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Tigers, Al Avila bounce back with solid return in Justin Wilson trade

Wilson and Alex Avila helped land a pair of promising prospects from the Cubs.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Twelve days ago, Detroit Tigers fans were ready to run general manager Al Avila out of town. Those fans (us included) were not happy with the three prospects Detroit acquired for outfielder J.D. Martinez. Optimists placed blame on a slow market for the slow-footed outfielder, while pessimists criticized Avila’s larger body of work.

While trading Justin Wilson and Alex Avila to the Chicago Cubs for a pair of prospects won’t win over the haters in one fell swoop, the elder Avila did well to acquire value for a pair of expendable players. Jeimer Candelario, the older player of the two, is a third baseman who has a handful of major league plate appearances over the past two seasons. He is a solid switch-hitter who won’t lead the league in home runs, but could maintain just enough power to be a cheap contributor for a team that has sorely lacked those over the past several years. Isaac Paredes is an 18-year-old shortstop currently holding his own in the Midwest League, no small feat for a teenager.

The trade package won’t blow anyone away, but neither will the players Detroit is trading away. Alex Avila was set to be a free agent after the season, and his poor July and mediocre performance over the past few seasons meant he was never going to land the Tigers a premier prospect. Fans were unsure of what he would provide heading into the season; that he has hit well enough to win a few games and help bring back a prospect at the trade deadline — even the player to be named later tacked on at the end — is a win in itself.

Wilson is a bit more controversial. Fans were hoping for an Aroldis Chapman-like return for the 29-year-old lefthander, but his name doesn’t carry the same weight as a Chapman or Andrew Miller. He has put up excellent numbers this season, with a 2.68 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 40 13 innings pitched, both career bests. However, those figures pale in comparison to the career numbers for both lefty flamethrowers.

Wilson vs. Chapman, Miller

Pitcher ERA K% BB% FIP
Pitcher ERA K% BB% FIP
Wilson (2017) 2.68 35.0 10.2 3.22
Chapman (Career) 2.15 41.8 11.4 1.87
Miller (2012-17) 2.04 39.5 7.6 2.11

Though his numbers don’t quite stand up to the elite relievers in the game, Wilson was widely considered the top relief arm available on this year’s trade market. His value was never going to be higher, and a dominant relief arm was little more than a luxury for a Tigers team scrambling to stay out of the AL Central cellar. Though he has another year of club control remaining, the potential offered by Candelario and Paredes far outweighs what value he would have brought to the Tigers in 2018.

The Tigers’ continued emphasis on infielders is a bit puzzling, but understandable. The organization’s infield depth was decimated by a slew of trades struck by former general manager Dave Dombrowski in his final years with the club (not to mention the potentially premature release of Hernan Perez in 2015). Candelario and Paredes would have been welcome additions even if the likes of Willy Adames and Domingo Leyba were still around, but their absence makes the newest Tigers all the more valuable.

If there’s a downside to this trade, it’s that it lacks the flash that some Tigers fans were hoping for when dealing Wilson. They were never going to land a top talent like Washington’s Victor Robles — even the extra year of club control doesn’t make Wilson that valuable — but Candelario is far from a sexy centerpiece. He has an above-average hit tool that has drawn some plus grades, but doesn’t possess the power one expect from a traditional corner infielder. His glove is also a question mark, though his plus arm certainly plays at third base. He is also a below average runner, which does nothing to address the Tigers’ continued baserunning woes.

Paredes, an 18-year-old shortstop from Hermosillo, Mexico, offers a bit more upside. He is hitting .261/.341/.399 for the South Bend Cubs in the Single-A Midwest League, and could also develop an above-average hit tool (a consistent theme for the Cubs in the Theo Epstein era). Like Candelario, however, Paredes doesn’t have a ton of power and probably won’t stick at shortstop as he matures physically. Add in the risk that comes with prospects so far away from the majors, and he’s far from a sure thing.

This isn’t an A-plus trade for the Tigers. That would have required one team to come out and wildly overpay for a great (but not elite) reliever. However, Avila did well to drum up interest among multiple clubs and extract plenty of value from one of them. The 2017 Tigers won’t miss Avila as they wallow among the lower tier of the American League, and the 2018 version isn’t that much worse without Wilson. Meanwhile, the future looks just a little brighter with a couple of potential contributors added to the pipeline.