Detroit Tigers 40-man roster surprise: Austin Meadows

Tampa Bay Rays left fielder Austin Meadows makes a catch for an out during the eighth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Tampa Bay Rays left fielder Austin Meadows makes a catch for an out during the eighth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

Outfielder Austin Meadows has joined the Detroit Tigers in a stunning trade.

Detroit Tigers fans have had a bit of a rollercoaster week. First came the news that star prospect Riley Greene had a fractured foot. Then the team officially announced Spencer Torkelson made the club and would start at first base on Opening Day.

Meanwhile, oft-injured outfielder Derek Hill went from having leg cramps last Wednesday to hitting the injured list by Saturday. This led to speculation the Tigers might look to add outfielders, though most assumed they would simply fill the need from within.

But then, shortly before 10 PM EST on Monday night, just four days before the season begins, it happened.

The Detroit Tigers traded for All-star outfielder Austin Meadows.

As the team’s official Twitter account says, it cost Detroit their young infielder Isaac Paredes and a competitive balance-B draft pick (likely to land in picks 65-75 overall). At first glance it seems like a big win for the Detroit Tigers, but let’s dig a little deeper.

Who is Austin Meadows?

Austin Meadows was the 9th overall pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2013 MLB Draft. He spent most of the next five years as a top-50 prospect in baseball, and he made his big-league debut in May of 2018, just a few weeks past his 23rd birthday.

Meadows hit the ground running, going 2-for-4 in his pro debut against Tyson Ross, and he blasted his first big-league home run two days later. He added three more homers over his next eight games.

Meadows continued to hit well for the next few months, and then Pittsburgh sent him to Tampa Bay in one of the most ill-fated trades in recent memory. Even though Meadows was hitting .292/.327/.468 at the time of the deal, the Rays sent him back to Triple-A Durham. He came back to Tampa for ten games in September.

Austin Meadows broke out in a big way in 2019. He had a strong first half of the season, batting .297/.371/.506 with 12 home runs to earn a spot in the All-Star Game. But then he went wild in the second half of the year, hitting .292/.364/.619 with 21 homers over his final 67 games.

Two stints on the Injured List contributed to a rough 2020 season for Meadows, as he hit just .205 with four home runs in 36 games. His power returned in 2021, with 27 home runs and 29 doubles, but his batting average hovered in the .230 range all year.

Austin Meadows’ Contract

Austin Meadows is in his first year of arbitration eligibility, and he and Tampa agreed to a $4-million deal to avoid arbitration. He turns 27 at the beginning of May, and the Detroit Tigers will have him under team control for three full seasons. If he continues to perform the way he did last year he’ll probably earn another $18-24 million before hitting free agency.

Austin Meadows ZiPS Projections

Our Take on Austin Meadows

Perhaps this shouldn’t feel quite as shocking as it does. Just a few days ago we suggested the Tigers might trade for Austin Meadows, and a week before that Rogelio pointed out how Isaac Paredes felt like the odd man out for this team.

Teams trade with Tampa Bay at their own peril, but it had become increasingly clear the Tigers had soured on Paredes as a piece for the future. He maintained a strong approach at the plate, but his defense was average at best, and he just hasn’t hit the ball hard against MLB pitchers. If anyone can figure him out it’s Tampa, and it would be a nice story if they do.

But the Detroit Tigers are getting a player who can absolutely help right now. Austin Meadows isn’t without his flaws — he’s average or perhaps slightly below average on defense, and over the past two seasons he has been dominated by left-handed pitchers.

But over the same time frame he’s done plenty of damage against right-handed pitching, which he’ll see far more often than southpaws. At worst, he should form a potent power platoon with Eric Haase. At best, there’s a chance Austin Meadows ends the 2022 season as Detroit’s best offensive player

The Detroit Tigers are a better team than they were when Monday began, and Austin Meadows may well power the Tigers to the playoffs ahead of schedule.

Next. Detroit Tigers 40-man roster preview: Casey Mize. dark