For starters, let’s examine what the Tigers are getting back in return. And that’s a pitcher that came out of relative obscurity to establish himself as a solid member of the Yankees rotation in the second half of the season.
According to PinstripesPlus and Scout.com, Shane Greene entered the 2014 season ranked 20th in the Yankees organization. Even that was a big step ahead from his prior rankings, as he well underperformed the potential he showed based on his stuff. Entering his mid-20’s after being a 15th round pick, there wasn’t much optimism for Greene, but he proved to be a late bloomer. He made his big league debut last summer at 25 years of age.
Greene got his shot in the rotation and made the most of it, posting a 3.78 ERA over 14 starts. The numbers aren’t a mirage either, as he carried a 3.73 FIP and a 3.40 xFIP. Greene struck out more than a batter per inning, while walking just over three per nine innings.
When it comes to his repertoire, Greene is a classic sinker/slider pitcher who fits the classic Tigers mold – a big, sturdy body that has showed minimal injury concerns, exhibiting durability over five-plus minor league seasons. He relies heavily on a two-seam fastball that routinely sits in the mid-90’s, while occasionally mixing in a four seamer that can get up to 97 MPH. In addition, he has had a very good slider for years, and saw his cutter come of age in 2014, which he relied heavily on as well.
Greene projects to be about where he is now, a reliable fifth starter that is durable and able to give a team 170 or more innings from the back end of a rotation. While he showed good strikeout numbers and generated extensive swing and miss, many scouts believe those numbers will regress as scouting reports improve on the youngster, as he took many by surprise in 2014.
The other upside of Greene is that after half a season of productive pitching, he’s clearly big league ready now. That’s not something the Tigers could say about their group of young starting pitchers, none of whom projected to be solid big league starting pitchers and looked to be, or close to be, big league ready.
The best of the pack was in fact the man that was included in the trade, and a year ago was the key piece in the Doug Fister trade, left-hander Robbie Ray. Like Greene, Ray also made his big league debut in 2014, but it was more due to circumstance and need than it was big league readiness. Ray had a nice debut and a couple other good starts, but saw things quickly take a turn for the worst, as he finished with an 8.16 ERA in just over 28 innings of work.
Ray has a good fastball that shows good late life and mixes in a good changeup. His velocity was more in the 90-92 MPH range in 2014 after being more 92-94, a velocity level he returned to in the Arizona Fall League. He however struggled across right-handed hitters, and scrapped his curveball midseason in favor of a slider, which flashed as at least an average pitch in the AFL.
Ray was ranked by TigsTown as the number three prospect in the Tigers organization, and remains a pitcher that can be dangerous, potentially emerging as a middle-of-the-rotation starter. Even if he doesn’t reach that ceiling, his next likely role is that of a very good late inning reliever, all the more powerful coming from the left side with good velocity. But still only 23 years old, and in need of refinement and further development of the slider, Ray likely wasn’t ready for a full-time job against MLB hitters in April.
In addition, the Tigers also gave up second baseman Domingo Leyba, who TigsTown ranked 27th in the farm system. Some are more optimistic about Leyba, who had a very good cameo in West Michigan this summer after the Tigers traded Willy Adames in the David Price deal.
At its most optimistic, he’s a young (19 years old), athletic infielder who might be able to handle shortstop that makes good contact and might develop enough doubles power to be an MLB-league average hitter, while holding his own defensively at short, or being a good second baseman.
On the other hand, even despite his playing time at short in the Midwest League, most scouts don’t feel Leyba has the skill-set to handle shortstop in anything more than spot duty. In addition, while his contact ability is good, his athleticism might not hold up as he matures, limiting him to a second baseman that has to hit, and hit a lot, to make it in the big leagues.
From an offseason plan standpoint, this trade likely has no impact on the Tigers larger offseason plans and needs. The Tigers outfield still looks a bit shaky, the bullpen could use at least one more arm, and Max Scherzer remains a possibility to return.
The acquisition of Greene does however give the Tigers a much more reliable option for the fifth starter role that was originally going to be an open competition, removing a question mark from the spring training equation. Should the Tigers by chance bring back Scherzer, it opens up the possibility to trade one of the other starters, which would almost become a necessity given how much each is being paid.
As far as what the Tigers gave up… the swap of Greene for Ray gives the Tigers someone that is big league ready and a reasonable bet to be a solid starting pitcher, both this season and into the future. Ray holds the potential to be more than that, but needs more time and development, and the Tigers need someone now.
The price they pay to upgrade is Leyba, who while a solid prospect with some talent, comes from a position of relative strength in the organization. In addition to Leyba, the club has the duo of Eugenio Suarez and Hernan Perez that are already close to the big leagues, in addition to Harold Castro and Javier Betancourt, who are of a comparable age and skill level to Leyba.
Overall, this was a solid move for the Tigers, in upgrading their fifth starter spot on the big league club without paying a high price to do so, leaving the team with flexibility for the rest of the off-season.