Just days after top prospect Riley Greene’s fractured foot forced him out of the Opening Day lineup for the Detroit Tigers, GM Al Avila made a stunning late-night trade to bring another left-handed bat into the lineup in 2019 All-Star Austin Meadows. It was stunning because most insiders believed that with Greene only out until around June, the Tigers would try to fill the spot internally, with Willi Castro and Victor Reyes, with reports about the Tigers looking to trade surfacing only a few hours ahead of the deal. It was stunning because the Tigers sent one-time top prospect Isaac Paredes out the door in exchange for Meadows. But most of all, it was stunning because it was the type of deal that fans have not come to expect from the GM in his time in Detroit, but it proves that the talk about contending this year is not just lip service.
While fans are fretting about where Meadows will fit into Detroit’s already improved lineup, they should remember that manager AJ Hinch isn’t one to fall in love with ONE lineup and this gives him another fantastic tool in his tool box. Meadows hit .234/.315/.458 last year with a career high 106 RBI, good for seventh in the AL, 22 more than Jonathan Schoop’s team lead. Meadows was also clutch, driving in 19 game winning and 29 go ahead runs. His 29 doubles last year tied a career high and would have put him third on the Tigers behind Jeimer Cadelario and Schoop and his 117 adjusted OPS would have been second, again behind Candy. However you feel about Victor Reyes, he’s not going to put up those kinds of numbers even if he got 500 plate appearances. Meadows will step right into the lineup and do damage.
After the shock wore off, fans found themselves wondering what this meant for the Tigers outfield once Greene returns from injury. Tigers Freep beat writer Evan Petzold put worries to rest pretty quickly, sharing the news that he’d heard: the plan is to put Greene in center field once he’s back. This unleashed a new wave of concerns about…too many good outfielders. We are 3 years removed from Christin Stewart and Mikie Mahtook being in the Opening Day lineup and now we’re worried about too many good outfielders. At any rate, it’s actually a wonderful situation for the team. Akil Baddoo, Riley Greene, Robbie Grossman and Meadows as your 4-man outfield is better than any other combination previously available. This scenario allows Hinch to move batters up and down the lineup when the situation calls for it (something he loves to do), keep Baddoo and Greene’s ABs wherever he thinks they need to be, and probably give Miggy some days off from the DH spot. Even if Baddoo and Greene prove to be every day players themselves, a sometimes platoon of Meadows and Grossman could be very effective. Meadows struggled against LHP last year, but put together a 137 wRC+ against RHP. Grossman’s 135 wRC+ against LHP almost matches that. Again, Hinch has options, and high performing ones at that.
With Opening Day just a few days away, Avila’s offseason additions really stack up well. Javy Baez and Meadows bring two big WAR improvements from last year. Tucker Barnhart’s work with the pitching staff has been among the biggest talking points of the Spring. E-Rod and Michael Pineda should prove to be excellent anchors to a talented, but young rotation. Of course, the proof is in the pudding and nobody has thrown a pitch or had an at bat in a regular season game just yet, but Avila has given Hinch the tools he needed, wanted, to take this team back to the playoffs and this latest move might be the one that puts them there.