LAS VEGAS – Outflanked by the New York Mets in their attempts to trade for Seattle closer J.J. Putz, the Detroit Tigers elected to address their starting rotation instead, acquiring 14-game winner Edwin Jackson from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for outfielder Matt Joyce.
From Tampa Bay's side, the trade opens a spot in the starting rotation for prized left-hander David Price, who dazzled out of the bullpen for the Rays during the postseason.
Friedman also stressed that the acquisition of the 24-year-old Joyce, whom he characterized as "an above-average defensive right fielder with plus power,'' does not preclude the Rays from seeking another DH/right-fielder type. The Rays earlier this week met with free agent Milton Bradley, who could fill that role nicely for the defending American league champions. Jason Giambi has also piqued their interest.
The Tigers, who also were outbid by the Cleveland Indians for free-agent closer Kerry Wood and didn't have the money to spend on Francisco Rodriguez, are for the moment faced with opening the 2009 season with Fernando Rodney, who had a dreadful season in 2008 as a setup man (0-6, 4.91 ERA, 34 hits and 30 walks in 40 1/3 innings).
Detroit president/GM Dave Dombrowski said the Tigers explored multi-team combinations in an attempt to land a closer, but in the end Detroit could not compete with the 12-player, 3-team trade involving Seattle, Cleveland and the Mets in which New York acquired Putz to set up for K-Rod.
Jackson, 25, has now been traded twice since breaking into the big leagues with the Dodgers.
"He has great stuff,'' Dombrowski said. "Everybody in baseball has known his ability and potential for years. It looks like he took a step forward last year and hopefully he'll continue to take a step forward for us.
Jackson's career record is 25-30 with a 5.15 ERA. He has struggled frequently with his control – his 77 walks last season ranked ninth in the American League.
Dombrowski said the Tigers will continue to look for a closer, but admitted their options were growing fewer. Left-hander Brian Fuentes, another top free agent possibility, will almost certainly command a bigger contract than the Tigers are willing to give him; the St. Louis Cardinals are looming as a potential landing spot for Fuentes.
"It'll be something we'll keep an open eye towards,'' Dombrowski said. "It seems like a lot of 'em have already been signed or traded. So we'll just kind of keep talking and looking and see what else.
"I think what happened for us we helped our starters, so sometimes they can go deeper in the game, so sometimes that can help the bullpen. But we also have provided the ability to move somebody in our starting rotation to help us in the bullpen.
"We've said all along that maybe Fernando Rodney becomes our closer. I don't know that. He's in real good shape, he's pitching winter ball, he knows this is his free-agent year, he's very driven, he has closer stuff.
"We'll see what happens. April is still pretty far away.''