In 2007, the Tigers made an absolutely atrocious trade when they sent Jair Jurrjens to Atlanta for Edgar Renteria. I believe the only two people who supported the trade were Jim Leyland and whoever got to take over Jurrjens’s spot at (AA) Erie. Jurrjens was one of Detroit’s most talented minor league prospects. The Tigers brought him in as a 17-year old and watched him methodically march through their minor league system. He was called-up in August of 2007 and put together an impressive string of performances including a four-start stretch in which he pitched 18.1 innings with an ERA of 1.96. He had impeccable command often working the corners with the precision of a veteran hurler. Jurrjens was the real deal and the Tigers were lucky to have him. Except, I don’t think the Tigers knew that. They shipped him off for the incredibly inconsistent and average Renteria. The eventual impact of the trade was not surprising. Renteria was so terrible in Detroit that he lasted just one season before he was mercifully asked to leave. Jurrjens, on the other hand, is already arguably the ace of the Atlanta-staff.
I was pissed about the trade then and--whenever I feel the need to sabotage my day--I still get pissed about it. It could be the John Smoltz-trade all over again except instead of getting the equivalent of “Doyle Alexander’s 9-0 record”, we got the equivalent of nothing. Jurrjens has quite a ways to go before he can be compared to John Smoltz but if the Tigers were looking to duplicate the worst trade in franchise history, they definitely picked the right players.
Recently, though, something has been making me feel a little bit better about the trade—or I should say a little less bitter. Don’t get me wrong. Nothing will ever change the fact that the trade was horrible. In fact, it was worse than horrible because Dontrelle Willis ended up taking Jurrjens’s spot. However, as I mentioned, there is some atonement to be excited about. Dave Dombrowski—a man not accustomed to making bad decisions—seems to have made up for violating the number one rule in baseball by trading a minor league pitcher to the Atlanta. If the Jurrjens/Renteria trade was deplorable, then the coup of Edwin Jackson was brilliant.
In a move that went under the radar last winter, the Tigers sent Matt Joyce to Tampa Bay for Jackson. The Tigers quickly and smartly capitalized on Joyce’s unexpected power surge in 2008. The fact that they were able to nab a 25-year old fire-baller coming off a pretty good season is certainly a testament to Dombrowski and his scouting team. Even though there was a lot to like about the trade at the time, nobody could’ve expected that Jackson would be as good as he has been. Through seven starts, he has a 2.60 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP. His Batting Average Against (BAA) is a paltry .222 and his OPS Against is only .629. He is having a career year across the board which could be a sign that he has figured out how to pitch in the majors after 500 innings of on-the-job training. I suppose it could be a fluke, too, but considering his age and repertoire, it’s equally likely that we’re seeing the maturation of a talented pitcher. I’m not sure this trade makes up for the Jurrjens debacle—Jurrjens is pitching even better than Jackson and is three years younger—but my “days ruined per month by the Jurrjens trade” is way down.
Thanks, in part, to the addition of Jackson and the return to dominance of Justin Verlander, the Tigers have quickly ascended to the top of the American League in pitching. They lead the league in shutouts. They’re fifth in ERA, On Base Percentage Against, and Batting Average Against. They’re also fourth in WHIP. All of this despite the average age of the staff being just 26 years old which is tied with Oakland and Florida for the youngest in MLB. The turnaround from just last year has been nothing short of remarkable. Just a year ago, the Tigers were the third worst pitching staff in the American League despite being the second oldest. Maybe this thing ain’t over after all.