Few teams had as much regular season success as the Detroit Tigers from 2011-14. They won four division titles and 366 regular season games, the most in baseball, though they never did win the World Series. Detroit lost in the ALDS once (2014), the ALCS twice (2011, 2013), and the World Series once (2012).
Last season it appeared the window to win with the current core was about to close. The Tigers were 49-52 on the morning on July 30, and while they were only 3 1/2 games back of the second wild card spot, there were five teams ahead of them in the standings. Detroit had lost 11 of their previous 16 games as well. Things were not looking up. That’s for sure.
On that day, July 30, owner Mike Ilitch gave then-GM Dave Dombrowski to green light to sell at the trade deadline. Within the next 48 hours or so, Dombrowski traded Yoenis Cespedes to the New York Mets , David Price to the Toronto Blue Jays , and Joakim Soria to the Pittsburgh Pirates . The return: six prospects, including five pitchers. Four of the six prospects have since played for the Tigers. One other was flipped in another trade.
The team’s deadline moves were not the start of a full blown Atlanta Braves -style rebuild, however. The 87-year-old Ilitch has been very open about wanting to win a World Series during his lifetime, which is why the Tigers shelled out $271.75 million worth of free agent contracts in the offseason. Justin Upton and Jordan Zimmermann were the most expensive additions.
Fast forward to today, and the Tigers are 74-62 with 26 games to play. They are 5 1/2 games back of the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central, but they’re also tied with the Baltimore Orioles for the second wild card spot. The Tigers are very much in the postseason race and not because of the free agents they signed. It’s because of some of the players they acquired at the deadline last year.
Right now the Tigers have three players in the rotation who were acquired at the deadline last year: righty Michael Fulmer and lefties Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd . Fulmer came over in the Cespedes trade while both Norris and Boyd came over in the Price trade. Those three have combined for a 3.34 ERA in 261 innings this season, though that only tells part of the story.
Since the All-Star break the worst pitcher of the three has been Fulmer, who figures to win the AL Rookie of the Year award in a landslide. He has a 2.77 ERA overall and a 3.60 ERA in the second half. That Fulmer has been the worst of the three young pitchers since the break — worst by ERA, that is — tells you how good they’ve been for the Tigers. Look how they’ve performed since the All-Star break:
Boyd has been too home run prone and Norris is a bit too liberal with the free pass, but young pitchers do that stuff. It’s not uncommon. Otherwise those three young pitchers have stepped to help a rotation that really was in crisis mode for a while. Zimmermann started well but has spent most of the season injured. Mike Pelfrey has been a disaster and Anibal Sanchez was throwing batting practice earlier this season.
Rather than crumble at midseason, the Tigers have the AL’s best record at 28-19 in the second half. They’ve won 15 of the 23 games started by Fulmer, Norris, and Boyd since the All-Star break, meaning they’re only 13-11 when someone else starts. Sunday afternoon Norris had a quality start against the Kansas City Royals (DET 9, KC 5), one of the team’s Detroit is trying to fend off in the wild card race.
Make no mistake, the Tigers are sitting in playoff position right now thanks largely to Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander , the latter of whom has regained his Cy Young form from a few years ago. J.D. Martinez and has been fantastic when healthy, and others like Victor Martinez , Ian Kinsler , and Cameron Maybin have been very good as well.
The veterans are doing the heavy lifting for the Tigers this season and that’s the way this team is designed to win. The big names are going to have to carry them. Yet when the rotation started to fall apart, it was the young pitchers who stepped up, specifically the kids the Tigers acquired in their trade deadline sale a year ago. Fulmer, Norris, and Boyd have helped keep the club afloat.
Remember, those three have not only been a positive for the Tigers this season, but they also represent building blocks going forward. Detroit has lacked cheap young impact players in recent years, mostly because they’ve been aggressively trading prospects for veterans, and also because they were having so much success from 2011-14 that they never picked high in the draft.
Fulmer, Norris, and Boyd have been effective this season and they’re going to be cheap for the next few years, which gives Ilitch and new GM Al Avila the payroll flexibility to plug holes elsewhere on the roster. Selling at the deadline last year was surely a tough decision, but right now the Tigers wouldn’t be in the wild card race without those moves. They’ve paid off quickly.
Source: CBS Sports / Tigers in the hunt this year thanks to players they got in Cespedes, Price trades