The Detroit Tigers lost Jairo Labourt on waivers to the Cincinnati Reds on Friday, a move we predicted would happen when Labourt was designated for assignment last week. Labourt, 23, posted a 2.17 ERA with 79 strikeouts to 33 walks in 66 1⁄3 minor league innings last year before he walked seven batters in a brief six-inning major league call-up. He was our No. 16 prospect in the Tigers system heading into the 2018 season.
This isn’t about losing Jairo Labourt. It’s about their poor decision-making, hesitance to fully commit to their rebuild, and perhaps even a subpar ability to evaluate talent. Take the waivers process itself, for instance. The Reds, who had the fifth-worst record in baseball last season, had the fourth-highest priority for this particular waiver claim. In a sense, only three teams said no to the 23-year-old lefthander before one said “sure, we’ll take one of those if you’re giving them away.”
Putting a young, hard-throwing lefty on waivers was a huge gamble. It was one that probably could have been avoided by designating one of several other players on the 40-man roster. Lefthander Chad Bell, 29, is one of the first to be mentioned by the masses on Twitter, but one could reasonably point to a half-dozen other relievers that had better chances of clearing than Labourt did.
It’s not like poor performance drove this decision either. Labourt had a breakout season in 2017, laying waste to hitters in High-A and Double-A before his command faltered at Triple-A Toledo. Even then, he still managed a strikeout per inning and a 2.45 ERA because his stuff is so electric and hard to square up. He only gave up 12 hits in those 22 frames for the Mud Hens, and only one of those left the ballpark.
Even the respective scouting reports should give you pause:
Player A: Fastball can reach 97-98 mph from the left side. Plus potential slider. Electric stuff. Below average command at best.
Player B: Hits 90 mph with the fastball on a good day. 3-4 useful pitches, all play up due to plus command.
Player B — let’s call him Blake Gardy — is a useful pitcher to bring out of your bullpen. Maybe not so much now that the ball is juiced and home runs are at an all-time high, but still one that can give you quality innings. If I’m a contending team, I might even rather have the guy who knows where the ball is going.
But for a non-contending team like the Tigers? Giving up on upside like Labourt’s borders on criminal. Sure, there’s maybe a five percent chance Labour reaches his ceiling and becomes the dominant reliever we saw in the minors last year — I’d put those odds higher — but these are the types of risks a rebuilding team should take. It’s the same reason we clamored for a player like Arismendy Alcantara earlier this offseason, and why we were so upset about a marginal signing like veteran Pete Kozma.
Instead, the Tigers gave up on Labourt while keeping other pitchers with lower ceilings (and yes, higher floors) on their roster. They did so to make room for an aging pitcher who, at best, will be traded for prospects at the trade deadline — maybe even one similar to Labourt. Will it matter in the long run? Probably not. But it might, and the Tigers can’t afford to waste chances like that.