The Tigers on Monday made a trade for a second baseman and a starting pitcher, and there’s a familiar face coming back to Detroit.
Miami Marlins infielder Omar Infante, who played for the Tigers from 2002 through 07, is returning to Comerica Park, and he’s bringing starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez with him.
In return, Detroit is giving up their top pitching prospect, Jacob Turner, catching prospect Rob Brantly and Double-A pitcher Brian Flynn.
The move is definitely an attempt by the Tigers to win now, considering they are bringing in the 30-year-old Infante and 28-year-old Sanchez for three prospects in their early 20s.
“This is a situation where we felt we had a chance to improve our ballclub at a couple positions,” Tigers president Dave Dombrowski said on a conference call Monday night. “Omar adds something to our ballclub both offensively and defensively, while Anibal Sanchez has been an above-average starter for the past few years.”
Infante was a good utility infielder in his time with Detroit, but he blossomed after being traded to the Cubs for Jacque Jones and then to the Atlanta Braves during the same winter. He hit .309 in his three seasons with the Braves and was chosen to the 2010 All-Star team as the National League’s top utility player. He moved to the Marlins before the 2011 season and has been their starting second baseman for 233 games, hitting .280 with decent power.
He is expected to fill the same role with Detroit, replacing the poorly performing platoon of Ramon Santiago and Danny Worth. Santiago will return to his role as a utility infielder; Worth is almost certainly headed back to Triple-A Toledo.
“There are not a lot of second basemen on the market, and there are especially not a lot of good ones, so we had to look hard to find a player like Omar,” Dombrowski said. “Second base was a position that we definitely felt we needed to upgrade to give ourselves a better chance to get to the postseason and beyond that.”
Sanchez has been an average pitcher this season and slightly above-average the past several years. If he can make the adjustment to the American League, he will be a perfect fit for the Tigers in the rotation spot currently shared by Turner and Drew Smyly.
“We’re set with our rotation now,” Dombrowski said. “Getting Sanchez gives us five major league-quality starters in our rotation. We don’t feel we need to look for anyone else.”
Even though the Tigers did not have to give up prized prospect Nick Castellanos, Infante and Sanchez aren’t coming cheaply.
Turner is considered one of the top pitching prospects in baseball and just won his first major league game on Sunday, two months after his 21st birthday. Tigers manager Jim Leyland has acknowledged that Turner isn’t ready to be a full-time major-league starter, but expects him to be in the top part of someone’s rotation in the next few years.
Brantly, Detroit’s third-round pick in 2010, just turned 23 and has been catching for Toledo. After starting the season hitting .311 in Erie, he was moved up to the Mud Hens when Alex Avila and Gerald Laird were having hamstring problems. Brantly has struggled at that level, hitting only .254, but was considered a solid prospect for 2014 and beyond. However, he would have been a poor fit for the Tigers because, like Avila, he is a left-handed hitter.
Flynn is a 22-year-old lefty starter who showed enough promise at High-A Lakeland to get a recent promotion to Erie. He’s a big, hard-throwing pitcher who will probably need a few more years of minor league seasoning before having any kind of big-league career.
“We gave up a lot. We know that, and it hurts to do it, but that was the price we were finding to make the moves we felt we needed to make,” Dombrowski said. “Even after trading Turner, we feel we still have two quality pitching prospects that are at or near the major league level in Drew Smyly and Casey Crosby.”
The teams also swapped the draft picks that they obtained in last week’s Competitive Balance Lottery. Miami gave up its pick after the first round for Detroit’s pick after the second round. The CBL selections are the only draft picks that can be swapped.
“I believe this is the first time draft picks have ever been traded in the major leagues, and it was an interesting process,” Dombrowski said. “We wanted their pick in case we can’t sign Anibal Sanchez after the season, since the new CBA doesn’t award compensatory picks. They asked for our pick in return, and we decided that was a fair deal.”
The Tigers designated minor league reliever Kelvin De La Cruz to make room for Infante on the 40-man roster but will not announce a move to get him on the 25-man roster until the players join the Tigers in Cleveland. The anticipated move would be sending Worth to Toledo, with Ryan Raburn’s spot in jeopardy when Andy Dirks returns from his rehabilitation assignment with the Mud Hens.