Tigers biggest Trade Deadline winners so far
Little-noticed swaps give Detroit a big lift in AL Central race
Taking the ball Monday at Progressive Field was the pitcher who has arguably made the biggest impact of any player who switched teams before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
It wasn't Ubaldo Jimenez.
It was Doug Fister, whom the Tigers acquired from the Mariners on July 30 in a move that was hardly talked about outside the Motor City but has played an integral role in how the races look right now.
Jimenez and Fister matched up on this Labor Day, kicking off a series that's essentially do-or-die for the Indians. And you can say the Tigers' 6 1/2-game American League Central lead over the Tribe as the day began was very much a byproduct of the performances of the players the two acquired in hopes of getting over the hump.
Fister came into the week 3-1 with a 2.97 ERA in six starts since joining the Tigers, a team that was in desperate need for a reliable No. 2 man behind Justin Verlander because it didn't really know what to expect from the likes of Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello or Brad Penny. With Fister's help -- and I hear Verlander has done his part, too -- August was the Tigers' best month of the season, and they're 21-11 since the end of July. During that time, their division lead increased by four games.
On the other side, Jimenez -- who albeit has been better lately -- posted a 7.29 ERA in his first four starts in an Indians uniform. During that stretch -- in which the Tribe went 1-3 in games when its new ace took the mound -- the Indians' deficit in the division increased by two games.
A similar case to Jimenez is that of Carlos Beltran, a July pickup many believed would be the answer for the Giants, but he struggled early on and only caught fire after a lot of the damage had been done.
Beltran has picked it up since being activated from the disabled list a couple weeks ago. But the switch-hitting right fielder was basically irrelevant for nearly his first full month in San Francisco, batting .244 with no home runs in his first 11 games before missing about two weeks.
From July 28 to Aug. 23 -- the dates when Beltran was acquired and when he was activated from the DL -- the Giants went from four games up in the National League West to two games back.
Yes, with more than one full critical month past, two of the most talked-about Deadline moves -- Beltran to the Giants and Jimenez to the Indians -- have almost been deterrents to the teams who got them, while an under-the-radar move the Tigers made has seemingly been the most beneficial.
In fact, the Tigers have hit on basically everything so far.
They acquired infielder Wilson Betemit from the Royals on July 20 to fill in for a struggling Brandon Inge, and Betemit carries a .300 batting average and 14 RBIs after his first 30 games. Then they got Delmon Young from the Twins on Aug. 15, a move that has paid dividends considering Magglio Ordonez's struggles, Brennan Boesch's likely season-ending thumb injury and Young's .746 OPS since switching clubs.
While Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski can take great satisfaction from the moves he made, John Mozeliak of the Cardinals may get a bit queasy every time he thinks back to July 27.
That was the day the Cardinals essentially sacrificed acquiring long-term answers for a valuable commodity in Colby Rasmus to instead get pieces that were all about competing this season. And while starter Edwin Jackson (3.44 ERA in eight starts), lefty reliever Marc Rzepczynski (2.03 ERA in 13 1/3 innings) and veteran right-hander Octavio Dotel (2.20 ERA in 16 1/3 innings) have performed, the Cardinals face the reality of a 9 1/2-game deficit to the Brewers and the fact the Rasmus deal didn't land them any high-impact players who will help them beyond 2011.
Such are the effects one move can have on a season, and sometimes even on the landscape of an entire franchise.
This past July, the playoff-bound Phillies (with the addition of Hunter Pence) and Braves (Michael Bourn) solidified their lineups and are now more dangerous than ever; the Red Sox (Erik Bedard) and Tigers got necessary, beneficial rotation arms; and the Rangers (Mike Adams) and Brewers (Francisco Rodriguez) acquired eighth-inning guys who have provided boosts.
The Giants, Indians and Cardinals have been nowhere near as fortunate.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.