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12/11/08 1:38 AM EST

Tigers acquire Jackson from Rays

Detroit sends Joyce to Tampa Bay for right-handed starter

LAS VEGAS -- Another day at baseball's Winter Meetings means another deal for the Tigers. In this case, it means another piece of depth for the starting rotation, adding right-hander Edwin Jackson in exchange for outfielder Matt Joyce.

It was the third move to come out for the Tigers in about 72 hours since club officials arrived in town Sunday, and it might not be the last before they break camp Thursday afternoon. But while the Tigers still have to fill needs in the bullpen this offseason, team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski won't have to worry as much about a rotation that had question marks on the back end.

"I'm starting to feel a lot better about our starting pitchers," Dombrowski said Wednesday night. "I'm also feeling better about the depth."

It's a good swing of emotions after not landing one of the closers they had targeted on the market.

Joyce had been a key chip in the Tigers' talks with the Mariners for closer J.J. Putz. Seattle was focused on adding left-handed hitting, and Joyce offered a productive power bat. However, Seattle's additional interest in corner infielder Jeff Larish proved to be too much for the Tigers.

"We felt we had made a significant offer for him," Dombrowski said. "They decided to go in a different direction."

That direction took Seattle into a three-team, 12-player trade with the Mets and the Indians that sent Putz to New York to set up Francisco Rodriguez. By contrast, it sent the Tigers into a one-for-one swap with the Rays in a deal that provides a useful player to both teams.

"I think it was a classic two-team trade," Rays general manager Andrew Friedman said.

It was a swap that involved a familiar piece on the trade market. The 25-year-old Jackson was a top-ranked prospect who made his Major League debut with the Dodgers on his 20th birthday before being traded to Tampa Bay prior to the 2006 season. He struggled to turn the potential of his mid- to upper-90's fastball and changeup into results, suffering 15 losses in his first full big league season in 2007, before breaking out this past season.

"He's only 25 years old, so hopefully he'll continue to grow with his consistency."
-- Tigers president/GM
Dave Dombrowski on
Edwin Jackson

"I think it was just a matter of telling myself what to do when things got into trouble," Jackson said on a conference call, "just slowing stuff down and controlling the game a little bit better."

On an upstart Rays team that won 92 games and received 64 victories from its rotation, Jackson tied for the team lead with 14. His 183 1/3 innings were also a career high. He allowed 199 hits and 77 walks while striking out 108.

Dominance or not, it was effective. And at his age, the Tigers saw the potential for him to grow.

"He's only 25 years old, so hopefully he'll continue to grow with his consistency," Dombrowski said. "It's kind of unusual that you have a guy that you can pick up that's won 14 games. It's really a situation with them where they're so deep with their pitching."

Part of that depth came from the emergence of former top overall Draft pick and postseason hero David Price, who projects to slot into Tampa Bay's rotation. Add in other prospects that the Rays have rising through their system, and Jackson was prepared for a potential move.

"I wasn't surprised to get traded," Jackson said, "but I wasn't sure which teams would be interested."

Enter Detroit, where Justin Verlander and Armando Galarraga are the only certainties from last year. Jeremy Bonderman is expected to be back to full strength after missing the second half of last season following shoulder surgery.

"After that," manager Jim Leyland said Wednesday morning, "I'm not sure."

He has some more certainty now, obviously. Jackson slots as the fourth starter, leaving Nate Robertson, Dontrelle Willis and Zach Miner competing for the fifth spot.

Joyce, a Tampa, Fla., native, was a surprise for the Tigers after an early-season call-up from Triple-A Toledo. He batted .252 with 16 doubles, three triples, 12 home runs and 33 RBIs over 92 games in Detroit, including the final three months. He followed with a strong winter ball performance for Mexicali in the Mexican Winter League, batting .291 with eight doubles, eight home runs and 25 RBIs in 30 games.

At best, however, Joyce projected to be a fourth outfielder next year on the Tigers' roster in its current form, behind converted infielder Carlos Guillen in left. That made Joyce a potential piece in deals.

"We've had a lot of interest," Dombrowski said. "A lot of people have talked to us about him, and understandably so. He's not a guy that we wanted to trade. We think he's a good player, a left-handed hitter with some pop. It just so happens we're deeper in the outfield than most other positions that we have, not only at the immediate level, the big league level."

For now, Larish shapes up to be that primary lefty power bat. Dombrowski said they've also had encouraging news on outfield prospect Clete Thomas, who also hits left-handed but who underwent Tommy John surgery in September. Dombrowski said Thomas' progress gives them hope that he might be ready to return around the start of the season. If not, the Tigers still have plenty of outfield depth with Marcus Thames and Brent Clevlen, plus prospect Wilkin Ramirez.

They'll still be looking for relief help, which they'll probably have to wait for until after the Winter Meetings. Dombrowski said they've had trade talks for other closers besides Putz. Baltimore's George Sherrill could be on the market, as might Pittsburgh's Matt Capps. Dombrowski has talked progressively more about Fernando Rodney remaining the closer, and he opened the possibility of moving one or more of the starting candidates into the bullpen.

For starters, though, they're feeling a lot better.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.