Even Tigers manager AJ Hinch is curious: What did Rays ‘unlock’ in red-hot Isaac Paredes?

Detroit News

Detroit — The trade was overwhelmingly applauded at the time.

At least from the fans’ perspective, it’s quite the opposite now — the Tigers’ spring swap, which landed Detroit a slugger in Austin Meadows and sent an unproven prospect to Tampa Bay in Isaac Paredes.

Paredes has been on absolute tear in Tampa Bay, with 13 homers and 28 RBIs in 43 games. He has a .902 OPS, while no Tiger who has played at least as many games has an OPS over .720. Meanwhile, Meadows has had a disastrous year, because of a variety of ailments. He has yet to homer.

Tigers manager AJ Hinch made some noise on the topic when he spoke about it on the radio Wednesday.

“No. 1, we knew Isaac Paredes was a good player. He had never hit for power,” Hinch said during his weekly appearance on the “Stoney and Jansen” show on 97.1 The Ticket. “That, to me, is the curiosity. What did they unlock? He looks like he’s launching to left field way more than I saw here. … Even some of the balls last year with us, he’d swing as hard as he could and hit the ball to the warning track.

“For whatever reason, he didn’t barrel balls and didn’t get balls over 100 mph.”

Over parts of the past two seasons, Paredes, now 23, played in 57 games for the Tigers and hit two home runs. He never hit more than 15 home runs in any full minor-league season.

Now, since being called up by the Rays at the beginning of May, he’s got 13 bombs, while no Tiger has more than seven. Paredes also has three multi-homer games, including three against the New York Yankees and two in one game against the Tigers.

After a recent home run in Toronto, video circulated on social media caught someone yelling from the Rays’ dugout: “The Tigers are f—— idiots.”

Hinch would vehemently dispute that, given the Tigers did trade for him, before they traded him away April 5 with Detroit seeking a lineup upgrade in the wake of Riley Greene’s foot injury. Paredes was acquired July 30, 2017, from the Chicago Cubs along with Jeimer Candelario for Alex Avila and Justin Wilson.

“A little bit of perspective,” Hinch said on 97.1, before the Tigers and Cleveland Guardians were to wrap up a four-game series at Comerica Park. “We can’t be dumb for trading for him for the first time, and dumb for trading him the second time.

“There wasn’t a path to the big leagues for him with us. That was obvious.”

Tigers general manager Al Avila spoke with beat writers later Wednesday, and was asked about Hinch’s comments. He hadn’t heard them directly, but was told about them by a reporter.

“When you make a trade like that, you’re not making a trade thinking we’re trading a bad player for a good player,” Avila said. “We acquired Paredes. We liked Paredes. We thought he was a good player. … We were trying to get a more-established major-league player that can impact us now. … It’s a bit of a risk. … It’s not like we thought, ‘Oh, we’re gonna trade this guy’s that not any good.’

“Unfortunately, Austin has had a lot of adversity. For the first part of the season, here we are.

“But we still have a ways to go to make that better.”

The Tigers believed they were set on infielders going into the 2022 season, with Candelario at third coming off fine 2020 and 2021 seasons, new free-agent signing Javier Báez at short, Jonathan Schoop back at second, plus Ryan Kreidler was advancing rapidly in the minor leagues before he got hurt.

The Tigers also believed they were at least on the fringe of being contenders entering this season, and were counting on Greene to be a cornerstone of the lineup in center field.

Shortly before camp broke, he suffered a foot fracture, and the Tigers needed another outfield bat. They got Meadows, who makes just $4 million a year, isn’t free-agent eligible till 2025, and was fresh off a 27-homer, 106-RBI season, after he hit 33 homers in the previous full season, 2019.

Meadows, 27, is back on the injured list with strains in both Achilles; he was set to start a rehab stint with Triple-A Toledo on Wednesday night in Omaha, Nebraska. Best-case scenario, he returns early next week. Meadows also has battled an ear infection, vertigo-like symptoms and COVID-19 in 2022. If he wasn’t a hypochondriac before, he must be now.

More: Is the worst finally over for Austin Meadows? Tigers sure hope so

“The offensive need was very real and we had a chance to get a middle-of-the-order bat,” Hinch told 97.1. “We didn’t think Paredes was a washout. … (The Rays) are smart, too. It makes you think about how we didn’t untap the power.

“That’s where we look internally. What did we see? What did we not see?”

Avila agreed with Hinch’s assessment, and said the team always is evaluating moves it has made, “good, bad or indifferent.” “There’s a big process there that we’re always gonna take a look at,” Avila said. “If we did miss something, what could it have been?” As for the power, Avila pointed out that it’s not uncommon for power to come later in a player’s career. J.D. Martinez, whose career was revived by the Tigers at age 26, would be an excellent example there.

“It shouldn’t be a shock,” Avila said of Paredes’ home runs.

The Rays, of course, are known for being among the best talent developers in the game. They have to be. They’ve got a bare-bones payroll. It’s why fans hold their breath when their team trades with them. The Tigers, on the flip side, don’t have the best reputation on that front, though Hinch pushes back there, as well, given all the young pitchers who have thrived at times this season amid a flurry of injuries to top-of-the-rotation and back-of-the-bullpen guys. Several pitchers who have stepped up weren’t even prime draft picks. Hinch also points to Greene, who’s finally arrived (and been on fire), and Spencer Torkelson (who’s struggled at the plate, but not at first base), as well as Akil Baddoo, a Rule 5 acquisition who was electric in 2021 before falling on hard times early in 2022. Baddoo finally is starting to heat up at Toledo and could be poised to return after the All-Star break.

Baseball, as we’re constantly reminded, by Baddoo and so many others, is a game about sample size — and while Paredes is absolutely raking now, even earning an American League player-of-the-week award along the way, he’s still just 43 games into the season, and 100 games into his major league career.

Once up a time, Chris Shelton had a 1.023 OPS through 43 games in 2006. He finished at the year at .806, still plenty decent, but a sharp decline from his peak. Shelton, as an example, was dealt by the Tigers less than two years after the best run of his career, and was out of Major League Baseball by 2010.

“He’s having a tremendous first half,” Hinch told 97.1, of Paredes. “If anything, we’re always evaluating what we’ve seen in players while they’ve been on our watch.

“You wish him well.”

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tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

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