You can’t push back he hands of the clock. What’s done is done. The Tigers traded Drew Smyly, Austin Jackson, and Willy Adames for David Price on July 31, 2014. In the 361 days between now and then, David Price threw 223.2 regular season innings, producing a 2.90 ERA, 2.81 FIP, and roughly 5.5 to 6.0 WAR.
David Price was an ace for the calendar year he spent in Detroit, which is exactly what the Tigers wanted him to be. They paid him something like $20 million for the privilege and it cost them Smyly, Jackson, and Adames. Barring something surprising, he won’t make another start for the Tigers.
At the time, I thought it was a gamble worth taking. With the benefit of hindsight, that belief remains. Austin Jackson has been somewhere between replacement level and backup quality in Seattle. Adames is still years away from seriously contributing. Smyly was great in his brief time in Tampa, but then he hurt his shoulder, and who knows how he’ll respond when he’s back in action. There are three more years of Smyly and six of Adames. Jackson hardly moves the needle.
Was it worth it? We can’t possibly know what would have happened, but the Tigers got 4-5 wins from Price above Smyly’s performance, and they’re going to get a chance to recoup some of Price’s value by trading him away at the deadline. So they spent some millions, gave up Smyly’s 2016-2018, and whatever Adames becomes offset by whatever they get for Price this week. You assume the return will wash out Adames, although I recognize we’re painting in broad strokes.
The Tigers gave up ’16-’18 Smyly for the 4-5 wins Price delivered over the last year if you let the rest cancel out. Can we say for sure the Tigers are better off for having made the trade? Of course not. But the Tigers might have only been a wild card last year without Price and they’d have had even less of a shot in 2015 without him. It’s easy to say the failure to win a title, or go deep into the postseason, means the short term cost isn’t worth the long term price they paid. I disagree.
The Tigers window with this particular team is closing and they had to go for it. It didn’t work out for a lot of reasons, but Price was outstanding as a Tiger and they won more games because they made the deal. Smyly may wind up pitching well for the next few seasons, but the Tigers probably aren’t going to be great for a couple of those years anyway, so the argument goes both ways.
It’s easy to look back and say the trade didn’t work because the team didn’t win the last game of the season, but this specific trade worked exactly how the Tigers wanted it to. Price was amazing, Smyly only threw 60 innings, and Jackson didn’t rebound. The context went south, but the trade went right. The Tigers nailed this one, even if they didn’t nail the whole darn thing.
We’ll see what the Tigers get back for Price, but if it’s something close to what the Reds got for Cueto, the Tigers will wind up having given up three years of Smyly and some cash for a great David Price season and a net prospect upgrade over Adames. I think you do that deal again and again, even if there’s no flag flying forever high atop the center field fountain.