Austin Jackson may not be headlining the blockbuster trade that sent him to the Seattle Mariners, but his teammates in Detroit let him know he's appreciated on the way out.
The Mariners made the move official:
#Mariners acquire OF Austin Jackson as part of three-team deal with Tampa Bay and Detroit. INF Nick Franklin sent to Rays.— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) July 31, 2014
Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times first reported Thursday that Jackson would head to Seattle as part of a three-team trade that sent ace David Price to the Tigers and Detroit starting pitcher Drew Smyly and Seattle second baseman Nick Franklin to the Rays:
Price, 28, was one of myriad star-level players who were traded before the 4 p.m. ET non-waiver deadline. Red Sox pitchers Jon Lester and John Lackey were sent to Oakland and St. Louis, respectively, per Tyler Kepner of The New York Times. Meanwhile, Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera was shipped to the Washington Nationals, per Dayn Perry of CBSSports.com.
The Tigers now have arguably the best one-two-three starting rotation in baseball with Price, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.
But while trading Smyly and Jackson was a move general manager Dave Dombrowski had to make, it was clear the Tigers clubhouse took the news hard. After manager Brad Ausmus pulled Jackson midway through the seventh inning of Detroit's afternoon game with the Chicago White Sox, the 27-year-old left to a raucous standing ovation and embrace from nearly every teammate in the dugout.
Jackson has spent each of his five major league seasons in Detroit. The principal return in the Yankees' trade for Curtis Granderson in 2010, Jackson immediately became a mainstay in the Tigers clubhouse. He's played in at least 129 games in each of his previous four seasons and been an underrated contributor in the team's three straight AL Central crowns.
Jackson will head to Seattle, however, on pace for perhaps his worst professional season. He's batting .273/.332/.398 with four home runs and 33 RBI thus far in 100 appearances. FanGraphs also measures Jackson as having the worst defensive season of his career as well, though he's still roughly an average center fielder.
Looking positively, Jackson has been on something of a tear in July. He was batting .343 for the month coming into Thursday, smacking 10 doubles and looking more comfortable after Ausmus slotted him in the leadoff spot.
“I don’t want to say it was a last resort,” Ausmus recently told George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press. “After talking to Austin, I felt like the comfort of being in a spot that he was familiar with might be easier at this point.”
The Mariners and Jackson are going to have to assess their relationship quickly. Jackson is arbitration eligible this winter and can become a free agent in 2016—the same timeline as Price. It's likely the Rays chose to flip Price rather than keep him for that precise reason.
Franklin, though a non-elite prospect, is still only 23 years old and was a first-round pick in 2009. Tampa Bay has long had success working with other teams' talent and developing them into stars in the minors. Franklin spent 102 games with the Mariners last season but batted only .225/.303/.382 with 14 home runs and 45 RBI. He's fared much better this year in Triple-A Tacoma, so it'll be interesting to see how the Rays plan to bring him along.
Sports Illustrated's Joe Sheehan shared his reaction to the deal:
Buried in this is Nick Franklin for Austin Jackson, which is a pretty sweet deal for the #mariners.— Joe Sheehan (@joe_sheehan) July 31, 2014
As for Jackson, he should immediately slot into Seattle's center field spot. The team has been been stuck using the unproven James Jones for fielding purposes of late, and Jackson will be a massive upgrade for a team in need of offensive help. The Mariners rank in the bottom 10 of nearly every major offensive category and were in danger of falling out of the wild-card race if they didn't make a move.
Jackson isn't a Price-level superstar, but he could be what they need to stay in the hunt.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.