Yesterday, we reported that the Tigers were potentially shopping David Price for a trade this offseason. The payroll space could potentially be used to sign Max Scherzer to a long-term contract extension.
The trade itself is one strategy that the Tigers could use this offseason to shore up areas of need elsewhere on the roster. In particular, the Tigers could stand to add another corner outfielder, a starter under club control for multiple years, or more bullpen help. It's unreasonable to expect multiple All-Stars or top prospects at all of these positions, but they could feasibly get a helpful piece or two in return while clearing enough salary to fit their needs.
Instead of trying to find a team or two that the Tigers could potentially pair with, let's take a look at past deals for top starting pitchers and see what those teams got in return.
2014: Rays trade David Price for Drew Smyly, Nick Franklin, and Willy Adames
Naturally, the last big trade for a top starting pitcher was the Tigers' deal for Price himself. As we know, Price had 1 1/2 seasons of club control remaining at the time of this deal. The return was seen as underwhelming by many, but part of that may be due to Willy Adames being an unknown prospect coming into the 2014 season. Adames would have ranked among the Tigers' top three prospects at season's end, and Baseball America recently gave him the top spot in Tampa's system.
We know that Smyly is a league average (or better) starter under club control for four more seasons, and Franklin is a former top 100 prospect who will be 24 years old on Opening Day.
2014: Red Sox trade Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes for Yoenis Cespedes and a competitive balance draft pick
Both Lester and Gomes became free agents after the 2014 season, but your opinion of this deal largely revolves around your evaluation of Cespedes. He had been worth 7.3 WAR in two and a half seasons leading up to that trade and was expected to go bananas in hitter-friendly Fenway Park. No bananas were harmed in this deal, however, as Cespedes only hit .269/.296/.423 in 213 plate appearances for the Red Sox.
Still, the Sox were able to turn a meaningless half season from Lester into another year of an impact outfielder. The move cost them a potential first round draft pick, but the potential to quickly re-tool for 2015 was a smarter move for the defending champions.
2014: Cubs trade Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel for Billy McKinney, Addison Russell, Dan Straily, and PTBNL
This deal is a bit harder to compare to the Tigers' current situation because it involved multiple pitchers. Samardzija, the prize of the trade, is under contract through 2015 while Hammel is now a free agent. In return, the Cubs received a king's ransom, highlighted by a consensus top five overall prospect in Russell. The 20 year old shortstop recently topped the Cubs' prospect rankings from Baseball Prospectus. Sitting sixth on that same list is McKinney, a 20 year old outfielder who will likely start the 2015 season at Double A. Straily is a back-end starter or swingman who can provide some decent innings, and he isn't arbitration eligible for two more years.
2012: Brewers trade Zack Greinke for Jean Segura, Johnny Hellweg, and Ariel Pena
This trade deadline deal may be one of the least memorable in recent years. Greinke was slated to become a free agent after the season, and the Brewers were under .500 as the trade deadline approached. In return, the Brew Crew got Segura, a top 100 prospect who made the National League All-Star team in 2013. He regressed considerably in the second half and that carried over to 2014, when he hit just .246/.289/.326.
Unfortunately, that is all the Brewers got in return for a half season of Greinke. Hellweg is a 26 year old reliever who posted a 6.75 ERA and a 2.15 WHIP in 30 2/3 innings in 2013. He underwent Tommy John surgery last April. Pena is a 25 year old right-handed starter who went 9-8 with a 4.56 ERA and 4.60 FIP in 128 1/3 innings during his first tour of duty at Triple-A Nashville last season.
2012: Rays trade James Shields, Wade Davis, and Elliott Johnson for Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and Patrick Leonard
The repercussions of this new gold standard of star-for-prospect trades are still being felt around baseball. The Royals rode the right arms of Shields and Davis to a World Series berth last season, and they still have Davis under contract for one more year.
That makes two years of Shields and three years of Davis for a bundle of prospects highlighted by Myers, the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year. Myers hit just .222/.294/.320 last season but missed over half of the season with a broken wrist. Also in the conversation is Odorizzi, who allowed a 4.13 ERA and 3.75 FIP in 168 innings last season. The right-hander will be 25 next season and is under club control through 2019. Montgomery is a former top 100 prospect who has struggled at Triple A over the past couple seasons, and Leonard is a 21 year old infielder who hit .284/.359/.448 in his first season at Advanced-A ball last season.
2011: Rockies trade Ubaldo Jimenez for Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Matt McBride, and Joe Gardner
This deal looks awful for both sides in hindsight, but it made plenty of waves when it was first announced. Jimenez was coming off the best season of his career and had posted a 3.58 FIP in the first half of 2011. He was under a team-friendly contract through 2012 with team options for each of the next two seasons, potentially giving the Indians three and a half years of a front-line starter.
In return, the Rockies got a quartet of prospects. The two prizes were Pomeranz and White, both of whom were ranked among the top 100 prospects in baseball prior to the 2011 season. Neither panned out with the Rockies, though Pomeranz may have finally figured things out with the Oakland Athletics last season. McBride was already 26 years old when the Rockies acquired him, so his upside was limited. Gardner was a 23 year old pitching at Double A at the time of the deal, but has yet to make the major leagues.
2010: Mariners trade Cliff Lee and Mark Lowe for Justin Smoak, Josh Lueke, Blake Beavan, and Matt Lawson
Lee was traded three times within a two year period, but I'm only going to analyze the most recent deal. At the time of this trade deadline deal, Lee was set to become a free agent at the end of the season. He was coming off an All-Star appearance and had allowed a 2.34 ERA and 2.16 FIP in 103 2/3 innings with the Mariners.
The tipping point of this deal was Justin Smoak. A top 20 prospect, the switch-hitting first baseman was still too young for the Mariners to worry about his .670 OPS in 275 major league plate appearances. At the time, he was considered a lock to anchor the middle of their lineup for the next half-decade. The other true prospect in the deal was Beavan, who was pitching in Double A ball as a 21 year old at the time. Four disappointing years later, Beavan is now a free agent.
2010: Royals trade Zack Greinke and Yuniesky Betancourt for Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jeremy Jeffress, and Jake Odorizzi
Talk about a franchise changer. This December 2010 deal saw the Royals flip Greinke to the Milwaukee Brewers for a pair of players who would become everyday starters for the eventual 2014 AL champions. Escobar was a top 20 prospect heading into the 2010 season, but a poor offensive season resulted in just 0.4 WAR for the Brewers that year. Cain was not ranked on any national prospect lists, but hit .317/.402/.432 at Double and Triple A the season before he was traded. Jeffress was a top 100 prospect who has only shown flashes of potential as a bullpen arm at the big league level.
Despite the fact that Price only has one year left on his contract, history shows that the Tigers should still be able to get a decent return in a trade. Of all the pitchers listed above, Price is better than anyone but maybe Lee, and should still fetch a top prospect or two. Relying on prospects to pan out is a risky venture, and this exercise shows just how wrong teams can be sometimes. Almost all of the deals above involved a top 100 prospect or two, and any deal for Price will likely bring the Tigers a couple of pieces with potential to help the team in 2015.