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Trading Brad Ausmus led to the Tigers’ last arbitration hearing

A nostalgic look back at the Tigers’ last arbitration hearing and the trade that led to it.

Chris Holt #41

The Detroit Tigers are headed to an arbitration hearing with starting pitcher Michael Fulmer, breaking a streak of 17 consecutive winters without any arbitration eligible player going to a hearing. A change in strategy in the Tigers’ front office, adopting a “file and trial” method of dealing with arbitration eligible players who do not settle prior to the deadline for exchanging salary figures. No further negotiations, just go to the hearing. Here is what happened the last time the Tigers took a case to an arbitration hearing:

In December, 2000, Detroit Tigers General Manager Randy Smith traded catcher Brad Ausmus, along with pitcher Doug Brocail and relief pitcher Nelson Cruz to the Houston Astros for catcher Mitch Meluskey, outfielder Roger Cedeno, and pitcher Chris Holt. Within 90 days, the Tigers would win their arbitration case against Holt, which gave him a raise from his $1.125 million salary the previous season to $1.85 million, rather than the $2.3 million salary that he was asking for.

Holt was drafted by the Astros in the third round of the 1992 amateur player draft out of little known Navarro college in Corsicana, Texas. He made his debut for the club when he was called up in September of 1996, and registered a couple of 200 plus inning seasons within the next three years. His workload was the highlight of his resume, however, as his ERA and other pitching metrics continued to climb. Needless to say, those traditional metrics carried more weight in arbitration in those days than they would today with advanced metrics in the mix.

In his final season with the Astros, Holt had posted a record of 8- 16 in 32 starts with an ERA of 5.35 and 1.56 WHIP in 207 innings of work. Just perfect for a 90 loss team that wanted innings and wasn’t particularly bothered by losing. He would also fit right in on a club that would lose 96 games the following season under manager Phil Garner, himself a former player for Detroit and Houston.

Holt would go on to post a record of 7-9 for the Tigers in 2001, with an ERA of 5.77, a lofty 1.68 WHIP, striking out just 4.5 batters per nine innings. He made 22 starts and eight appearances in relief. He was released in November following the season, picked up by the Colorado Rockies and released again next June. He would not pitch again in the major leagues, but played two seasons for the Yokohama Bay Stars in Japan.

The Tigers hired Dave Dombrowski as President and Chief Executive Officer the following winter, and fired both Smith and Garner the following April when the club lost it’s first six games of the 2002 season. The club would not return to the arbitration table for a hearing for at least another 18 seasons, and counting.

In case you’re wondering how the other members of the six player trade fared;

Brad Ausmus went on to play eight more seasons in his second stint in Houston where he won three gold gloves, and two seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and of course became the manager of the Tigers for four seasons and is currently the manager of the Los Angeles Angels.

Doug Brocail missed three full seasons from 2001- 2003, and then returned to pitch six more seasons in relief, two each with the San Diego Padres, Texas Rangers and a second turn with Houston. He would later serve as pitching coach for the Astros and the Rangers.

Nelson Cruz (no, not THAT Nelson Cruz) made 109 appearances, including five starts for the Astros over the next two seasons before finishing with the Colorado Rockies for a year in 2003.

Mitch Meluskey had a fine rookie season for the Astros in 2000, batting .300 with 14 home runs and finishing fifth in the rookie of the year voting, but he would miss the entire 2001 season due to injuries. He made just 34 plate appearances for Detroit in 2002, batting .222 in eight games. He returned to Houston (see a pattern here) for his final season, making 12 plate appearances as a pinch hitter with a .111 average. He was no Brad Ausmus.

Roger Cedeno was in his final year before free agency in 2001, having played four seasons with the Dodgers, and one each with the Astros and the New York Mets. He hit .293 and stole 55 bases while playing 131 games for the Tigers in center field in 2001, his only season in Detroit. He would go on to play two more seasons each with the Mets and the St Louis Cardinals, capping off an 11 year career.

Suffice it to say that the Tigers won their last arbitration hearing with Chris Holt, but clearly lost the trade that brought him to Detroit.