Detroit Tigers: Austin Meadows Deal a Spring Training Stunner

Al Avila, Detroit Tigers (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
Al Avila, Detroit Tigers (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images) /

The Detroit Tigers officially marked themselves as a serious professional baseball club on Monday night. An evening trade popped up on Twitter as North Carolina and Kansas duked it out for the national title. It was the Tigers with a thunderclap move, acquiring Austin Meadows from the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Detroit Tigers have made more ballyhooed acquisitions this winter, perhaps. Signing Javier Baez and Eduardo Rodriguez were big moves and showed Detroit has intent on moving up in the standings. Meadows is certainly not the best player in MLB to get moved this year. It’s just something in this case seems different…its own beacon of hope in a stormy sea of rebuilding.

The immediate reaction in this space is the Meadows trade truly shows the Tigers are looking to make headway in the AL Central standings. It shifts the Overton Window for discussing the efforts of the Chris Ilitch/Al Avila tandem. Suddenly there is some positivity attached to them.

This is a move few saw coming or truly expected. It’s a move GM Al Avila probably didn’t have to make in some sense. Avila had already proclaimed Spring Training was closed by saying “we’re done” making moves and the franchise had to “be careful” moving forward.

After stud prospect Riley Greene broke the hearts of thousands of Tigers fans on Monday with news of a 6-8 week absence because of a busted foot, the Tigers were rumored to be pursuing some ragged and ordinary talents to plug into the outfield while Greene recovers.

It turns out the Tigers were looking to make a move to enhance the club’s talent level by a fair margin. Meadows brings the pedigree of the 9th overall pick in the 2013 draft, an All Star appearance, and three full seasons of control at the age of soon-to-be 27. Meadows bring a very high ceiling to the table when looking at his huge 2019 campaign and very acceptable numbers of  his 2021 year.

Quite simply with Greene out possibly for two months the move to get Meadows takes at bats away from Victor Reyes, Willi Castro, Eric Haase, and Derek Hill. It’s a significant development even if Meadows performs to ‘21 levels (117 OPS+). It’s a heist worthy of a plot for “Ocean’s 14” if he hits close to his ‘19 star turn. (.291/.364/.558, 144 OPS+)

Avila had options. He easily could have decided to stand pat and wait for Greene to return. Avila could have made a deal for lesser talent in trade. Perhaps a solid backup CF type to hold the fort. Instead the Tigers went big. They looked for real difference making talent. That’s the true stunner of the night. The Tigers didn’t settle for something from the knock off sale rack. They found a deal for a brand name instead.

The Tigers gave up the still-young Isaac Paredes with Tampa also gobbling  up the Tigers pick at #71 which was a tradable Competitive Balance Pick. On the surface it appears a lopsided move for the Tigers and a cost cutting move by Tampa. All might be true but all we know is the Tigers have left fielder Meadows with 30+ homer potential with easy power.

The Tigers came back from the lockout with a chance to build the roster after the three major moves (Baez, Rodriguez and catcher Tucker Barnhart) executed in November. Instead, the Tigers dabbled around the fringes and spent $12M on Andrew Chafin and Michael Pineda. Both decent players but neither moving the needle much. These moves and Avila’s “careful” comments sucked a bit of the air of optimism out of Lakeland. Greene’s injury shoe dropped next only adding to the worries.

But the Tigers responded. They shopped at Macy’s instead of Kohl’s (and Ilitch’s has a ton of Kohl’s Cash to use!!) to get a talented player in their outfield for the next three years at least. The Tigers  didn’t settle. They used some of their draft capital and a still real prospect to get it done. They weren’t careful…they were somewhat bold.

Austin Meadows doesn’t guarantee a playoff berth or a World Series ring. This is baseball. Lots of stuff can go wrong. Detroit isn’t even promised a .500 record yet after this move.

The Meadows deal signifies that Ilitch is moving to the deep end of the pool and possibly getting on the diving board. They’ve now added trading a prospect and draft capital to their moves of salary adding trades and spending at the higher end of the market on free agent commitments to fill needs and bolster the roster.

All that can be asked of a ball club is to use all of its resources to compete. We know of the clubs carrying anemic payrolls in Pittsburgh and Cleveland, doing almost nothing to improve. The Tigers have taken the steps to separate themselves from those teams in free agency and via trades. It’s not the money Meadows is making…it’s the aggressiveness and commitment to put a better product on the field the Tigers can feel good about after this deal.