The Washburn Trade: What's the Scuttlebutt?

Between commenting on the Jarrod Washburn deal for Big League Stew's live blog after it went down, and during the Tigersosphere's Live Chat, I felt like I'd talked about it all day.  But during last night's slog in Cleveland, I realized that I hadn't written anything about it, other than the fact that, well, the Tigers got him.

My thoughts on the trade aren't original or contrary, however.  Yes, I wish the Tigers also got a bat (especially when they seemingly had enough ammunition to make a deal happen).  But they made a flashy move when it needed to be done, and that sends an important message.  Dave Dombrowski made a good trade, getting probably the best available starting pitcher to fill one of the notable holes on this team. 

At worst, Washburn will provide what the Tigers hoped to get from either Nate Robertson or Dontrelle Willis had they not completely deteriorated as major league caliber pitchers.  But Washburn far exceeds such low expectations.  He's been one of the best pitchers in the American League this season.  And even better, they didn't have to give up any of the prospects that many of us worried Detroit would have to surrender in any deadline deal. 

What fascinated me most about the trade, however, was how both the Tigers and Mariners fanbases perceived the deal immediately afterwards.  Detroit fans couldn't believe it only took Luke French and Mauricio Robles to get Washburn, while Seattle fans were giddy that Washburn brought such a haul in return. 

The Lookout Landings of the world can snicker that Washburn's 2.46 ERA is "shiny" and deceiving because of how low his .249 BABIP is.  (Beyond the Box Score explains this in greater detail.)  But he's not going to a team that has an awful defense, nor a bandbox of a ballpark.  Meanwhile, I don't think any Tigers fan was confident French would maintain the same level of performance he'd shown in his five starts.  ("Sell high," anyone?)  And even if Robles turns out to be a productive major leaguer, Detroit's minor league system had plenty of relievers to spare.

The Mariners got younger, cheaper talent that they can control for years to come in return for a player who might not have returned next season.  And the Tigers got a key piece that boosts their chances at a division title and playoff spot, showing their coaches, players, and fans that they intend to make the most of this opportunity.  Each side loved what they got, which probably means this really was a good transaction for both teams. 

This is what matters: Are the Detroit Tigers a better team after making this trade?  Yes.  They have the best starting pitching in the AL Central now, and one of the best rotations in the league.  Did making this deal compromise their future?  No.  The Tigers didn't give up anything they couldn't afford to part with.  So what's not to like?

  So why has the 2009 version of Washburn (8-6, 2.46 ERA) been so much better than the pitcher who went 23-43 in his previous three seasons with the Mariners?  Obviously, putting a better team - with a better defense - around him was key. 

But as John Lowe reports in the Freep, Washburn and pitching coach Rick Adair (who had the same job with the Tigers from 1997 to 1999) tinkered with his sinker in the offseason, and that's apparently made a big difference.

  Lynn Henning is one of a voice of dissent over this deal, writing that the Tigers could regret trading pitcher Mauricio Robles.  Robles, he believes, was perhaps two years from making a contribution to the major league club. 

Maybe it was due to space considerations, but Henning neglects to acknowledge that relief pitching is probably the deepest resource of the Tigers' farm system.  Not to mention that the one guy who follows the minors for the traditional media might find himself a bit more attached to prospects than someone who doesn't.

  SI.com's Ted Keith thinks adding Washburn may have given the Tigers the best starting rotation in the American League.  Besides bringing along his excellent ERA and WHIP, Keith says, Washburn provides the rotation some left-handed balance and supplies depth with his ability to pitch deep into ballgames.

  Washburn told the Seattle Times's Geoff Baker that he briefly discussed a contract extension with the Mariners before he was traded, and is open to re-signing with Seattle as a free agent after this season.

  Baseball Prospectus's Christina Kahrl believes Detroit got the best starting pitcher available at the deadline (including Cliff Lee).  Adding Washburn should also help the Tigers keep even tighter control on Rick Porcello's innings, if needed, by pushing him toward the fifth spot in the rotation.

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