DETROIT — Wednesday morning, Dave Dombrowski thought he might be facing a quiet trading deadline.
Thirty-six hours later, he was handing Brad Ausmus one of the best pitchers in baseball, acquiring Tampa Bay ace David Price in a three-way deal.
"This was something that happened very quickly," Dombrowski said. "We had talked a little to Tampa about 10 days, but if you had asked me yesterday morning, I would have told you that there was about a zero percent chance that we would get David. That all changed when (Rays GM) Andrew Friedman called me late last night."
To get Price, the 2012 Cy Young Award winner, the Tigers sent Drew Smyly and 18-year-old infield prospect Willy Adames to Tampa Bay, while Austin Jackson went to Seattle to finish the three-way trade.
"Obviously, to get someone like David, you are going to have to give up some big pieces," Dombrowski said. "Austin has been with us for a long time and Drew is someone that we drafted and came through our system. It was tough to tell both of them, because they are a part of our family."
Dombrowski discussed the proposal with Ausmus and the coaching staff this morning, and by the first pitch of Thursday afternoon’s game, things were well underway.
"Andrew called me as I walking to my box, about 10 minutes before the game, and that was when I was pretty sure we were going to get it done," he said. "Trades like this have a lot of details, especially with a three-way deal, so we had to get all of the medical work exchanged and take care of all of the little things."
That took long enough that, with only five minutes left before the 4 p.m. deadline, Jackson was still playing center field as Chicago batted in the top of the seventh inning.
"We had to get the trade in to the Commissioner’s office by 4:00, and we also had to get both players off the field," Dombrowski said. "That resulted in a kind of odd scene."
With a 2-2 count on Gordon Beckham, Ausmus called time from the dugout and walked toward home-plate umpire Tim Welke. As they discussed the lineup change, Rajai Davis trotted out to centerfield. When Jackson started to head to the dugout, the sold-out crowd of 41,306 realized what was happening and gave him a loud ovation.
"That definitely meant a lot to me," he said. "This is where I started."
Moments later, Price confirmed the reported trade via Twitter.
"Wow…what a day!!," he tweeted. "Rays fans THANK YOU!! Great Chapter of my life just ended…ready to start a new one with the Tigers!! Thanks again"
The deal gives the Tigers the last three American League Cy Young Award winners — Justin Verlander, Price and Max Scherzer — in a stacked rotation that also includes Rick Porcello and Anibal Sanchez.
wow…what a day!! Rays fans THANK YOU!! Great Chapter of my life just ended…ready to start a new one with the Tigers!! Thanks again
"Our thought process is always about winning a championship, and we think this gives us the best chance," Dombrowski said. "We had a meeting about 10 days ago where we talked about the opportunity to add David Price and Joakim Soria, and we decided that if we had that chance, we had to go for it.
"We’re now looking at a rotation that has three Cy Young winners, the defending ERA champ and one of the best young pitchers in baseball in Rick Porcello. We’ve still got to win the games, but we feel this puts us in a great position."
Price also gives Detroit’s rotation some stability, given the question marks over Scherzer’s future in free agency. The 28-year-old lefty doesn’t become a free agent until after the 2015 season, so Detroit will have him, Verlander, Sanchez and Porcello as a strong nucleus for its rotation should Scherzer sign elsewhere after this season.
"We’re trying to win now, but it is certainly a good feeling to know that we will have David Price in our rotation again next season," Dombrowski said.
Price won 19 games in 2010, finishing second to Felix Hernandez in the Cy Young voting, then won the award with a 20-5 season two years later. In the last five seasons, he has a 72-40 record with a 3.04 ERA and 951 strikeouts in 1001 1/3 innings.
As Dombrowski said, the Tigers did have to give up two important major-league players in Smyly and Jackson. While Price will replace Smyly in the rotation, and should be a significant upgrade, the trade leaves them with a significant hole in center field. Davis will share the spot with Ezequiel Carrera, who was called up from Toledo in the aftermath of the deal.
Carrera is an average defensive centerfielder, which is better than Davis, but he struggled offensively when he got regular playing time with the Indians in 2011 and 2012.
"We think that Rajai and Carrera can do a nice job for us," Dombrowski said. "I’m not going to downplay what Austin has given us — everyone understands how valuable he has been for this team — but we think they can do a nice job, and we think we are going to score enough runs."
In the end, though, Dombrowski knows the trade is going to be measured by one thing and one thing alone.
"It’s great to have David Price, but we need to win a World Series," he said. "If we win one, that’s when I’ll be satisfied."