Detroit Tigers Trade Value Series-Damion Easley

5 Apr 2001: Second baseman Damion Easley #9 of the Detroit Tigers fields a ground ball and makes the throw in time to first base against the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan. The Twins won 9-5. DIGITAL IMAGE. MANDATORY CREDIT: TOM PIDGEON/ALLSPORT
5 Apr 2001: Second baseman Damion Easley #9 of the Detroit Tigers fields a ground ball and makes the throw in time to first base against the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan. The Twins won 9-5. DIGITAL IMAGE. MANDATORY CREDIT: TOM PIDGEON/ALLSPORT /

Hello and welcome to the first Detroit Tigers Trade Value Series. I will be looking back at trades throughout the Tigers history they either got a great value out of or little value. I am kicking off the first one with Damion Easley, one of few trades that worked out for former General Manager Randy Smith

1995 was a pivotal year for the Detroit Tigers as a franchise. Sparky Anderson retired. Joe Klein was the 4th GM fired in the decade.  Fan favorites David Wells and Tony Phillips were traded to save money and Alan Trammell was a year away from retirement. With the team in a strange limbo of trying to find an identity, the Tigers signed Randy Smith to lead the helm. Quickly, Smith made his impression with 8 trades from his signing in the winter of 1995 to what would be a regular theme among the Smith era, the trade deadline deal with trade number 9 for Damion Easley.

On July 31st, 1996, the Greg Gohr for Damion Easley trade was overshadowed by Cecil Fielder going to the New York Yankees for Matt Drews and Ruben Sierra. Easley at the time was playing shortstop mainly with the Angels in a platoon role, combined with starts at second base and center field.  His injury history of shin problems combined with a .156/.255/.311 at the time of the trade made this an easy move for California to make. It was so easy that Easley just had to walk over to the visiting clubhouse as the Tigers were in town for a three-game series. (Fun fact, the Tigers would sweep the series in Anaheim, a rare feat)

For Randy Smith, he picked up depth and a backup plan. Mark Lewis, the player to be named later in the David Wells deal in 1995, was arbitration-eligible and the fear was he would seek a raise. He had a point. Lewis at the time was hitting near .300 including a 4 for 5 performance in a win over Angels the day after the trade deadline.

After joining the team, Easley would split time between second and shortstop in August. He would have his best month of the season, batting .304/.333/.429, going 17 for 56 including an 8 for 14 clip against the eventual World Series champs, the New York Yankees, a week after he joined the club.  In 21 games, he would hit .343 as the team slumped to last in the AL East.

Better things to come

After the Tigers posted a 6.38 ERA, the second-worst team ERA in MLB history, dead last in on-base percentage, hits, batting average and being dead last in strikeouts, Detroit was looking for any silver linings.  Restricted by salary, Randy Smith would pull two moves that would shape Damion Easley’s future with the club in 1997.

On December 10th, 1996, The Tigers traded Brad Ausmus, Jose Lima, Trever Miller, C.J Nikowski, and Daryle Ward to Houston for Doug Brocail, Brian Hunter, Todd Jones, and Orlando Miller. Miller was a shortstop by trade and the Tigers would pick up Deivi Cruz, who at the time, Randy Smith would announce he would be used as a utility infielder. With Mark Lewis not coming back, the question heading out of spring training in 1997 was Easley ready to be an everyday player and most importantly, where?

After a strong start in April in which he went .290/.358./,452, he cooled off in May before he really came into form in June, showing off the power with 6 home runs and along with Cruz’s defensive prowess, they formed a solid double-play combo. The Tigers would improve by 26 games and as a result of a strong 1997 season, when the Tigers were not spending a lot of money, he signed a three-year,  $8.7 million contract after posting a 3 WAR season. ($14 million roughly in 2020 dollars)

His 1998 season would be his best as a Tiger. He would lead all A.L.  second baseman in field percentage, would hit 27 home runs and drive in 100 (all would be career highs)  He was the lone representative for the Tigers in the All-Star game and he even got to hit in the Home Run Derby.  The season concluded with him winning the Silver Slugger award, the first by a Tigers second baseman since Lou Whitaker in 1985 and the first one for any Tiger since Travis Fryman and Mickey Tettleton did in 1992. 

Easley was one of the few Tigers that teams were interested in trading for. At one point, he almost a part of the Juan Gonzalez deal that occurred on November 2nd, 1999.  After another 20 home run season in 1999, injuries, the move to the cave of Comerica Park started slowing down Easley’s numbers. He would be released by the Tigers in 2003.  In his seven years with Detroit, he hit .260, drove in 400 RBIs, hit 104 home runs and would finish with an OPS+ of 101 in a Tigers uniform.

What I remembered most about his time in Detroit was his friendship with Tony Clark. You have to remember at that point, there was so much roster turnover on the team. But those two on the left side of the infield provided stability heading into Comerica Park’s first season and they were the faces of the team after Travis Fryman was traded.  They were for a while, the Tigers faces of the franchise. This was one of Randy Smith’s best trades.

Damion Easley these days is the San Diego Padres hitting instructor and his son Jace, is a prospect with the Padres.