CLEVELAND - In the thick of a pennant race, the Tigers traded their starting catcher - a future Hall of Famer - to the New York Yankees yesterday.
Detroit sent 14-time all-star Pudge Rodriguez to the Big Apple in exchange for reliever Kyle Farnsworth, who pitched for the Tigers in 2005.
Dave Dombrowski, Detroit's general manager, said the surprising deal was sudden - developing during an afternoon phone conversation yesterday with New York GM Brian Cashman.
The deal was announced about 24 hours before today's non-waiver trade deadline expires at 4 p.m.
Brandon Inge, who in spring training openly hoped to be traded, is Detroit's regular catcher for now and the future. Also, Dane Sardinha was recalled from Toledo to be the Tigers' backup catcher.
Rarely, if ever, does a club in contention trade a key starter, especially one batting .381 over his last 31 games. But Dombrowski said the trade does nothing to hurt Detroit's chances of surpassing Chicago and Minnesota in the American League Central.
"We think it gives us probably a better chance because we don't take much of a step down catching," Dombrowski said. "And it's a situation that we help our bullpen."
Tigers manager Jim Leyland said the trade was a "win-win for everybody," but stressed the club wasn't "better" without Rodriguez.
"When you say 'better [team],' I don't think it's probably necessary to say 'better' because it's different," Leyland said. "You have somebody who plays that position. You don't have another quality - what we think is a top, quality bullpen guy - so we added that."
Rodriguez, 36, is batting .295 with five homers and 32 RBIs this season. He is in the final year of his contract, and waived his no-trade clause to join the Yankees.
In 18 seasons with Texas, Florida and Detroit, Rodriguez has hit .302 with 293 homers and 1,214 RBIs - and accumulated 13 Gold Gloves.
The signing of Rodriguez in 2004 is widely considered the beginning of the Tigers' rebirth as a formidable franchise. The year before, Detroit lost a team-record 119 games and three seasons later reached the World Series.
"He helped us in the very beginning, and we are forever thankful," Dombrowski said. "As I told him, I will be in Coopers-
town the day he's inducted."
Rodriguez was beloved by
Tigers owner Mike Ilitch, who OK'd the club picking up its $13 million option on him last winter. Rodriguez spoke with Ilitch by phone after the trade was made yesterday afternoon.
"I never expected to leave the Tigers," Rodriguez said. "I always believed I'm going to be a Tiger until I retire. But I guess five years is enough. It's time for me to move on."
On that point - Rodriguez being a Tiger past this year - Leyland didn't see things the same way. He said it was already "99.9 percent certain" Inge was going to be Detroit's main catcher next season and that Rodriguez probably wouldn't be back.
Inge, 31, ceased being Detroit's primary catcher when Rodriguez arrived, and lost his third base job in December when the Tigers acquired Miguel Cabrera. But an injury to Vance Wilson forced the team to keep Inge as a back-up catcher rather than trade him earlier this season, even though Inge made it clear during spring training that he didn't want to catch.
A slow start to the year for Rodriguez caused Leyland to use Inge more behind the plate, and he entered last night's game having started 22 games there. Seeing that Cabrera and Carlos Guillen - Detroit's current third baseman - were mainstays, and recognizing Rodriguez's upcoming free agency, Inge sensed that his best option to return to the Tigers' lineup as a regular was behind the plate. He conveyed to Leyland and Dombrowski in May his newfound fondness of catching.
"It's been a long road with many bumps in it," said Inge, who entered last night's game batting .227 with eight homers and 30 RBIs. "It's kind of funny how things work out if you just let things run its course and stay persistent."
Farnsworth, a 32-year-old right-hander, is 1-2 with a 3.65 ERA in 45 appearances this year. Also a free agent at season's end, Farnsworth told the Tigers he hoped to arrive in Cleveland for today's game.
Leyland said he didn't know how he would use Farnsworth, but it's clear he'll pitch late in games along with Fernando Rodney, Joel Zumaya and Todd Jones.
Leyland and Dombrowski both stressed that the bullpen was the Tigers' chief area of concern.
"With due respect to everybody, I don't think that catching Pudge or catching Brandon Inge will be the decisive factor whether we win this year or not," Leyland said.
Contact Joe Vardon at:
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