The Yankees picked up a much-needed sweep of the Rays over the weekend to get back to .500 and showed some consistency for the first time this season. Thanks to A-Rod’s impressive start to the season and the zeroes put up by the back end of the bullpen, the Yankees are 6-6, but have played bad enough to be much worse. Things aren’t going to get any easier on this 10-game road trip with the next stop being Detroit where the Tigers have gotten off to the best start in the league.
With the Yankees and Tigers meeting for the first time this season, I did an email exchange with Rob Rogacki of Bless You Boys to talk about David Price’s impending free agency and future, the three-team trade with the Yankees that brought Shane Greene to Detroit and the end of the Austin Jackson era with last season’s trade to the Mariners.
Keefe: David Price has allowed one earned run in 22 1/3 innings over three starts. Incredibly, he has only won one of those three starts because of a lack of run support, but at age 29 (he’ll be 30 in August), Price is off to his best start in any season. Coincidentally, he is a free agent at the end of the season.
I have long wanted Price on the Yankees and it seems like he is following the CC Sabathia 2008 blueprint of having a career year in a contract year and with the money Max Scherzer (who is one year older than Price) got from the Nationals (seven years, $210 million) this offseason, Price is easily going to match that number and likely exceed it. Hopefully, it’s the Yankees giving him that offer.
What do you think happens with Price after 2015? What offer do you want the Tigers to make him?
Rogacki: There were whispers about the Tigers and Price negotiating a long-term extension during spring training, but those voices have all but died, and the two sides are reportedly nowhere close to an agreement. The Tigers haven’t issued a press release like they did with Max Scherzer last season, which leads me to believe that there is hope that he could end up back in Detroit in 2016. Price seems to be much more comfortable with the Tigers this year, and has made fast friends with rotation stalwart Justin Verlander. If Price does not re-sign with the Tigers, it will probably be because of money, not a desire to leave the organization.
I cringe at the thought of giving a 30-year-old starter the kind of contract that Scherzer got, but I think that this is the bare minimum it will take to retain Price. The lefthander checks off all the boxes you want in an ace, and his game should age as well as one could expect out of a pitcher in today’s era. I think a lot of Tigers fans were more amicable to the idea of extending Price over Scherzer, and I have a hard time imagining that the Tigers won’t put together a serious offer this offseason.
Keefe: Miguel Cabrera is off to another MVP-candidate start to the season, which is to be expected from the best hitter in the world. It’s been just over a year since he signed the 10-year, $292 million deal with the Tigers and while it seemed like too long and too much money for a player at his age with his build with his future projection, I loved the deal.
Sure, people are going to complain about it because people complain about every deal in every sport, so it didn’t surprise me that people had an issue with overpaying the back-to-back AL MVP for his 30s. Like I always say with the Yankees, “It’s not my money,” and it can keep a player like Cabrera on your roster for the rest of his prime, then worry about his later years when they come.
What were your thoughts on the Cabrera deal?
Rogacki: While the Tigers have one of the higher payrolls in the game, their budget is still a step or two below the eye-popping numbers that the Yankees and Dodgers are paying out, and $30 million per year for an aging hitter — even one as good as Cabrera — is going to put a strain on their budget going forward. They would have more roster and financial flexibility without Cabrera, especially in the later parts of the decade.
That said, I love that the Tigers went out of their way to retain Cabrera, who is well on his way to Cooperstown (and the requisite statue at Comerica Park that comes along with it). Cabrera is one of the best hitters in MLB history and a joy to watch everyday, and his playful personality makes him all the more entertaining for Tigers fans and opponents alike. Hall of Fame players generally stay very productive well into their 30s, and Cabrera has definitely fit into that mold so far throughout his career.
Keefe: I miss Shane Greene. A 2009 15th-round draft pick, he finally reached the majors last year and struck out 81 in 78 2/3 innings. He looked like he might be a future staple of the rotation and maybe one of the first reliable homegrown starters the Yankees have produced with Brian Cashman as general manager. Instead, he was traded to the Tigers in a three-team deal with the Diamondbacks that brought back Didi Gregorius in return.
Gregorius has been awful through his first 12 games as a Yankee. He is hitting .189/.225/.189 without an extra-base hit, several baserunning blunders and for all we heard about his exceptional Gold Glove-caliber fielding, he hasn’t made a play yet that 40-year-old Derek Jeter couldn’t make.
Is there any chance we can redo that trade? What are your thoughts about Greene and his 3-0 start?
Rogacki: I have been a fan of the trade that brought Greene to Detroit from the start. I was very impressed with his two performances against the Tigers last season, and after going back to watch a few more of his outings during the offseason, my optimism had not waned one bit. Greene pounded the lower half of the strike zone and showed flashes of a developing changeup, one that has served him very well throughout his first three starts in 2015. Greene has an underrated cutter and changeup, and has also started elevating his four-seam fastball in two-strike counts.
This trade isn’t going to look this lopsided for long. Greene is due to regress from his microscopic ERA, and Gregorius’ batted ball profile indicates that he has been somewhat unlucky early on in 2015. His above average defense will start to shine through at some point. I think the Tigers are clear winners in this trade simply because they gave up the least to get what looks to be a mid-rotation starter in Greene, but I think the move was a necessary one for the Yankees (though not the splashy one their fanbase would have liked).
Keefe: Last year at the trade deadline, the Tigers traded Austin Jackson to the Mariners in the three-team deal that landed them David Price. Jackson, another former Yankee who was traded to the Tigers for Curtis Granderson before the 2010 season, never really lived up to the expectations that were placed on him, struck out a lot and struggled to get on base the last few years.
I remember being upset that he wouldn’t reach the majors with the Yankees after he was traded and wondered why they would want to give away a 21-year-old future center fielder for an aging one. But looking back on it, I would have to say both teams came out even on that aspect of the trade and we were able to get rid of Phil Coke and you were able to get Max Scherzer, so it was a win-win all around.
What were your thoughts when the Tigers traded Jackson to the Mariners?
Rogacki: While Jackson struggled for long stretches with the Tigers, his first few seasons made Tigers fans all but forget about Granderson. Jackson was an elite defender in center field during his first four years in Detroit, ranking among the very best centerfielders in baseball in nearly every advanced defensive metric in the book. His penchant for striking out was frustrating at times, but he was an above average leadoff hitter whose value far outweighed his cost to the organization. Jackson was a fan favorite, and the standing ovation he got when he was removed from a game after being traded was one of the most surreal baseball moments I have ever seen.
Personally, I was ecstatic for the deal. It’s not every day that you land an elite talent like Price, and while the cost was steep (Jackson and cost-controlled Drew Smyly were both shipped out), the chance to see Price pitch in the Olde English D was exciting. I have continued to follow both former Tigers with their new teams, and am surprised at how much Jackson has struggled with the Mariners. I think the trade will be unfairly judged on whether the Tigers win a World Series this year, but I think the move was the right one to make for this team.
Keefe: The Tigers are off to a hot 10-2 start in a year in which I thought they would have a down year. They lost Max Scherzer to free agency, Justin Verlander has yet to pitch and I didn’t think their offense was as deep as it had been in years past. But the Tigers have kept on rolling despite the roster turnover and despite the question marks in the bullpen. It seems as though Dave Dombrowski has done it again in what was supposed a deep and hard-to-win AL Central.
What were your expectations for the team entering the season and have they changed after this 10-2 start?
Rogacki: Expectations for this team have definitely skyrocketed after such a strong start to the season. The last two times the Tigers started a season off this fast, they won the World Series, a fact that is not lost on Tigers fans. The starting pitching has been the biggest surprise, both for positive and negative reasons. I already touched on Greene’s hot start, but Alfredo Simon is coming off the best start of his career (and will start tonight’s opening game). Anibal Sanchez, on the other hand, has already allowed more home runs this season than he did in all of 2014. The Tigers definitely need an effective Verlander if they are going to reach the playoffs, but they have been able to withstand his absence so far.
There have been some surprising contributions from the offense as well, but overall I thought that this unit had the potential to be one of the very best in baseball. Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez might be the best one-two punch in baseball, and J.D. Martinez was coming off a red-hot spring training. Yoenis Cespedes was hitting like his usual self prior to last season’s trade to Boston, and I was very bullish on Nick Castellanos taking a step forward in season two. All of those things have happened so far, and more. Jose Iglesias is translating one of the best contact rates in baseball into a not-gonna-stay-that-way .436 batting average, and Anthony Gose and Rajai Davis have become an effective platoon at the top of the order. This lineup is deeper than many people expected, and will make life difficult for many a pitcher in 2015.