Just to set the stage for this, my birthday is July 5. This year, my wife took me to New York where we saw the Yankees play the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. Last year she surprised me, blindfold and all, with Tigers/Red Sox tickets at Fenway park. When she gave me the tickets on Friday the 5th, I made sure to find a paper to check out what the pitching match up was.
To my delight, Jeff Weaver, then the Tigers ace, was going up against Pedro Martinez, the best possible pitching match up I could get. Unfortunately, that Friday night when we flew in was also the day that Ted Williams, the Splinter himself, passed away.
So we get up Saturday morning, and the first thing I turn on is ESPN, and my jaw immediately drops. It would seem that Dave Dombrowski was going to give me a little downer for my birthday trip to Fenway, because that morning, Jeff Weaver was traded to the Yankees in a three way trade with the Oakland Athletics. Needless to say, I did get to see Mike Maroth get pummelled, and Pedro pitch 5 solid shutout innings.
So it’s been a little over a year since the Tigers made this trade, the biggest deal they’ve made since trading for Juan Gonzalez prior to the 2000 season. What I want to do now is take a look at who got the best of this deal.
The Yankess received Tiger’s (future) ace Jeff Weaver. The Dream was a fiery, emotional type, and at times look completely awesome, but at other times looked befuddled. He was the opening day pitcher in both 2001 and 2002, and was what most Tiger fans considered the future of the team.
Jeff got off to a good start for the Tigers in 2002. Up until he was traded, he was 6-8, but had a 3.18 ERA, a 1.200 WHIP, and had only given up four home runs in 121 2/3 innings. He was among the league leaders in innings pitched, and had three complete game shutouts.
But when he got to New York, he really struggled out of the gate. In his first four starts, he gave up 24 earned runs in 27 innings. He only had one more start (which was by far his best as a Yankee, giving up only two runs in a 7 inning losing effort) before being demoted to the bull pen.
Once losing his rotation spot, he calmed down and pitched better, even getting three more starts (all of which were quality starts), but had a poor post season, giving up a run in each of his two relief appearances.
2003 has not been much kinder to Jeff. In 110 2/3 innings pitched, he has an ERA of 5.20, a 1.500 WHIP, and has only struck out 62. He had been sent back to the bullpen, but due to injuries, has been put back into the rotation, where he’s continued to struggle.
Billy Beane is considered one of the best general managers in baseball. When this deal went down, most people, including myself, felt he got the short end of the stick, giving up three prospects for a left handed starting pitcher who was a fill in starter for the Yankees in both 2001 and the first half of 2002.
Ted Lilly struggled most of the 2001 season, pretty much filling the fifth starter spot. In 21 starts and 5 relief appearances, Lilly had 5.37 ERA while going 5-6. His biggest weakness was giving up the long ball, which he did 20 times in only 120 2/3 innings.
He got off to a good start in 2002. In 11 starts and five relief appearances, he had gotten his ERA down to 3.40, but didn’t get much run support in going 3-6. Again, home runs were a problem. Ted gave up 10 homeruns in 76 2/3 innings with the Yankees.
After the trade, Lilly was almost immediately put on the disabled list. When he came back, he threw in 6 games (all but one being starts), and went 2-1 with a 4.63 ERA. Once again, he got roughed up by the power hitters, giving up 5 homeruns in 23 1/3 innings, but, he did manage to strikeout 18.
2003 has been a little more of the same. He’s looked good at times (striking out 10 in 5 2/3 on Tax Day), but his overall numbers aren’t so hot. He’s 5-7 in 18 starts. And although he’s struck out 80 over 105 1/3 innings, he’s also given up 18 homeruns and he hasn’t even had an 8 inning start.
First on the list was Carlos Pena. , who initially appeared to be the main focus of the trade. Considered a top prospect when he was initially with the Rangers, then with the Athletics, Pena looked to be Oakland’s first basemen of the future. In 2002, he got off to a hot start, hitting four homeruns and driving in seven in his first seven games. He eventually cooled off, and after getting in 124 at bats, was sent down to the minors.
Then the deal happened, and he immediately was labeled the Tigers first basemen of the future. He finished off the 2002 season with Detroit at a modest .253 clip, hitting 12 homeruns and driving in 36 in 273 at bats.
This year has been up and down for Pena. He struggled at the beginning of the season, as did most of the Tigers. Then he suffered a calf injury that put him on the DL. Since coming back, he’s shown some modest improvement, boosting his batting average from .235 to .245, but has come up with some clutch homeruns as of late.
I like Pena and was glad to see we got him. He has gold glove potential at first base, and even playing in Comerica park, should be a solid 25-30 homerun hitter once he can get things working.
Franklyn German (pronounced Hermaan) is imposing man on the mound. Listed at 6’7″ and 270 lbs., German is a hard throwing right hander who had spent most of his time in the minors being groomed as a closer. He performed exceptionally well at Toledo in 2002, striking out 31 in 22 2/3 innings. He also was lights out when he was called up at the end of the season, notching a win, a save, and striking out 6 in 6 2/3 innings.
The big knock on German was his control, and his problems with walking batters has been very evident in 2003. In 32 1/3 innings, he struck out an impressive 34 batters, but walked an equally unimpressive 32 (including walking the bases loaded at least a couple of times). So German went from being labeled as closer of the future to being sent back down to the minors.
There is some hope. Unlike Matt Anderson (a former number one pick and past closer of the future) who’s struggled since being sent down to AAA, German has bounced back, striking out 10 in 8 innings, and walking none (two HBP though).
The last player the Tigers received wasn’t apparant back when I was in my hotel room in Boston, because, as with a lot of these trades, there was the infamous “player to be named later.” That player was eventually revealed as Jeremy Bonderman.
Only 20 years old going into spring training this year, many people questioned whether Bonderman would be best served playing another season in the minors. Trammell decided to not only bring him up with the team, but was also made him the number two starter. I honestly thing they were hoping that Bonderman would catch fire like Dontrelle Willis has for the Marlins, becoming a nice home field draw similar to Mark Fidrych who filled up Tiger Stadium for most of his starts in 1976.
Unfortunately Bonderman had his growing pains. Jermey started off by losing his first three starts of the season, giving up 14 runs in 12 1/3 innings. He’d then go 2-4 in his next six games, and after 9 starts, had a 5.73 ERA.
In his next 9 starts, he had an equally unimpressive 1-6 record, but something happened. He stopped walking batters. In those 9 starts and 54 2/3 innings, he’s walked only 11 batters, while striking out 38. And in only one of those 9 starts did he not finish 6 innings. His ERA has also dropped to 4.88.
So despite being on pace to lose 20 games, Jeremy has shown considerable improvement. How he handles this last half of the season will be equally as important in his development.
So who wins? Did any one team get the better deal? I still feel the Tigers did. If things go according to plan, they should have a pitcher who’s as good as Weaver when we need him to be good (hopefully sooner rather then later), a future closer, and a solid to good first basemen, all for the price of a currently struggling Jeff Weaver. Although New York and Oakland didn’t really lose much either. New York gave up a starter who has yet to show he can consistently throw well at the major league level. Oakland gave up a handful of prospects that, with the signing of Durazo, the trade for Foulke, and the future emergence of Rich Harden, makes losing the German, Bonderman, and Pena more palatable.