Tigers address two needs, but at great cost
Infante expected to start at second, while Sanchez joins rotation; Turner to Miami
Five years after the Tigers traded Omar Infante in a win-now scenario, they brought him back for the same reason. By adding the second baseman, plus starter Anibal Sanchez from the Miami Marlins, they addressed both of their expressed needs heading towards the July 31 Trade Deadline.
It cost the Tigers their top prospect, right-hander Jacob Turner, as well as catching prospect Rob Brantly and Double-A left-hander Brian Flynn. However, the move gave the Tigers everything they felt they needed for a run at the American League Central title and beyond.
It also netted them a first-round Draft pick in a swap of selections from last week's Competitive Balance Lottery.
"It's a situation for us, as we look to improve our ballclub, hope to win our division, get to the postseason and advance from there, we had a couple needs," said Tigers president, CEO and general manager Dave Dombrowski.
Second base was at the top of the list. If that second baseman could bring a right-handed bat with some productivity, it would be a bonus. Infante, once a prized signing for the Tigers' Latin American scouting department under then-general manager Randy Smith, fit that bill.
In short, Infante provides what the Tigers forecast from him when he was their starting second baseman in 2004 and the first half of '05. Injuries and the inconsistency of youth led to Infante's ouster then -- by a trade for a second baseman in Placido Polanco -- making Infante a Tigers utilityman for the next couple of years until the Tigers traded him to the Cubs for Jacque Jones after the 2007 season.
Jones lasted just over a month with the Tigers until they released him. The Cubs flipped Infante that same offseason to the Braves, where he became a .305 hitter in 2009 and an All-Star the next summer. Once the Marlins traded for him two years ago, he became Florida's everyday second baseman.
Now, he's the Tigers' second baseman -- again. Moreover, with his two-year, $8 million contract extending through next season, he figures to fill the job beyond this summer.
"For us, from a second-base perspective, that was an area we definitely wanted to address," Dombrowski said. "There's not a lot of second basemen that are available. There's not a lot of second basemen available particularly that are good players."
In Infante's case, Dombrowski said, "He's a real solid player to us, one of the better second basemen in Major League Baseball."
Now 30, Infante returns sporting a .287 batting average with 23 doubles, eight home runs and 33 RBIs in 85 games. He also has stolen 10 bases in 11 attempts, which would rank second on the Tigers to speedster Quintin Berry.
"One thing for us, it's good to have a bat that's another threat to drive the ball into the gaps and steal a base," Dombrowski said. "For us, it's a plus."
Infante's history in Detroit, Dombrowski said, was not a overriding factor in the appeal.
"I don't think it really played into it," he said. "It's nice to have a feel, because we know that he's a quality individual. A lot of people in the org that know him hold him in high regard. But I can't say it was a major factor."
Their interest in him dates back to before the All-Star break. However, Florida's hopes at a late run towards a contention with a roster built to win put any serious talks on hold. That changed, Dombrowski said, over the past week.
The decision for the Marlins to sell also freed up Sanchez, a pitcher the Tigers had been scouting, as well. While Detroit hadn't centered its interests on him, the Tigers always had thought highly of him and scouted him over the last few weeks in case the Marlins decided to sell. If they'd become willing to deal Infante, the thought process went, they'd be willing to deal Sanchez, who is eligible for free agency at season's end.
His 5-7 record and 3.94 ERA aren't impressive for a 28-year-old right-hander in a contract year. His 110 strikeouts and 119 hits allowed over 121 innings -- averaging just over six innings per outing -- are much stronger.
Sanchez is a native of Maracay, Venezuela, the same hometown as new teammate Miguel Cabrera.
"He's been one of the more consistent pitchers in baseball," Dombrowski said. "He feels great, he has quality stuff and he gives us a chance to have five established Major League starters."
With Doug Fister healthy, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello finding their better form and Justin Verlander being Justin Verlander, most of the rotation was set. Sanchez fills the spot of rookie left-hander Drew Smyly, who's out indefinitely with a strained right intercostal muscle.
Turner had been filling that slot with up-and-down results. His appeal to Detroit was more long term than right now. But with Smyly looking like a long-term fixture, and the aforementioned four starters all under team control for at least the next two years, the Tigers were willing to listen to offers on Turner to a level they weren't last year.
Turner, Detroit's first-round pick in 2009 and an All-Star Futures Game participant last year, earned his first Major League win over the White Sox on Sunday after the Angels roughed him up on Tuesday. He was heavily scouted on Tuesday, less so on Sunday, but Dombrowski said the Marlins had coveted him for a while.
So it came as no surprise that when the Marlins made an offer on Sunday afternoon, in the midst of Turner's outing, Turner was included.
"It was about the third, fourth inning, so maybe they watched the first couple innings," Dombrowski said. "But they've always liked Jacob."
The Tigers could've said no, traded for Infante alone and tried to find a starting pitcher elsewhere. But most of their other rumored targets would've required a top prospect like Turner, too.
"You never want to trade a Jacob Turner," Dombrowski said, "but we're also in a position right now where we had a couple of needs we wanted to address that were very important for us to win. I think the reality of it is right now it gives us a chance to win and if we were going to make the deal, we were going to make it [with those players]."
The same goes for Brantly, a Futures Game participant a few weeks ago and the highest-regarded of Detroit's three catching prospects. He got the news at Triple-A Toledo just before the Mud Hens game Monday night.
"We've still got a young starting catcher in Alex Avila," Dombrowski said. "You aren't going to have both of them in the organization at some point, because you usually aren't going to have two left-handed-hitting catchers at the Major League level. Those two names were pretty much in stone."
The swap of Draft picks, in turn, was an insistence of the Tigers protecting themselves in case they lose Sanchez as a free agent. The Marlins won a Competitive Balance pick at the end of the first round but wouldn't give it up unless the Tigers offered their pick at the end of the second.
In so doing, Detroit and Florida became the first teams to trade Draft picks in Major League history, something that hadn't been allowed until the Competitive Balance Lottery was established with the new labor agreement last fall.