DETROIT -- The Tigers spent the final days and hours leading up to Thursday's 4 p.m. ET non-waiver Trade Deadline as everyone expected, on the hunt for a left-handed pitcher. Instead of a reliever, though, they ended up with the best lefty in the American League in their biggest Trade Deadline deal in recent memory.
Hours after the A's bulked up their already-stacked rotation by acquiring Jon Lester from Boston, the Tigers answered with a stunner, acquiring David Price from the Rays in a three-team trade that included the Seattle Mariners. But getting Price came at a price -- center fielder Austin Jackson to Seattle, and left-hander Drew Smyly to Tampa Bay. Class A shortstop Willy Adames, who jumped up the Tigers' top prospect rankings with a solid season at low Class A West Michigan, is also headed to the Rays in the trade.
The Tigers announced the deal after Thursday's 7-4 loss to the White Sox, from which Jackson was pulled from center field in the middle of an at-bat with one out in the seventh inning in a bizarre scene.
According to Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski, the lines of communication with Tampa Bay had been open for about a week and a half. The talks intensified Wednesday night when Tampa Bay general manager Andrew Friedman phoned Dombrowski as he was leaving Comerica Park and asked if the interest was still there on the Tigers' end.
"These things are never easy to do in a one-on-one trade, let alone three clubs being involved," Dombrowski said. "It all just sort of meshed together."
At approximately 12:55 p.m. ET Thursday, Dombrowski's phone rang again -- it was Friedman -- and "that's when everything started to move real quickly."
wow...what a day!! Rays fans THANK YOU!! Great Chapter of my life just ended...ready to start a new one with the Tigers!! Thanks again- David Price (@DAVIDprice14) July 31, 2014
It's a deal that gives the Tigers a potential postseason rotation that includes the last three American League Cy Young Award winners -- reigning champion Max Scherzer, Price and Justin Verlander. They already owned the last three AL MVP awards between Verlander and two-time reigning MVP Miguel Cabrera.
It also gives a potential Detroit-Oakland postseason series the feel of a best-of-seven pitching duel. A month after Verlander suggested the A's traded for Jeff Samardzija because of Detroit's rotation, the Tigers seemed to answer the A's lead.
Dombrowski insisted that the Lester deal didn't "make the difference in this deal because we were already moving forward." But, he added, "When I saw they got Lester, I wasn't jumping up and down and thrilled that they got him by any means."
The Tigers had been searching for one more reliever, but with asking prices high, they kept their options open on the starting pitching market. While the Rays had two different scouts watching the Tigers' farm system since early last week, a source suggested they didn't have the prospects to match up with other teams needing starting pitching, such as the Pirates -- whom the Rays scouted heavily -- and the Cardinals.
The Tigers pulled an end-around by taking away from their big league roster with two key pieces.
Even with one of the best rotations in the league coming in, the Tigers' appeal on Price was the same as it would've been for any club, including a 3.18 ERA for his career, a 3.11 ERA for the season, and a league-leading 189 strikeouts over 170 2/3 innings. His 24.9 wins above replacement since 2010 ranks fifth among all Major League pitchers.
More than a two-month rental, however, Price helps extend the Tigers' best window of contention to his next season, his final year before free agency. He also gives the Tigers protection if Scherzer signs elsewhere as a free agent this coming winter.
Jackson has been a cornerstone of the Tigers' run of three consecutive AL Central titles since arriving after the 2009 season in the Tigers' last three-team megadeal that sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees. Jackson became a defensive standout in center field while holding the leadoff spot for most of the past 4 1/2 seasons, including a rejuvenation returning to the top spot this summer.
"It's difficult," Dombrowski said of giving up a tenured Tiger like Jackson. "But I think you have to weigh it. We don't make that deal unless Austin's involved."
The 27-year-old Jackson entered Thursday batting .270 with a .330 on-base percentage, .727 OPS, 25 doubles, five triples, four home runs, 32 RBIs and 52 runs scored. He is reunited with Lloyd McClendon, his hitting coach for his first four years in Detroit, now the Mariners' manager.
While Price gives the Tigers a front-level rotation for next season, Smyly was expected to be a key piece for well beyond that. The 25-year-old southpaw started Thursday's matinee loss to the White Sox with a 6-9 record and 3.77 ERA over 17 starts and three relief appearances. He was expected to play a key role in Detroit's postseason bullpen, reprising his role from last year's run to the ALCS.
Adames jumped to third on MLB.com's midseason rankings of Tigers top prospects earlier this month. The 18-year-old shortstop was a prized signing from the Dominican Republic two years ago, then broke out this year at West Michigan, batting .269 (95-for-353) with 14 doubles, 12 triples, six home runs and 50 RBIs. He was the youngest everyday player in the Midwest League.
But, prized as Adames was, he was never going to interfere with Dombrowski acquiring Price.
"The way we looked at it, and the question that we asked ourselves is, 'What gives us the best chance of winning a world championship this year?'" Dombrowski said. "We have to get there. We know that.
"We felt that adding [Price] to our rotation gives us the best chance of getting that."