Trade gives Tigers intimidating rotation
Detroit now needs offensive spark with Washburn in fold
CLEVELAND -- In the end, the Tigers didn't add a bat. But in a division where all the contenders were looking for pitching, Detroit's trade for Jarrod Washburn seemingly won the arms race.
And if the Tigers can summon the offense to take the American League Central, they have the makings of a fearsome postseason rotation.
"When you've got [Justin] Verlander, Washburn and [Edwin] Jackson, back-to-back-to-back, that's pretty good," manager Jim Leyland said.
That's exactly what the Tigers had in mind when they pulled the trigger with the Mariners on the Washburn trade in the wee hours of Friday morning. Starting next week, that's exactly the pitching combination they'll have.
While the Tigers have had potential needs everywhere from their lineup to the rotation and into the bullpen, the starting pitching was a nagging concern for the stretch run. Without declaring it an issue to be fixed, Leyland had alluded to the issues for the past couple months.
As much of an impression as Luke French made after joining the rotation last month, the fact remained that he was the second rookie in the rotation. With only one start of at least six innings in his four turns through the rotation, French forced the Tigers to go to the bullpen early. Combined with Rick Porcello's recent struggles, the Tigers were using their relief corps early in two out of every five games.
Washburn not only fills some of those innings that were going to the bullpen, he does so with quality work.
"Jarrod Washburn is pitching, I think, probably as well as anybody in the league right now," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "He's a quality pitcher. He gives you another veteran in the rotation, but a quality veteran.
"We felt as we went forward that the one thing that we really needed, even though we talked about [other needs], we needed to bolster our starting rotation with a little more veteran status if we could. He's the one pitcher we really felt we had a shot at all along."
To that effect, Dombrowski said they were never involved in talks for Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay or former Cleveland left-hander Cliff Lee. They focused their talks on Washburn about a week ago and kept in touch with Mariners officials until reaching a deal last night. While the Mariners were interested early in Class A Lakeland left-hander Mauricio Robles, Dombrowski said, it was the addition of a second pitching prospect that was the trick in the deal. Eventually, they agreed on French.
That package gave the Tigers enough left in their prospect ranks to pursue deals for other needs. But as they made a last-ditch effort to look again for a hitter, nothing materialized.
"We were not close at all," Dombrowski said. "We went back with a couple clubs with some names, but I don't think we were ever close. I will say we had primarily focused on corner outfielders, because when you look at the rest of our club, that's really what made sense. Since Carlos [Guillen] is back as more of a DH -- I don't know when he'll be set to play the outfield -- we didn't want to fill that spot with just a DH at this point, because it would take Carlos out of the lineup anyway."
Part of the problem Dombrowski cited was the abundance of teams in contention for a playoff spot. Dombrowski said about 11 teams were willing to shop players. That could change in August, he said, but he also expected big-name players to be blocked on waivers. Beyond that, however, the asking prices would have to come down.
Now that the non-waiver Trade Deadline has passed, deals involving players on the 40-man roster cannot be made unless the players already have cleared waivers. In other words, the player must be offered to the other teams in reverse order of the standings, and if he is claimed by one of the teams, he cannot be traded. The club that placed the player on waivers can either withdraw the request and keep the player, or let the player go to the claiming team, which would then have the rights to the player.
There is another deadline, Aug. 31, that is very important to contending teams because players must be on the Major League roster by midnight ET on that date to be eligible for postseason play.
In the end, Dombrowski came back to a point he had made last week, that he believes the Tigers are capable of more offense than they've been getting from their current roster. Guillen's return is part of that, but not all.
"I think we're a better offensive club," Dombrowski said. "As we mentioned, we were looking for the right guy, but I think we can score enough runs. We've been a club that's won primarily through pitching and defense. I think you have to be careful that you don't get away from that, too. Maybe you get a bat in the outfield that all of a sudden, maybe you score a few more runs, but you let in a few more, too.
"I think we can score enough runs. I think some of our guys will produce more in the last couple months than they have."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.