Detroit Tigers’ trade for Austin Meadows proves the rebuild is over. Will winning follow?

Detroit Free Press

You’ll be forgiven if you forgot what this feels like, forgot what it looked like when your baseball team shipped off a youngster with potential in exchange for a veteran with a big-league resume.

Not that I’m the one doing the forgiving.

That’s up to the sports gods . And if it’s not up to those who watch over sports, then it’s up to those who watch over you … whoever they may be.

Whatever else they think as we begin another baseball season, they can’t possibly think the Tigers — your Detroit Tigers — are happy to sit back and collect assets for the future.

Nor, I’m guessing, do you.

‘A LEGITIMATE MAJOR LEAGUE PLAYER’: Tigers owner signed off on Austin Meadows trade, which addresses a major weakness

About time, eh?

And if you had a morsel of doubt about the Tigers’ intentions — even after trading for a catcher and signing a starting pitcher and a shortstop — what general manager Al Avila did, and owner Christopher Ilitch approved, Tuesday should’ve obliterated it.

The Tigers welcomed the latest piece of their (relative) spending frenzy this offseason. They welcomed even more expectations. Something they haven’t shied away from this spring even before they traded for former All-Star slugger Austin Meadows.

As Avila said — and has said more or less a few times since last season ended:

“It’s a lot different than what we were doing a few years ago, that’s for sure.”

He is referring to the organizations rebuild, of course. And to all the losing that went with it. Losing, he said, that was tough, as was the criticism.

Now comes the fun part. He gets to put it back together. He gets to mix in some veterans with some of the youngsters he has acquired. He gets to spend.

All of which means?

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“Obviously, counting on winning some games and getting to the playoffs.”

And … there it is. Of course it is. A team doesn’t go get Meadows three days before Opening Day otherwise.

In Meadows, the Tigers get an outfielder with power groomed in one of the best organizations in baseball — thank you, Tampa Bay. They get a left-handed hitter who fills the immediate spot vacated by Riley Greene and should help further balance a lineup that struggled to hit right-handed pitching.

[ Riley Greene reacts to injury, missing Opening Day: ‘It sucks’ ]

AJ Hinch gets more options. And when Greene returns from his foot injury in a couple of months?

“I think every manager would welcome the drama and dilemma of having too many great players,” he said.

Meadows’ arrival says the Tigers are serious about a postseason push. It buoys the words we’ve heard saying the same.

His arrival is also a reminder of what all of this used to feel like, of the days when Avila’s former boss, Dave Dombrowski, used to ship out prospects and bring in fully-formed — or nearly fully formed — players.

Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller for Miguel Cabrera?

Chance Ruffin, Charlie Furbush, Casper Wells and Francisco Martinez for Doug Fister?

Edwin Jackson and Curtis Granderson for Austin Jackson and Max Scherzer?

OK, so Jackson and Granderson weren’t prospects. And Meadows isn’t prime Cabrera.

But could he be as good a hitter as Fister was a pitcher? Absolutely. He already was in 2019.

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If he’s not, well, Avila took a swing, and Ilitch OK’d the swing. The owner understands his general manager might miss, but also understands he might not. Which is why he told Avila that if he and Hinch thought they needed Meadows to “go get him.”

“I’ve got to thank Chris Ilitch,” said Avila.

Again, finally. Avila can do his job with both hands … and arms and legs and eyes and whatever else he needs. That’s the message behind the Meadows trade. That when the promising young center fielder goes down, the Tigers are no longer content to fill the hole in the roster with cotton balls and duct tape.

They went out and got an established major leaguer. They shipped away a prospect in Isaac Paredes, along with a future draft pick. If you’re nervous that Tampa knows something about Paredes that the Tigers don’t, that’s fine, the Rays are expert evaluators.

Yet at some point a team with aims of fall baseball must take a chance and a swing, and then keep swinging. Avila saw that work under Dombrowski year after year, trade after trade, free-agent signing after free-agent signing.

Not all the moves worked — some of you still haven’t forgiven Dombrowski for his bullpens. Enough of the moves did, though, and kept the Tigers relevant for the better part of eight years.

Now, almost eight years later, here we are again, entering a season with expectation for a team that’s got some talent and an owner who is willing to spend and a general manager happy to make the kind of deals that used to get made around here frequently.

Meadows may or may not find the form he showed three years ago when he got on base a fair amount to supplement all that power — he hit 33 homers. If he doesn’t, he will still help the team, because even last year when his on-base percentage slipped he still smacked 27 home runs.

“He’s a nice bat for us,” said Hinch.

He’s also a symbol that the Tigers think it’s time to step back onto the stage. And just did.

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.

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