It seems like long ago, but the Tigers were one of the majors’ most successful teams in the first half of the previous decade. The club won four straight AL Central titles from 2011-14, a span in which it combined for a 366-282 regular-season record and took home a pennant (2012). Success has largely eluded the Tigers since that four-year run, though. Going back to 2015, they’ve posted just one winning season and are now only a couple weeks away from drafting first overall for the second time in three years.
During the summer of 2017, sensing his bottom-feeding team was a long way from contention, general manager Al Avila launched an aggressive rebuild. In a little over a month, he traded three of the Tigers’ veteran stars for a total of eight prospects. Here’s how those deals have gone so far…
Martinez was a failed Astro whom the Tigers scooped up off the scrapheap before 2014 and then saw evolve into one of the most dominant hitters in the game. As a Tiger from 2014-17, Martinez turned a remade swing into a line of .300/.361/.551 (145 wRC+) with 99 home runs in 1,886 plate appearances. However, with Martinez just months away from free agency, the Tigers parted with him in exchange for infield prospects Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara and Jose King.
Martinez finished the season on a rampage in Arizona and has continued to rake in Boston since 2018, but Lugo’s the only player in the package the Tigers received for JDM who has even played for them. It hasn’t been pretty, as the 25-year-old combined to hit .237/.270/.362 (63 wRC+) with minus-1.0 fWAR from 2018-19. FanGraphs likened Alcantara to ex-Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias a year ago, when he batted .247/.346/.296 in 378 trips to the plate in Double-A. Considering his lack of power, his well-regarded defense will have to carry him to the majors. King, 21, hasn’t advanced beyond Single-A ball, where he put up a meek .209/.283/.279 line in 193 attempts last season.
Nearing the end of the August waiver trade deadline, the Tigers swung their first of two massive deals before the clock ran out. Upton inked a six-year, $132.75MM contract with the Tigers under 20 months earlier, and 2017 has been one of his most productive seasons yet. However, with the Tigers launching a rebuild and Upton weeks away from having to decide on an opt-out clause, they decided to let him and the remaining four years, $88.5MM of his pact go in exchange for righties Grayson Long and Elvin Rodriguez. The return hasn’t amounted to much so far – Long retired before he ever threw a pitch in the Detroit organization, though Rodriguez does have some promise. He logged a 3.77 ERA/4.06 FIP in 133 2/3 High-A innings as a 21-year-old last season, and MLB.com ranks him as the Tigers’ 27th overall prospect.
In one of the most famous buzzer-beating trades in the history of sports, the Tigers shipped off a franchise icon with moments to spare before the deadline passed. Verlander was regularly among the game’s superstar pitchers in Detroit since the first full season of his career in 2006, but as a then-34-year-old, his days as an elite hurler seemed to be in the past. Not the case, though, as Verlander rounded back into form down the stretch in Houston, which he helped lead to a championship in the fall, and hasn’t let up. In fact, he won his second AL Cy Young Award and earned his eighth All-Star nod in his age-36 season in 2019.
Although Verlander cleared waivers, he still could have used his full no-trade rights to reject the deal. In accepting the move, he cleared the way for the Tigers to receive three prospects in catcher Jake Rogers, righty Franklin Perez and outfielder Daz Cameron (Detroit also paid $16MM of Verlander’s remaining $56MM and gave up outfielder Juan Ramirez as a player to be named later).
Has anyone from the trio the Tigers landed contributed in the majors yet? Not really. Rogers debuted as a Tiger last season and hit a disastrous .125/.222/.259 (27 wRC+). Perez hasn’t pitched above High-A, and Cameron has had an awful time at Triple-A since he first arrived there in 2018. In fairness to these three players, they’re all still young – Rogers is 25, Perez is 22 and Cameron is 23 – so it’s far too early to write off their careers. In the cases of Perez and Cameron, it’s worth noting that they aren’t far removed from landing on top 100 prospect lists, so there’s still some intrigue in Detroit’s return for Verlander.