It’s not the what. It’s the when.
Thirty years ago, the trade deadline was June 15. Teams used it for last-chance shuffling before settling in to battle for the playoffs.
But since 1985, when the trade deadline was moved six weeks later, to July 31, the whole concept has changed. Now contending teams use it to turbo charge their chances, and the rest throw their expensive sandbags overboard and float off into the dreams of next season.
Which is what the Tigers did this past week.
Before we evaluate the six young prospects (five pitchers, one infielder) the Tigers acquired for their best pitcher, their most-talented all-around outfielder and their top closer (which in the Tigers’ bullpen is like saying the most gourmet dish at Red Lobster), we must acknowledge the symbolism of the trades.
It’s a surrender. And a surrender in sports means you failed to achieve your goal. Someone should at least take responsibility for that.
First, it should be the players, who have, by any measure, underachieved. Next it should be the manager, Brad Ausmus, because he’s charged with getting the most out of a roster, and if this is the most, there’s a leak in the boat.
And finally, Dave Dombrowski must raise his hand as well. Dombrowski is a smart man and a quality general manager. And it’s true, he can’t control players like Miguel Cabrera or Victor Martinez getting injured. But there has been a lot of hosanna throwing at Dombrowksi’s keen shakedown of Toronto in the David Price trade, getting three young arms for one expensive rented one.
But Dombrowski wouldn’t have needed his prospecting outfit if the moves he made last off-season had panned out better.
Or have we forgotten already?
A rotation not to like
The Tigers saw Max Scherzer walk away. They traded Rick Porcello. Dombrowski comforted fans by trading for Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene, then informed the media, “I like our rotation a lot.”
Who likes it now? Simon gave up 15 hits to Pittsburgh in a loss last month and 10 hits to Minnesota in 21/3 innings less than two weeks later. His ERA is close to five runs a game — and he’s the better of the two. Greene has gone 21/2 months without a win, hasn’t seen the seventh inning since mid-May and has been sent to the minors and the bullpen.
Meanwhile, Justin Verlander, injured again, took too long to round into form, and Anibal Sanchez was unpredictable.
As for the bullpen? Wasn’t that the problem last year — and the year before? Wasn’t Dombrowski supposed to fix it in the off-season? What happened? He came back with Joe Nathan, who was gone before his first load of laundry. And the long-awaited Bruce Rondon, so far, has been a bust.
Now, with Price gone, no one expects much from Tigers pitching anymore. But remember, last October, this team entered the playoffs with Cy Young winners Scherzer, Price and Verlander as its three top starters.
And got swept.
And therein lies the story.
Baseball today is like a penny arcade duck shoot. You get your turn and then it disappears. The Tigers, fantastic on paper where they say things like “pitching is everything,” got broomed by Baltimore, which, on paper, had a mediocre staff at best.
That was their chance. They missed the duck. Then came Scherzer’s free agency. And now Price’s free agency. Detroit, already saddled with one $28-million-a-year pitcher (Verlander), isn’t willing to add another. So the buyers become sellers, and the fans must become waiters.
Closer? Who’s Soria now?
All this might be more palatable if we were already into the winter. But there’s two months of baseball left. What message do you send the team? Play hard for a job next year, even though the front office has given up on this year? What message do you send the fans who purchased tickets for August and September games, hoping perhaps to see Price, Yoenis Cespedes or Joakim Soria? (OK, that last one is unlikely, but you never know.)
The point is, this is not an exciting time, the way some in the media seem to be painting the Tigers’ sudden shift to 22-year-old prospects. This is born from failure, whether we like to say it or not.
Yes, failure is shared. It’s a team game. And injuries played a part, for sure. But something never clicked with this team. The offense and defense didn’t align. And lost in the shuffle is the fact that Price was a steadying force and a really good teammate, as well as an exceptionally prepared and greatly gifted pitcher, and the Tigers dumped out of him, essentially saying we don’t want another Scherzer situation. Off he goes.
That was a big loss. As was last postseason and this season now. We all hope the moves that Dombrowski made pan out. But his previous ones did not. If we’re going to celebrate the former we must at least acknowledge the latter.
Contact Mitch Albom:firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at mitchalbom.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Follow him on Twitter@mitchalbom. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/mitch-albom.