24 July 2012
Dave Dombrowski has a knack for turning left when everyone’s looking right. This move wasn’t as out-of-left-field as the Miguel Cabrera trade, the Doug Fister trade, or the Prince Fielder signing, not even close, but Dombrowski again picked up a name that nobody had been talking about.
The Tigers grabbed (former Tiger) second baseman Omar Infante – one of the hottest trade targets among fans, to be sure – and starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez for highly rated prospects Jacob Turner and catcher Rob Brantly along with left handed pitcher Brian Flynn. The two teams will also swap the competitive balance picks they obtained in last week’s lottery.
Here’s a look at the pieces in the trade:
Omar Infante: Omar should be a familiar name in Detroit. He was once a prospecty type middle infielder for the Tigers that was rushed to the big league level in 2002 and 2003 due to the complete lack of talent in the organization. He floundered around as an everyday player for a few years before moving to a super-utility role once payroll was expanded and players like Carlos Guillen and Placido Polanco joined the club.Infante was eventually shipped out to the Chicago Cubs following the 2007 season in exchange for Jacque Jones. The trade failed badly as Jacque Jones hit below the Mendoza line for 24 games before being designated for assignment. Infante went on to put together a very nice career in the National League (the Cubs traded him to the Braves almost immediately) where he’s hit .295/.334/.407 (99 OPS+) in parts of five seasons since leaving Detroit. He was named to an All-Star team in 2010.
It’s hard to blame Dombrowski and the Tigers for off-loading him at the time though. You probably would have liked more (or any) production out of Jones, but Infante was carrying a career OPS of just .681 at the time and, with Edgar Rentieria, Placido Polanco, and Carlos Guillen on the roster heading into 2008, they didn’t feel like he was going to fit into their plan.
Infante was a bit error-prone during his last stint in Detroit, but it seems that he’s mostly eliminated the mental lapses from his game and probably now rates as an average to slightly plus defender at second base. His offense has also improved to the point where he’s been about average for the league (which means above average for second base). Infante is signed through next season at $4 million per year – a darn good value.Anibal Sanchez: Sanchez burst onto the team as a 22 year-old by tossing a no-hitter in 2006 as a rookie. Welcome to the big leagues. He had a bit of trouble staying healthy after that throwing fewer than 100 big league innings in each year from 2007 through 2009. He’s been just fine the last couple of years making 32 starts in both 2010 and 2011.
Sanchez was a guy that struggled with control early on in his career, but he’s put up some very nice numbers over the few seasons. Since the start of 2010, he’s struck out nearly nine batters per nine innings (8.7 K/9) while allowing fewer than three walks (2.9 BB/9). Even better news is that his walks have continued trending downward. His home run rate has also been quite good over that time (0.7 HR/9), but some benefit comes in playing in the spacious home ballparks they’ve had in the Miami area. Comerica Park isn’t necessarily power-friendly, so that benefit should follow him to Detroit.
Sanchez will be a free agent following this season, so the Tigers will have to extend him to a fairly sizeable contract if they wish to keep him. I’m not sure the money is there to do that (unless Mr. I wants to expand payroll yet again), but the Tigers should feel comfortable with Drew Smyly as the number five man in the rotation should they let Sanchez walk. The good news for the Tigers in any potential contract negotiation with him is that his career win-loss record is currently below .500, and he’s only put up two seasons with double-digit win totals (never more than 13). I don’t believe that pitcher wins are important in the slightest, but many teams “pay for them,” and many pitchers expect to be rewarded for them.
Jacob Turner: Turner’s the biggest name the Tigers lose in the trade. He’s just 21 years old, but he’s already made six major league starts. His results haven’t necessarily been pretty – an 8.28 ERA – but he has a great minor league track record and plenty of time to continue to develop. The scouting reports I’ve seen still see him as the potential number two pitcher that he always was, but command of his pitches (especially the fastball) needs to develop before he’s ready to make a big MLB impact. The big concern I have about Turner is that his walks were up and strikeouts were down in AAA this season. That may be no big deal – just a bit of randomness – but after a spring that saw him shut down with arm soreness, it could be troubling.
Turner was the Tigers’ number one prospect entering the season, but was surpassed in many rankings by Nick Castellanos by the mid-point of the season. It’s not a testament to Turner’s value falling all that much, but more so that Castellanos has been impressing.
Rob Brantly: I’m not sure if the general public is all that aware of Rob Brantly, but he’s a power hitting catching prospect that might have very well been the number three prospect in the organization at the time of the trade. He ripped up Double-A (.311/.359/.461) before earning a promotion to Triple-A where he’s struggled somewhat (.254/.295/.285). He’s just 22 though, and the promotion was rather aggressive.
Brantly (along with Castellanos and Bruce Rondon) took part in the Futures Game during the All-Star Break where he belted a double and threw out a would-be base stealer from behind the plate. But for as good of a prospect as Brantly was, it was no surprise to see the team trade him. He’s blocked by Alex Avila, who’s young and has very real All-Star potential, and the catching position is one of the strongest points of the Tigers’ minor league system.
Brian Flynn: Flynn is a mid-level left-handed pitching prospect. He’s a very big guy (6-8, 240 lbs), but he doesn’t throw with the velocity that his body suggest. When I saw him at West Michigan last season, he was mostly working around 90 mph with his fastball. Flynn has good minor league numbers as a starter – a career 3.76 ERA – but I haven’t heard anyone project him to be a mainstay in a big league rotation in his career. This is just speculation on my part, but he may be able to ramp up the velocity a couple of miles per hour if he made an eventual transition to the bullpen where he could work in short bursts.
Competitive Balance Picks: Both the Tigers and Marlins received picks in last week’s competitive balance draft lottery. The Tigers ended up with a “Round B” pick (comp round after round two), and the Marlins received a “Round A” pick (after round one). The lottery was newly created in the recent CBA, and it’s the first time that picks (just these picks, not picks in general) are treated as commodities (so they’re allowed to be traded by the team that originally acquired it).
I don’t really know how to value these picks at the moment – I haven’t dug into very deeply – but the result of this portion of the trade is that the Tigers will move up from around pick number 75 to around pick 37. This is a good upgrade for the Tigers as they’ll be getting a first round (ish) caliber player to re-stock their system come next season.
Overall I think this was a solid trade that fills the needs of both teams. The Marlins were looking to rebuild their system with players that could contribute fairly soon, and the Tigers were looking for a couple players to help them journey deep into the playoffs right now. The Marlins look to be getting the best of the long-term deal, but that should hardly matter if the Tigers are making a big run in October.
Matt Snyder is the editor of The Tigers Den. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.