In the next few days, the Tigers will welcome back Omar Infante to training camp, and Anibal Sanchez will also be in uniform for his first spring training with Detroit. Both players were acquired in the middle of the 2012 season in a trade with the Marlins that sent blue chip prospects Rob Brantly and Jacob Turner to Miami.
This season, Brantly, once a “can’t miss prospect” who plays the catcher position, will have the chance to be the Marlins starting catcher. For the 23-year old former Tiger farmhand, it’s an opportunity to be in “The Show” for a full season after just 31 games and 100 at-bats last year. Turner will be in the Marlins rotation.
Some Tigers fans were leery when GM Dave Dombrowski swapped Turner/Brantly for Infante/Sanchez last July before the trade deadline. “You bring back Infante and a[n] average NL pitcher who’s only going to regress in the AL for our best pitching prospect?” said one fan who compared the deal to the John Smoltz trade from 1987. Others questioned whether it was wise to give up two prospects for Sanchez, who was an impending free agent. “Wow, they’re going to send Jacob Turner for a rental? Guess that’s what you call ‘going for it.’ ” wrote one fan in comments at Hardball Talk on NBS Sports website. The Tigers ended up signing Sanchez this off-season, which negated that concern.
Sanchez answered critics after coming over to the Tigers. He pitched especially well down the stretch, posting a “quality start” (3 earned runs or less and at least 6 innings) in eight of his last nine starts. In the post-season he did a fantastic Smoltz impression, as Sanchez tossed 20 1/3 innings with a flashy 1.77 ERA while allowing just 14 hits and striking out 18 batters. He outpitched Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer and everyone else on the hill for Jim Leyland’s club last October. As a result, Mike Ilitch agreed to pay Sanchez $88 million over the next five years. Cha-ching!
It can take years to determine who “wins” a trade. With the Smoltz deal (he was dealt away by Detroit for veteran pitcher Doyle Alexander), it took a couple seasons before it became apparent that the young Smoltz was going to be a superstar. Alexander gave the Tigers a 9-0 record in ’87, and there’s no doubt Detroit would not have won the AL East that season without him. He also won 14 games in 1988. But Smoltz won 210 games for the Atlanta Braves and was also 15-4 in the post-season. Advantage Braves.
Whether Turner and Brantly will haunt Tiger fans remains to be seen. Turner was considered among the top 10-15 pitching prospects in the minor leagues in 2012. He started a handful of games for Miami last year, and he looked pretty good. The 23-year old Brantly is a major league hitter at this point, but he needs a lot of polish to become a catcher at the top level. But even if he only becomes a mediocre defensive player in the tools of ignorance, Brantly has the potential to be a very good hitter. As someone once said, “time will tell.”
Meanwhile, the Tigers have two players in Infante and Sanchez who are quantifiable major leaguers right now. Sanchez is 28 years old, a hard thrower with good command and experience pitching in a pennant race. Infante has been playing in the middle of the infield at the big league level for more than a decade. Is he an All-Star? No. Does he have some flaws? Yes. But he’s a decent second baseman with the leather, and last October he showed in the post-season that he can cause trouble with the lumber too.
It will take a while to know who came out ahead in this trade. With Turner and Brantly getting shots t being regulars in the majors with Miami, 2013 will be the first phase in determining if the Tigers made a good deal or not.