So you want to make a deadline trade? Ready to empty the farm system for a veteran slugger? You need an all-star right hander? They are all for sale for the right price. Whether your club is a buyer or a seller this year, the deals you make (or don’t make) will impact the team for years to come.
The Tigers have a long history of mid-season trades from both sides, some they won, some they lost. As you wonder what it might take to pry loose a Roy Halladay or a Matt Holliday, or even a Luke Scott, let’s look back at some of the best and worst deadline (ish) deals the Tigers had made over the years.
1976- The Tigers acquired right hander Milt Wilcox from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for cash considerations. Wilcox would go on to pitch nine seasons with the Tigers winning 97 games, and was an important part in the team’s rise to one of the league’s elite clubs in the mid 1980s.
1985- Detroit traded a minor leaguer named Duane James to the Rangers for left hander Frank Tanana. James never made it to the show, while Tanana pitched seven and a half seasons in the Tigers rotation, helping them to the 1987 AL East crown. 96 of his 240 wins came in Detroit.
1996- Damian Easley was a young utility player for the Angels when he was traded to the Tigers for pitcher Greg Gohr. Easley made an all-star appearence for the Tigers. During his seven year tenure as the second base replacement for recently retired Lou Whitaker, he three times hit better than 20 home runs in a season.
Gohr faded quickly from the major leagues, winning just one game for Angels. Following the 1996 season, Gohr never appeared in another major league game.
1999- Right hander Bryce Florie was dealt to the Red Sox for minor league lefty Mike Maroth. Florie’s career derailed shortly after the trade when he was hit in the face by a line drive, while Maroth helped to bring the downtrodden Tigers back to respectability.
Though he lost 21 games in 2003, Maroth and the rest of the Tigers staff matured together to build the push for the 2006 AL Championship team.
2001- After being supplanted by Matt Anderson as closer in Detroit, Todd Jones was dealt away to the Twins with lefty Mark Redman coming back.
While this trade doesn’t look great on it’s surface, Redman was later dealt to the Marlins for a package including lefty Nate Robertson, another key starter for the 2006 team. Jones, meanwhile, bounced around the majors for a few years until his return to Detroit as the closer in 2006.
2005- With the now respectable Tigers fading in the Central race, the Tigers traded their closer, Ugueth Urbina to the Phillies along with utility man Ramon Martinez to acquire Placido Polanco.
What’s happened since then? Polanco has been a stabilizing force at second base, an all-star, and perhaps the most underrated player in the American League.
Urbina has spent the past few years in a Venzuelan prison after being convicted of a brutal attack and attempted murder of five employees at his family farm.
2006- In need of a left handed bat to stabilize the offense, the Tigers traded minor leaguer Brian Rogers to Pittsburgh for first baseman Sean Casey. Rogers has a 9.82 ERA in 13 big league games since then.
Casey played fairly well down the stretch for Detroit, but really took off in the playoffs. He hit .529 with two home runs in the World Series. Casey remained the everyday first baseman through 2007.
1980- The Tigers were still a young and improving team in 1980, and first baseman Jason Thompson was providing much of the power in their lineup.
Inexplicably the Tigers dealt the 25 year old two-time all-star to the Angels in exchange for outfielder Al Cowens. Thompson’s departure lead to a revolving door of first basemen in Detroit until Darrell Evans was acquired in 1985. Cowens played just one and a half years in Detroit, hitting six home runs.
1988- Trying to make a final push for the playoffs, the Tigers dealt for Orioles veteran outfielder Fred Lynn late in the 1988 season. The Tigers would fall short of their goal and Lynn hit just .237 as a Tiger.
The players sent to Baltimore included catcher Chris Hoiles, who played 10 years for the Orioles and was a consistent power hitter.
1995- The key to winning is having good pitching. At the beginning of the worst stretch of losing in franchise history, the club traded it’s most effective pitcher, David Wells, to the Reds for lefty C.J. Nitkowski and infielder Mark Lewis.
Wells would go on to win 213 games after the trade, while Lewis and Nitkowski never panned out for Detroit. The Tigers actually acquired Nitkowski in three separate moves over his career, but he posted an 11-24 record in Detroit.
1998- The Tigers added aging slugger Geronimo Berroa several years too late in a deal with the Indians. Berroa’s best years came with Oakland in 1995 and 1996 and he never again approached that kind of success. Berroa played 52 games for the Tigers, hitting just one home run.
In exchange, Detroit sent journeyman reliever Tim Worrell to Cleveland along with a young, speedy outfielder named Dave Roberts. Roberts went on to a lengthy career as a quality lead off hitter and center fielder, something it would take the Tigers almost another decade to find.
1996- Perhaps the worst trade of them all. The Tigers dealt slugger and fan favorite Cecil Fielder to the Yankees for an aging Ruben Sierra and a minor league phenom in right hander Matt Drews.
Sierra’s career had hit the skids even before this trade, and while he would rebound in later years, his days in Detroit were filled with injury and ineffectiveness.
Drews was the can’t miss prospect that everyone wanted. So much so that when Arizona selected Drews in the 1998 Expansion draft, the Tigers traded thrid baseman Travis Fryman to get him back.
Drews’ career blew up along with his control while in the Tigers farm system, he never made it to the show. The second trade for Drews was perhaps the most unforgivable, however, as Drews’ control had already vanished by that point.
Never Happened, but Should Have
1984- Detroit was the best team in baseball, but felt they could use another arm down the stretch. They had the frameworks of a deal lined up with the Pirates for left hander John Tudor. All it would cost was left fielder Larry Herndon.
The Tigers left that deal unmade, and while Herndon had a solid career in the Tigers outfield, Tudor would go one to become one of the best lefties in the game, finishing 1985 with 21 wins and 10 shutouts. His addition could have kept the Tigers from fading over the next several years.
2000- As the deadline neared, Tigers outfielder Juan Gonzalez was just returning from a back injury that had kept the unhappy slugger out of the lineup.
Just seven months earlier, Detroit had mortgaged the future to get Gonzalez from the Rangers in a seven player swap that sent Francisco Cordero, Justin Thompson, Frank Catalonotto, and top prospect Gabe Kapler to Texas. Gonzalez had made it clear he would not be re-signing after the season, so when the Mariners came calling with a package centered around pitcher John Halama, the Tigers should have jumped on it.
Instead, Mike Illitch refused the deal and offered to make Gonzalez the highest paid player in baseball. Gonzalez turned him down and left following the season.
2007- The love affair between the Tigers and Pittsburgh shortstop Jack Wilson has been ongoing for years. With Detroit trying to solidify their pennant chances they called upon the Pirates to try to swing a deal for Wilson and a reliever (either Solomon Torres or Damaso Marte).
The deal would have included the Tigers picking up all of Wilson’s contract, but would have kept him in Detroit through 2010. Detroit had reportedly offered outfielder Brent Clevelen and pitcher Jair Jurrjens to Pittsburgh, but the deal fell through. Jurrjens was later dealt to Atlanta, with prized outfielder Gorkys Hernandez, for one season of Edgar Renteria.
The Most Pivotal
1987- The Tigers were three years removed from their 1984 Championship season, but the core group remained intact. That summer they were locked in a three team divisional race with the Yankee and Blue Jays for a spot in the playoffs. Just after the non-waiver deadline, they swung a trade with the Atlanta Braves for veteran right hander Doyle Alexander.
Alexander was brilliant down the stretch for the Tigers, going 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA the rest of the way. The Tigers beat the Blue Jays on the season’s final day to win the AL East. The deal had worked. Never mind the cost.
Except that the cost was minor league right hander John Smoltz. All he has done since then is win 200 games, save 150 more, and take home a Cy Young Award. He has earned a reputation as one of the best post-season pitchers of all-time, and is one his way to the Hall of Fame.
So do you still want to make a trade at the deadline? I do. For every hot shot prospect that turns out to be John Smoltz, there are fifty that become Matt Drews. Most fall somewhere in the middle. It’s the chance you take to try to win big. The possible payoff is worth the risk.