Get excited! Detroit Tigers’ stunning trade for Austin Meadows opens up a world of options

Detroit Free Press

It would have been so easy for the Detroit Tigers to stand pat.

After Riley Greene fractured a bone in his foot, they could have limped through the next two months, cobbling together an outfield with the players already in their system.

They could have gone with Victor Reyes, who hit .258 with five home runs in 2021. That would have been understandable, under the circumstances, but certainly not ideal.

They could have waited for Derek Hill to get healthy — he’s out with a hamstring injury. But Hill’s injury history leaves it uncertain whether he can stay healthy.

They could have relied more on Eric Haase — the Dearborn Divine Child product and catcher-turned-super-sub — though, at some point, I have a feeling his bat might force him onto the field anyway.

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And if any of those guys failed, they could have called up Daz Cameron and hoped that he would hit (though he didn’t crack .200 in two stints with the Tigers).

But all of those plans would have forced manager AJ Hinch to become a miracleworker, trying to piece together an outfield with a bunch of mismatched parts. He could have built around Robbie Grossman and Akil Baddoo, although it is not clear if Baddoo is an everyday outfielder. He hit .273 with 13 homers against righties in 2021 and .214 with no homers against lefties.

“I do believe that most probably the help will come internally from our own guys,” Tigers general manager Al Avila told reporters on Saturday in Lakeland, Florida. “Unfortunately, you know, Hill has a little bit of a nick. But that should be maybe a couple of weeks at the most. So I think, internally, we could handle this, waiting for Greene.”

And at that point, you figured there was no way.

“But, as always, we’re always going to be looking and, you know, between now and opening day, anything can happen to it,” Avila said. “But I just don’t want you to guys to get over-optimistic. I think the probability (is) we are going to handle it internally.”

And then … wow!

Two days later, the Tigers pulled off a stunner, acquiring outfielder Austin Meadows on Monday night from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for 23-year-old infielder Isaac Paredes and a 2022 competitive round-B draft pick (No. 71 overall).

I think I speak for all Tigers fans when I say: Holy crap!

A left-handed bat? A former All Star who is making just $4 million? That’s an awesome deal. An instant, tremendous upgrade.

I love this on so many levels, but here’s the biggest reason: This is a bold move and a huge statement by the Tigers. They aren’t going to sit back. They aren’t going let an injury sideline their outfield for a couple months. They aren’t going to be passive. This is the move of a team trying to win, trying to be competitive.

Would they have made this trade if Greene was healthy? Probably not.

But they did.

Now, instead of being hamstrung by circumstance, they have given themselves so many options I lost count.

When the Tigers open their season on Friday against the Chicago White Sox, they can start Meadows in left field, Baddoo in center and Grossman in right.

And they can use Reyes as a fourth outfielder, which suits his skills.

That’s a legit outfield of guys who can knock the ball out of the park. Grossman hit 23 home runs last year, Baddoo hit 13 and Meadows 27.

What will happen when Greene gets healthy?

Well, first of all, that probably won’t be until June.

But even then, they will have all kinds of options.

At that point, the Tigers will have more infomation about Baddoo, who hit two home runs in four at-bats against — wait for it — lefties this spring. Make of that what you will.

When Greene slides into the lineup — again, I’m thinking June — you could have an outfield with Greene, Grossman and Meadows.

Or if Baddoo is hot as heck, Grossman could become a trade option, to bring in more talent.

Or if Baddoo is struggling, you can platoon him.

Or if Greene has a slow start — remember, he’s a rookie — he’ll have a wonderful safety net.

Or if all the outfielders (and Haase) are hitting, you can platoon Miguel Cabrera at DH.

The whole point is getting more talent, and that’s exactly what the Tigers just did.

The one negative? The Tigers’ outfield is still weak on defense. So be it. The Tigers are going to live with it.

Is there some risk for the Tigers? Risk is a strong word. I’d call it a calculated gamble with a tremendous upside.

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In an ideal world, the Tigers will get the 2019 version of Meadows, who hit .291 with 33 home runs and was an All-Star, not the 2021 version of Meadows, who hit .234 with 27 homers.

Then again, were the Tigers going to get 27 homers, or even 10 over a couple months, out of any combination of the internal candidates?

No.

Even 2021 Meadows is an upgrade over their internal options.

Meadows figures to be around for some time. He’s under team control until 2024.

And to get him, they gave up a guy who hit .208 last year in 23 games? I know Paredes has talent — and I wouldn’t be stunned if the Rays develop him — but yes, you make that trade.

Now, let me remind you of something.

Do you remember the Tigers’ Opening Day lineup in 2021?

Grossman in left, Reyes in right and JaCoby Jones in center.

This team is so much better. The Tigers have a new catcher, a new shortstop, a new Opening Day starter, a new lefty reliever, a new first baseman and a new outfielder, with a stud rookie outfielder waiting to get healthy and debut.

This team just keeps getting better, even when you least expect it.

Man, this is going to be a fun summer.

PARKER, BROTHER: How Tigers prospect Parker Meadows has turned it around, by turning on the ball

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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