SAN DIEGO, Calif. – When Tigers fans went to sleep on Wednesday night, they did so with the unfamiliar dissatisfaction of watching Detroit's AL Central rivals improve their teams while general manager Dave Dombrowski sat back and waited for the right moment to act.
If those same fans slept in on Thursday morning, they missed the explosion of transactions that could only surface from the Dombrowski-Mike Ilitch combination awakening from their three-day winter meetings slumber.
Detroit pulled off two huge moves Thursday, first acquiring Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Wilson and Gabe Speier from the Red Sox for Rick Porcello, then bringing in Alfredo Simon from the Reds in exchange for Eugenio Suarez and Jonathan Crawford. With these moves the Tigers swapped out Porcello for Simon in the rotation and added Cespedes to the starting outfield.
But did the Tigers get better?
Dombrowski's latest remodeling of the roster didn't garner the overwhelming support of Tigers Nation, unlike the blockbuster signing of Prince Fielder or even the 2012 midseason trade that brought Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante to Detroit.
Instead, the moves were met with uncertainty and, in some cases, outrage. Porcello was a fan favorite in Detroit; when he first joined the Tigers in 2009 he wasn't even old enough to get into bars, but that didn't stop him from throwing 5.2 innings of one-run baseball in the infamous Game 163 against the Twins that would have sent the Tigers into the postseason.
Now the lifetime Tiger heads to Boston, taking his 76 career wins and 4.30 ERA with him. In 2014, the 25-year-old threw three shutouts and gave Detroit over 200 innings for the first time in his career. He pitched six seasons with the Tigers, never going on the disabled list and never winning less than 10 games.
Yes, Porcello will be missed, but Dombrowski isn't in the business of sentimental victories. His job is to make the team better and win a World Series.
So did he do his job?
Keep in mind the Tigers are in win-now mode. In a few years the massive contracts of Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez may yank this team way out of contention. But for now, the talent on this roster is strong enough to compete for a World Series, so Dombrowski woke up Thursday morning with one goal on his mind: win in 2015.
In total, the Tigers shipped Porcello, Suarez and Crawford out of town, but in reality Porcello is the sole departure that affects the Major League club in 2015. With shortstop Jose Iglesias returning from a season-long shin splints injury, Suarez was on the outside looking in to make the Tigers out of spring training, and Crawford was still years away from competing for a spot.
Let's examine what the Tigers got in return.
Yoenis Cespedes -- Completing the Tiger outfield
For sending Porcello to Boston, the Tigers added an outfielder with plus power and endless upside. Cespedes' numbers dropped off in 2014, but the Tigers' lineup should offer him a chance to bounce back.
Take a look at the upcoming season as a whole for Cespedes. At 29 years old, the Cuban outfielder is just one year away from signing the contract that will define his career. If he has a great year with the Tigers, he'll sign a mammoth deal as a free agent next winter and comfortably play out the rest of his time on that healthy contract. If he struggles in Detroit, teams will be hesitant to commit more than three or four years to Cespedes and he'll find himself back on the market as a 33-year-old with declining power.
How's that for motivation? Much like Victor Martinez showed in 2014 (or Nick Fairley before his injury on the Lions' defensive line), contract years bring out the best in pro athletes, especially when there's a thin line between earning a massive deal and sifting through an offseason of skimpy offers.
Cespedes will also benefit from his position in the now-stacked Tigers lineup. The difference between where the slugger might hit in Detroit's batting order and where he was in Boston's will make a world of difference for Cespedes.
For example, in his last game, Cespedes sat in the all-important No. 3 hole for Boston. The starting lineup around Cespedes looked like this:
1. Mookie Betts
2. Daniel Nava
4. Allen Craig
5. Garin Cecchini
6. Rusney Castillo
7. Bryce Brentz
8. David Ross
9. Jemile Weeks
To give you an idea of how little this lineup protected Cespedes, study the pedigrees of the other players. Craig, who offered direct protection to Cespedes from the cleanup spot, batted all of .128 for the Red Sox last season. After Craig came Cecchini (.258), who has played 11 career MLB games, Castillo, who's played 10 and Brentz, who's played nine. Those three rookies were followed by the lifetime backup catcher Ross, who hit .184, and finally Weeks, who has 12 base hits since 2012.
In fact, the second best hitter in Boston's lineup was Daniel Nava, a .270 hitter who knocked in just 37 runs in 113 games.
In other words, Cespedes was batting in the worst lineup in baseball. He was all alone.
Meanwhile, take a look at what happened to Oakland's offense when Cespedes was sent to Boston. Through July 30, when Cespedes was a member of the A's, Oakland led the AL West Division with a 66-41 record and led the entire MLB with 535 runs scored (exactly five runs per game). The closest team to Oakland offensively was Colorado, who scored 507 runs through 108 games.
After sending Cespedes to Boston for ace Jon Lester, the Athletics went into a monumental nose dive. Over its final 55 games, Oakland averaged just 3.53 runs per game and limped to a 22-33 finish. In July the Athletics were the favorites to win the World Series, but after trading Cespedes, they barely held on for a wildcard spot and got bounced in one game.
The drastic offensive dropoff demonstrates how valuable Cespedes was to that Oakland lineup.
Oakland numbers (with/without) Cespedes in 2014:
Runs/game: 5 / 3.53
Record: 66-41 / 22-33
Run differential: +162 / -5
Games scoring 0 or 1 runs: 14 (in 107 games) / 13 (in 55 games)
The righty also gives the Tigers a massive defensive upgrade in the outfield. Now, instead of running out Rajai Davis next to Anthony Gose in left field, the Cespedes-Gose combination will give Detroit one of the better defensive outfield duos in the American League.
Cespedes also features one of the strongest arms in baseball, as he led the MLB with an incredible 16 outfield assists last year. Tigers fans will quickly notice the reluctance of base runners to take an extra base on balls hit to left field, and the danger of being thrown out will keep them from scoring from first base on doubles and even turning borderline doubles to left field into singles.
Adding Cespedes, or "La Potencia" (Power), to the Tigers' lineup will offer the team a massive all-around upgrade.
Alex Wilson -- The wildcard acquisition
Dombrowski also squeezed another potential contributor out of Boston in exchange for Porcello, and it's one that the Tigers desperately needed. If Wilson can contribute to a weak Detroit bullpen this season, the trade will be remembered among Dombrowski's most impressive with the organization.
The 28-year-old righty was dominant in limited time with the Red Sox last season, posting 1.91 ERA and 0.88 WHIP in 28.1 innings pitched. Perhaps most importantly, Wilson posted a K/BB ratio of 19:5, which suggests he could maintain a sub-one WHIP in the future. Wilson has only pitched in 44 MLB games, but he's old enough to contribute on a roster and should have every chance to make the bullpen out of spring training.
Wilson 2014 stats by month:
May: 3 innings pitched, 3 hits, 2 strike outs, 3.00 ERA
August: 15.1 IP, 9 hits, 10 SO, 1.17 ERA
September: 10 IP, 8 hits, 7 SO, 2.70 ERA
Alfredo Simon -- An underwhelming finale to an average starting rotation
Detroit's failure to win a World Series in the past four years prompted Dombrowski to drive a stake into his former strategy and competely remake the Tigers' roster. A team that was led by an elite rotation has been transformed over two seasons to rely more heavily on hitting and defense.
The trend began with the terrible Doug Fister trade last offseason and continued Thursday when the Tigers shipped Porcello and remained indifferent towards Max Scherzer. But now the Tigers are much stronger in the field and feature an electric lineup highlighted by an Ian Kinsler-Miguel Cabrera-Martinez-Cespedes-J.D. Martinez five-spot in the middle.
In making these improvements, the Tigers left themselves with an open spot in the rotation and very little to offer other teams. As a result, Dombrowski delved into the deep starting pitching of the Cincinnati Reds and came out with, well, the worst of the bunch.
Simon enjoyed a solid 2014 season overall, and even played on the 2014 NL All-Star team. But his season numbers don't tell the whole story, as the lifetime relief pitcher wore down in the second half. The 33-year-old entered the Midsummer Classic with a 2.70 ERA and 12-3 record, but those numbers gave way to a mediocre 4.51 ERA and 3-7 record in the second half.
What type of pitcher should the Tigers expect? Simon will likely take over Porcello's spot in the rotation and give the Tigers a solid No. 5 starter throughout the season.
But Dombrowski wasn't thinking about the regular season when he signed off on Simon. He was thinking about October.
Last season Porcello enjoyed a near All-Star campaign, but played absolutely no role in the postseason. As the No. 4 starter, Porcello sat in the dugout and watched Detroit get swept out of the ALDS by the Orioles.
As he sat in the press box and watched his team bow out in three games, Dombrowski realized the Tigers were built to make the postseason, but not to succeed once they got there.
Now Cespedes, and maybe even Wilson, will contribute to the Tigers on a daily basis if they qualify for the postseason. Meanwhile, the pitching rotation has only changed in that Greene, not Porcello, would start one game per series for Detroit. So while the Tigers upgraded massively on offense, they only declined in terms of playoff pitching by dropping from Porcello to Greene.
As an added bonus, the Tigers can now put Simon in the bullpen for the postseason, a role Porcello was uncomfortable in and often struggled with. When the postseason rolls around, the veteran can return to the role he held in Cincy in 2012 and 2013, when he combined to post a 2.78 ERA, 9-6 record and 115 strikeouts in over 148 innings.
So if the Tigers make the playoffs in 2015, these trades will have added Cespedes to the outfield and Wilson and Simon to the bullpen. There's no doubt losing Porcello, Suarez and Crawford will hurt the Tigers in the future, but Dombrowski answered the call on Thursday and put the Tigers back in the discussion for a 2015 World Series.