DETROIT – When David Price was finally traded, it was to an unexpected bidder.
The Detroit Tigers added another Cy Young Award winner to their star-studded rotation, acquiring Price from Tampa Bay in a blockbuster deal Thursday. The Rays received left-hander Drew Smyly and minor league infielder Willy Adames from the Tigers. Tampa Bay also got infielder Nick Franklin from Seattle, with Detroit outfielder Austin Jackson going to the Mariners.
The AL Central-leading Tigers are trying for their fourth consecutive division title, and their starting rotation was already a strength. General manager Dave Dombrowski decided to trade for Price anyway, giving Detroit a collection of stars on the mound that could be tough to match in any postseason series.
“The question that we asked ourselves is: What gives us the best chance of winning the world championship this year?” Dombrowski said. “We thought adding him to our rotation at this point would give us the best chance to do that.”
The deal came just hours after the Oakland Athletics got an ace of their own, former Boston Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester, Boston gets All-Star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes in the deal.
A whopping 18 teams began the day within five games of playoff position, resulting in a dozen deals shortly before Major League Baseball’s 4 p.m. EDT trade deadline.
The World Series champion Boston Red Sox, mired in last place, were the most busy, sending Jonny Gomes to the A’s along with Lester, trading pitcher John Lackey to the St. Louis Cardinals, shortstop Stephen Drew to the New York Yankees, and pitcher Andrew Miller to the Baltimore Orioles.
“It speaks to where we are as a team,” Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said. “There’s nothing sort of celebratory about this. These moves are made because, collectively as an organization, we haven’t performed well enough, in this year anyway.”
The Washington Nationals acquired shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera in a deal with the Cleveland Indians. Cabrera teared up in the Indians clubhouse as he talked about the deal, in which the Indians receive infielder Zach Walters. The trade came a day after the team sent pitcher Justin Masterson to the Cardinals.
“I had fun here,” Cabrera said. “This was the team that gave me the opportunity to play. It’s hard . . . it’s hard. It was like I grew up here.”
“That’s the business,” he said. “It surprised me a little bit, but there is nothing I could do. I knew this was going to be possible. Today when I got here, I didn’t even know it was happening.”
The Miami Marlins, often sellers as deadline day approaches, became buyers when they acquired pitcher Jarred Cosart from Houston in a six-player trade.
Teams can still make trades through Aug. 31 to have players eligible for the postseason, but it becomes more tricky. Now a player must first clear waivers, meaning every club in the majors has a chance to claim him before he can be traded.
Price joins Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander in the Detroit rotation, giving the Tigers the last three American League Cy Young winners.
The Tigers are the first team with three pitchers on the staff who have all won Cy Young Awards over the previous three seasons, according to STATS.
“Today it’s great, it’s nice, it’s fine. I love to have David Price,” Dombrowski said. “If we win, then I’ll be very satisfied.”
Jackson was removed from Detroit’s game against the Chicago White Sox with one out in the top of the seventh inning. As he jogged in from center field, he got a nice hand from the home fans, many of whom no doubt understood the significance of the substitution moments before the deadline.
Price’s departure became a clear possibility when the Rays fell way behind in the AL East race earlier this season. Tampa Bay has played much better over the last month and entered Thursday only 5½ games behind a wild card — but the Rays decided to deal their ace anyway.
“Compared to the other possibilities, it was by far the most prudent thing that we could do for the best interests of the franchise,” said Andrew Friedman, Tampa Bay’s vice president of baseball operations. “If you look ahead to next year, it would have been really challenging to be as good as we want to be within our situation, with David taking up that meaningful of a percentage of our payroll. So everything we do is in the vein of how to be competitive in the near term and also the long term.”
Tampa Bay signed Price to a $14 million deal for this season, avoiding arbitration, but he isn’t eligible for free agency until after next season. That means Detroit’s rotation — which also includes Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello — should be impressive in 2015 even if Scherzer leaves via free agency this offseason.