It wasn't the splashy move that Detroit Tigers fans were hoping for, but the team's last-minute trade deadline swap with the New York Mets was yet another necessary move as they "reboot" for 2016. The Tigers traded outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, a free agent after the 2015 season, to the New York Mets for a pair of right-handed pitchers, Michael Fulmer and Luis Cessa.
While many fans were holding onto early speculation that the Tigers could potentially land Zack Wheeler, this return is still a strong one. Fulmer, a first round pick out of high school in 2011, was a projected mid-rotation starter before injuries started to take their toll. He had meniscus surgery in the offseason, but has finally enjoyed a healthy season and the results are impressive. Through 86 innings at Double-A Binghamton, Fulmer has a 1.88 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and 83 strikeouts.
Cessa doesn't have the same upside as Fulmer, but he was pitching at Triple-A prior to being traded. After 13 successful starts at Double-A, Cessa has struggled in five Triple-A outings, allowing an 8.51 ERA. Still, at only 23 years old, he has time to develop, either as a starter or reliever. Cessa has only been pitching since 2010 after originally playing third base in the Mets' minor league system.
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This deal isn't the instant home run that the David Price trade appeared to be, but it's still a solid move. The Tigers needed to trade Cespedes after dealing Price and Joakim Soria, and acquired a potential rotation stalwart in Fulmer. Meanwhile, Cespedes' production would have been all but wasted as the team limps to a finish around .500. Plus, Cespedes' quirky contract prevents the Tigers from extending him a qualifying offer, and also limits their ability to re-sign him after the season. If the Tigers are serious about retaining him, trading him may have been their best move.
One last benefit to this trade comes in the salary relief it provides. Cespedes was due to receive approximately $3.75 million over the last two months of the season, and the Tigers are not kicking in any money towards his contract. That salary relief will help the Tigers remain under the luxury tax in 2015, potentially opening their pockets for 2016 before Major League Baseball's collective bargaining agreement expires. With several enticing free agents on the market this winter (including Cespedes himself), the Tigers may have afforded themselves a bit more wiggle room.
Trade deadline deals come with a lot of risk for both sides, and we've seen how unproductive they can be for the selling team (from a distance, thankfully). The Tigers mitigated that risk by acquiring a couple players who are on the doorstep of the major leagues instead of opting for a high-risk, high-reward prospect at the lower levels. It's a bit conservative, but unlike their drafting strategy, the Tigers have aimed for some projection too. Fulmer, in particular, could become more than a rotation-bullpen tweener, and it says something that Mets fans are unhappy about giving him up for a rental player.
By striking a balance between lofty potential and proximity to the majors, the Tigers have put themselves in a position for future success. We can never be certain that either player will be around next season, but this year's deadline strategy points towards an increased emphasis on developing their rotation from within. Adding cost-controlled starting pitching is never a bad idea, and the Tigers just upped their chances of producing another valuable rotation piece with a savvy deal, even if it wasn't the sexy one we wanted.