When the Detroit Tigers traded for outfielder Austin Meadows, this isn’t what the organization expected from the middle-of-the-order bat that blasted 27 home runs with the Tampa Bay Rays last season.
In 2022, Meadows can’t stay healthy.
“It’s definitely been a lot of adversity this year, probably the most I’ve had in my career,” Meadows said. “I’ve been hurt before, but nothing like this has piled on back-to-back. I can’t put a finger on it.”
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Meanwhile, versatile infielder Isaac Paredes — traded to the Rays — is hitting .248 with 13 home runs, 11 walks and 25 strikeouts in 42 games this season. He has a .907 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and is worth 1.7 fWAR, better than any position player on the 2022 Tigers.
The 23-year-old socked a pair of home runs, one in each game, in Tampa Bay’s doubleheader sweep Saturday against the Toronto Blue Jays. He blasted eight homers in a 10-game stretch, from June 21 through July 2.
For the Tigers, Paredes hit two home runs with a .592 OPS in 57 career games. The coaching staff encouraged him to unleash pull-side power, but it didn’t happen until he joined the Rays.
“We knew we were trading a good player,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “We knew we were getting back a good player. Certainly, the power has been something he’s never done in the minor leagues or the major leagues. Credit to them for untapping that. … Just because you trade a guy doesn’t mean you don’t think he’s a good player.”
The Tigers and Rays completed the trade April 5, just three days before Opening Day at Comerica Park. General manager Al Avila received high marks for his ability to pull off what appeared to be a steal.
Meadows, owed $4 million this season, is under team control through 2024.
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He hit .299 with 10 walks and 12 strikeouts in his first 21 games. He served as a left-handed middle-of-the-order bat, posted the best plate appearances on the team and produced, even without power.
“I know it’s only one bat, and it feels like one of nine wouldn’t make that big of a difference, but I think it does,” Hinch said. “It slots guy into spots where you don’t have bat (right-handed hitters Miguel Cabrera and Javier Báez) right next to each other.
“It makes the bottom of your order better because you’re sliding somebody down bottom of the order that I’m now hitting in the middle of the order, maybe Harold (Castro) or somebody like that.”
Then, everything went south. Meadows sat out with a sinus infection, an inner-ear infection and vertigo symptoms. All three illness were related. He lasted seven uncomfortable games before the Tigers placed him on the injured list May 16.
Meadows didn’t return until June 7.
This time, he played eight games before a positive COVID-19 test sent him back to the injured list June 17. He felt sick for a few days and couldn’t leave his apartment for about 10 days. Upon restarting baseball activities, he strained his right and left Achilles tendons.
“It was a weird deal,” Meadows said.
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In 36 games, Meadows is hitting .250 with six doubles, two triples, 16 walks and 17 strikeouts. He remains in search of his first home run with his new team, despite launching 33 in 2019 and 27 in 2021.
The good news for the Tigers is Meadows will return soon. He is lined up to begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Toledo as soon as Wednesday or Thursday. He should be back in the big leagues at some point during the upcoming road trip, a three-city excursion from Thursday to July 17.
“We’ve had to make a lot of adjustments,” Hinch said. “It’s been a big loss for us. We acquired him to be a big part of our lineup, and unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out that way to date.”
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But the 2022 season, from an individual standpoint, is far from over.
The Tigers, entering Tuesday, have 83 games remaining until another offseason begins. When Meadows has played, he has been productive. And don’t forget, he is slated to be in the heart of the lineup in 2023 and 2024, too.
“I definitely got my eyes on the second half,” Meadows said. “Hopefully, I can do whatever I can to help the team.”
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