebuild with a wealth of starting pitching. After acquiring three left-handers the day before, he went out and grabbed a pair of righties on the last day of the month. 

What the moves signified undoubtedly came as a disappointment to Tigers fans, but Fulmer’s potential was something that softened the blow — and he didn’t disappoint. Fulmer was named AL Rookie of the Year in 2016 and made his first All-Star game the following year. But while he’s still only 26, Fulmer regressed in 2018 (3-12, 4.69 ERA), and Tommy John surgery ended his 2019 campaign before it began. Whether the Tigers intend to keep Fulmer around as a core piece in the rebuild or hope to use him as a trade asset like it appears they’ll do with Boyd, Detroit is seriously depending on their once-rising star to return to form.

Cessa, meanwhile, was dealt to the Yankees in a package for reliever Justin Wilson.

J.D. Martinez, who's since landed with the Red Sox, brought the Tigers a triumvirate of infield prospects in a deal with the D-backs.

July 18, 2017

Detroit received: 2B/3B Dawel Lugo, 2B/SS Sergio Alcantara, INF Jose King

Arizona received: OF J.D. Martinez

Following the 2015 deadline, Detroit spiraled from 11.5 games back all the way to last place in the AL Central. It had a better year in 2016, though, and for the most part stood pat at the deadline — the Tigers acquired Erick Aybar from Atlanta in August for Mike Aviles and Kade Scivicque — as a team not ready to mortgage the success of a fast-approaching rebuild for a midseason retooling with a chance to make the playoffs as a wild-card team.

Detroit wound up falling short of the postseason in 2016, anyway, and by the 2017 deadline, the dream was dead. Al Avila made everything but the team mascot available to acquire via trade. 

Martinez, Detroit’s most dangerous hitter, was the first to go, and at the time, the return was perceived as rather unglamorous. There were questions about why Avila would have allowed one of the best hitters at the deadline to set the market nearly a full two weeks before July 31.

Martinez would play just 66 games in a Diamondbacks jersey, though, justifying Arizona’s stinginess. Regardless, Detroit received some decent value in the exchange. 

The 24-year-old Lugo cracked the major-league lineup for 27 games in 2018 and has appeared in the Tigers’ lineup on a semi-regular basis this season. He’s hit .354/.398/.542 over 47 games in Triple-A Toledo, but has struggled to bring that bat to the major leagues, where he’s gone .207/.233/.317 at the plate this season.

Alcantara, 23, is one of the more polished defenders in Detroit’s farm system. He’s spent the past two seasons with Double-A Erie, where on offense, he’s had some issues to work out. While he hits from both sides of the plate and has collected a .262 average over the two seasons with Erie, his strikeout-to-walk ratio is 1.76 in that same span. 

At the age of 20, King has yet to make it beyond Class-A West Michigan. He was promoted there before the start of this season, but was sent back to Low-A Connecticut after batting .209 with one home run and 11 RBIs through his first 52 games of the season. 

Jeimer Candelario

July 31, 2017

Detroit received: INF Isaac Paredes, 3B Jeimer Candelario 

Chicago Cubs received: C Alex Avila, LHP Justin Wilson

All things considered, this was a win for Al Avila. His son, Alex Avila, signed with Arizona after playing just 35 games in Chicago and Wilson left for the Arizona Diamondbacks a year later.

In the meantime, the 20-year-old Paredes shot up to third in a ranking of the franchise’s pre-2019 prospects by The Detroit News (Casey Mize was first, Matt Manning second). He’s currently in his first full season with Double-A Erie after knocking 22 RBIs and swinging the bat at marks of .321/.406/.458 over the course of 39 games with the SeaWolves a year ago. 

As for Candelario? Well, if you’ve paid any attention to the big-league club over the last two years, you’re likely familiar with the 25-year-old slugger. He played 144 games for the Tigers in 2018, his rookie year, and finished .224/.317/.393 with 19 home runs and 54 RBIs. 

He’s bounced back and forth between Detroit and Toledo this season, slashing .212/.304/.355 entering Sunday.

Elvin Rodriguez

Aug. 31, 2017

Detroit received: RHP Grayson Long, RHP Elvin Rodriguez

Los Angeles Angels received: OF Justin Upton

Two starters entered the Tigers organization in a trade with the Angels in exchange for Upton. Only one remains. 

After being dealt to Detroit, the shoulder of Long, a 2015 third-round pick, never held up long enough for him to get a real shot. The 25-year-old retired from the game prior to this season’s start. 

Still, the secondary prize of Detroit’s haul has since shown enough promise for the trade to not be considered a waste of Upton’s All-Star season — at least not yet, anyway. The 21-year-old Rodriguez has been productive in High-A Lakeland after being promoted from Class-A West Michigan following his first full season in the Tigers’ farm system. Rodriguez has amassed a 9-3 record and his 3.12 ERA ranks 12th in the Florida State League.

Tigers catching prospect Jake Rogers hit 17 home runs last year in Double-A, but he also had a 27 percent strikeout rate.

Aug. 31, 2017

Detroit received: CF Daz Cameron, RHP Franklin Perez, C Jake Rogers

Houston received: RHP Justin Verlander, CF Juan Ramirez

For Tigers fans of both yesterday and tomorrow, Verlander has played a huge role in Detroit’s success — or at least that’s how it projects right now.

Avila sending the franchise cornerstone to Houston in 2017, where Verlander would finally claim the World Series ring that eluded his legacy later that fall, was the final chapter in what would best be described as, well, “The Verlander Era” in Detroit, given that the Tigers made the World Series during his 2006 Rookie-of-the-Year campaign and finished dead last the year he was traded.

And while Tigers fans were plenty gracious enough toward the 36-year-old Verlander during his departure and ensuing championship run, there’s a good chance that another thanks will be in order later down the road. The former Cy Young and MVP right-hander returned players currently ranked third, fifth and 12th by MLB Pipeline among the Tigers' top prospects.

First is the 22-year-old Cameron (No. 5), who climbed his way to Triple-A Toledo in 2018. His speed lends itself to an all-around solid defensive profile, but on the opposite side of the field, the 2015 first-round pick has struggled at times this season. He’s batting .225/.319/.401 with slightly above-average power — nine home runs and 28 extra-base hits — and, despite that speed, is just 10-for-17 on steal attempts.

Still, both he and Rogers (No. 12) are among the handful of minor-leaguers poised to receive a big-league call-up in September. Detroit’s 24-year-old top catching prospect tore up Double-A Erie to start the season, batting .302/.429/.535 with five homers and 21 RBIs in 28 games before earning a promotion to Triple-A. He cooled down at the plate after getting to Toledo, but that fact comes without much concern. Rogers’ defense, not his bat — he broke Erie’s single-season caught-stealing record in 2018 — is what’s landed him on multiple top prospects lists.

Due to a handful of injuries, Perez (No. 3) is a bit farther behind in his development than the two other guys he arrived with in the organization. The 21-year-old’s highly touted arm figured to be a key player in the next generation of Tigers baseball, but after missing most of the 2018 season with a lat strain and most of this year with shoulder tendinitis, Perez’s value as a big-league prospect could be diminishing as he struggles to get healthy.

Willi Castro

July 31, 2018

Detroit received: 2B/SS Willi Castro 

Cleveland received: OF Leonys Martin, P Kyle Dowdy

Both of the major pieces shipped out of Detroit at last year’s deadline were signed to one-year deals in December of the previous year. 

At a price-point of $1.75 million, Martins’ nine home runs and .251/.321/.409 marks at the plate were enough for Cleveland to give up a promising middle infielder in the deadline’s final hours. There’s still some ground to cover before this trade can be declared a win for the Tigers, but early returns have the scale tipping in their direction. In 2019, the 22-year-old Castro has hit .295/.381/.442 with 39 RBIs, 13 stolen bases, seven triples, five home runs and represented the Mud Hens at the Triple-A All-Star Game. 

Martin was sidelined with a life-threatening bacterial infection nine days into his Indians tenure. He signed another one-year deal to stay with Cleveland in October 2018, but was released on June 27 after batting .199 with nine home runs in 65 games.

The 26-year-old Dowdy made his MLB debut in March and has managed to stick with Texas’ big-league club despite posting a 7.25 ERA in 13 appearances this season.

Logan Shore

Aug. 6, 2018

Detroit received: PTBNL RP Nolan Blackwood, SP Logan Shore

Oakland received: SP Mike Fiers

Fiers was dealt to Oakland nearly a full week after the July 31 deadline and returned a pair pitchers who are currently spending their age-24 season with the Tigers’ Double-A affiliate.

Blackwood has been impressive in relief for the SeaWolves so far in 2019, posting a 1.82 ERA and 1.261 WHIP in 21 appearances. His test run in Triple-A didn’t last long, though, as he was tagged for seven runs in three scattered relief appearances in early May. Shore, a former second-round pick, meanwhile, got off to a slow start in April but has since improved his numbers across the board after upping his strikeouts and lowering his walk rate.

Fiers went 5-2 as a starter for Oakland in 2018 en route to a postseason appearance and signed a two-year contract worth $14.1 million to stay with the A’s at season’s end. He is 9-3 this year and threw his second career no-hitter in May.

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.