2012 Top 10 Stories: #7 – Tigers Trade for Sanchez and Infante

Based on Number Eight in this completely subjective Top 10 list (The Black Hole at Second Base), Number Seven should come as no surprise: the Tigers move aggressively to fill the void at second base by reacquiring old friend Omar Infante and add a blue-chip starting pitcher, Anibal Sanchez, to bolster the rotation.

The July 23 trade with the Miami Marlins came at a steep price: top prospects pitcher Jacob Turner and catcher Rob Brantly, along with 6-ft. 8 -in. minor-league lefty Brian Flynn and a 2013 compensation draft. (The day before the trade, Turner pitched 5.1 innings against the White Sox in a 6-4 win that put the Tigers a game and a half ahead of Chicago, and showed potential trade partners that Turner was healthy and ready to perform in the big leagues.)

At the time, Infante was the headliner because of the Tigers’ glaring need for an everyday second baseman and, to a lesser degree, the fact he was returning to his original big-league franchise. Tigers fans had watched Infante mature into a solid big-league player in his three seasons with the Braves and season-and-a-half in Miami and seemed to welcome him back. From Jason Beck’s story on the deal:

“For us, from a second-base perspective, that was an area we definitely wanted to address,” Dombrowski said. “There’s not a lot of second basemen that are available. There’s not a lot of second basemen available particularly that are good players.”

In Infante’s case, Dombrowski said, “He’s a real solid player to us, one of the better second basemen in Major League Baseball.”

(snip)

“One thing for us, it’s good to have a bat that’s another threat to drive the ball into the gaps and steal a base,” Dombrowski said. “For us, it’s a plus.”

Sanchez, on the other hand, was an unknown quantity and a curiosity of sorts. After all, he’d pitched seven seasons in south Florida for more or less forgettable Marlins teams. (The only thing I knew about him was that in 2006 he’d thrown a no-hitter against the Diamondbacks.) But as Doug Fister struggled to return to form after two trips to the disabled list, it became clear in a hurry that Sanchez was just as big a piece of this trade as Omar Infante – and perhaps bigger.

“He’s been one of the more consistent pitchers in baseball,” Dombrowski said. “He feels great, he has quality stuff and he gives us a chance to have five established Major League starters.”

Early on, Sanchez surrendered five or more earned runs in three of his first four Tigers starts and looked shellshocked by American League. But soon he had found his rhythm and was providing Jim Leyland with quality starts in eight of his next nine outings. In fact, Sanchez registered a quality start in five consecutive starts Aug. 22 – Sept. 15, and finished 2-2 with a 1.89 ERA during that stretch. And on Sept. 25 he notched his finest outing in a Tigers uniform: a three-hit shutout against the Royals, striking out 10. His final line: 12 starts, a 4-6 record and a 3.74 ERA.

In the playoffs Sanchez he was superb. In three postseason starts he allowed just four runs and a 1.77 ERA, which certainly helped his free-agent asking price and helped bring him back to Detroit for five more seasons.

As for Infante, he brought to the Tigers exactly what they’d hoped: a solid player that stabilized a critical infield position and, on many nights, the number-two spot in the batting order.

All told, a big trade, a big payoff – and a big story.

The Top 10 Stories of 2012

2012 Top 10 Stories: #8 – The Black Hole at Second Base

Remember when Scott Sizemore was the answer to the Tigers’ second base question? After nearly five seasons of Placido Polanco’s wizardry at second, and in the number-two slot of the lineup, the Tigers tried to convince fans – and maybe themselves – that Sizemore could take over with gusto.

After 65 games spread across two seasons, Sizemore was dealt to Oakland and suddenly second base became a giant black hole. Again.

In 2010, Carlos Guillen and Will Rhymes both played more games at second than Sizemore, fully cementing the second-base-by-committee approach.

Last season, Ryan Raburn made his play for the job, appearing in 56 games at second and committing 10 errors in 201 chances. Backed by his usual second-half surge, he convinced the Tigers he could hold down the job full-time in 2012.

The assumption, naturally, was that Raburn would hit enough to mask some lead-gloved D. (The same was said of Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera and, to a lesser degree, Jhonny Peralta.)

Except, he didn’t hit well enough to warrant a job anywhere on the diamond. Neither did Plan B, Ramon Santiago.

Combined, Plan A and Plan B hit .189.

That’s why, as the July 31 Trade Deadline inched closer, the Tigers were linked to every available second baseman in the majors: from Darwin Barney to Kelly Johnson to the man the landed on July 26 along with Anibal Sanchez: the prodigal son Omar Infante.

Having a full-time second baseman certainly settled the lineup but Infante look anything but settled at times, at least defensively after his arrival. He made nine errors in 267 chances over 61 games at second, At the plate, he hit .257: 80 points higher than Raburn and 50 more than Santiago.

Heading into 2013, Infante is the incumbent at second and in the final year of his contract. Given the slim pickings in the Tigers’ minor-league system, a solid first half could earn the 31-year-old Infante a contract extension and make him the second baseman for the foreseeable future … just as he was in 2001.

Go figure.

The Top 10 Stories of 2012

Verlander Shows How Closing is Done

On Tuesday night Jim Leyland said the A’s played a perfect game in the 2-0 Oakland Game 3 win.

I’d submit that the Tigers returned the favor Thursday night in a game the was perhaps the most emphatic decisive game we’ve seen since Game 4 of the 2006 ALCS.

Wow.

I wasn’t sure what version of Justin Verlander we’d see in Game 5. Ends up we saw the model we hoped for: all business, dominant, explosive. A complete-game, four-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts to boot.

How about Omar Infante with a two-for-three night and two runs scored — plus a stolen base. (!)

And Austin Jackson: two hits, two runs batted in and a pair of runs scored.

And wait, there’s more: Delmon Young showed up and drove in a run.

But the story of the night was Verlander. He threw 122 pitches, 88 for strikes and saw his ALDS ERA plummet to 0.56.

Awesome.

So now we wait for the winner of the Orioles and Yankees series.

I’m going to savor this win for a day or so. Then I’ll worry about the ALCS.

And if the Yankees and Orioles caught even a glimpse of the Tigers game, they’re no doubt worried about the prospect of facing Justin Verlander in the next week.