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The Tigers’ patience — and Justin Verlander’s resurgence — pays off

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Let’s preface all of what I’m about to say with the disclaimer that the Tigers having to trade Justin Verlander really stinks for them.

It stinks because trading a star at the deadline means that you’ve had a terrible year. It stinks because it means they are now all-in on what is sure to be a long and painful rebuild. It stinks because Tigers fans really, really love Justin Verlander and have grown really, really attached to him over the past 13 seasons. Trust me on that one: I’m married to a Tigers fan and, no matter how much she intellectually accepted the need for Detroit to trade Verlander and no matter how much she appreciates the return the team got in the deal, she’s still pretty grumpy about it this morning.

All that being said: the Tigers did pretty dang well in this deal.

To realize this, just look back to where things stood a month ago, at the non-waiver trade deadline. The Astros were the primary suitor for Verlander’s services. At the time, the Astros were cruising, up 16 games in the division and completing a pretty nice month. This despite having Dallas Keuchel on the disabled list for basically all of July. Houston may have wanted Verlander, but they weren’t desperate and were obviously not willing to give the Tigers what they wanted.

Flash forward a month and a lot has changed. Keuchel has not looked like an ace. Lance McCullers has missed a month. The Astros, overall, floundered in August, going 11-17 and seeing that division lead whittled down to 11.5 games. That’s still safe with a month to play, but the Astros looked like a juggernaut a month ago and, as of yesterday, they looked somewhat lost. In the meantime, Justin Verlander has put his foot on the accelerator, going 4-1 with a 2.36 ERA with 50 strikeouts and seven walks in 42 innings in the month of August.

All of which means that Tigers GM Al Avila got a better deal than he was presented with on July 31. Probably a much better one.

The Tigers got three really nice players for Verlander. Franklin Perez is only 19 but he’s held his own in Double-A, which is populated with guys who are WAY older than him. As Bill mentioned last night, he was the Astros’ No. 3 prospect. Daz Cameron is a center fielder with a lot of promise. Jake Rogers, the catcher, is reputed to have outstanding defensive skills and, while he’s only in A-ball, he’s shown nice plate patience. This is not the return the Dallas Cowboys got for Herschel Walker or anything, but taken all together this is a really nice package, consisting of a top prospect, an intriguing player who could be special and a solid defender at a critical position.

What’s more, the Tigers did not have to eat a ton of money to get that package. They are paying Houston $8 million for each season left on Verlander’s deal, which has $56 million remaining on it overall. That’s basically a buy-down to what a pitcher like Verlander is truly worth right now, not the sort of massive payoff you often see in situations where a guy with a bad deal is moved.

To be sure, this is a good deal for Houston too. They are obviously in win-now mode, have an obvious need for a starting pitcher and got one who, while perhaps not the guy he was a few years ago, is still more than capable of going on runs — like the one he’s on now — which can help carry a contending team over the finish line. The Astros gave up some players they would not need for several years in order to fill their biggest need now. That’s what the trade deadline is all about for contenders. Give them credit for pulling the trigger and going for it when a lot of their fans figured they wouldn’t.

Still, special kudos are in order for Al Avilla and the Tigers, I think. They didn’t commit highway robbery or anything. They didn’t just ensure a successful rebuild. But they did show some patience that I suspect a lot of Tigers fans didn’t think they’d have when the inevitable rebuild fully and finally commenced. Most folks probably thought they’d trade Verlander in a straight salary dump, but they didn’t. They got some nice players in return.

That might not make Tigers fans less grumpy in the short term, but it’s something that will probably make them feel better at some point in the future.

Aaron Judge ties the rookie home run record with his 49th blast

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Monday afternoon baseball that isn’t either (a) part of a doubleheader; or (b) on a holiday is always a bit unsettling, but today’s rare Monday tilt gave us a gift in the form of history: Aaron Judge hit his 49th home run, tying the rookie record.

The dinger came in the third inning of this afternoon’s Royals-Yankees tilt. It was the sixth pitch from Jake Junis and left via right field. Mark McGwire also hit 49 with the Athletics in 1987. Judge has the rest of today’s game and five more games after it to hit number 50 and claim the record for himself.

Watch:

Major League Baseball wants you to look at a screen while you’re at the ballpark

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During the debate last week involving expanded netting at major league ballparks, the familiar refrain from the anti-netting crowd rung out: “hey, netting wouldn’t be necessary if you simply paid attention!” These folks get particularly upset at the idea of people looking at their phones or other electronic devices during the game, implying — or sometimes explicitly stating — that if you do that you almost deserve to be hit with a 100 mph foul ball.

The problem with that, though, is that Major League Baseball increasingly encourages fans to use their phones during games. You can order your concessions through them now. Fans are encouraged to use the MLB.com Ballpark app for an increasing number of in-game features. And, of course, the video boards — always in the opposite direction of the hitter — are getting larger and larger and contain more and more information that the clubs and the league want you to see.

But it goes farther than that. Or at least it will soon. As this article from TechCrunch makes clear, in the future, Major League Baseball wants you actually watching the game action through your phone or your iPad. It’s an augmented reality feature in which you hold up your tablet and . . .

In essence, it’s a bit like watching TV broadcast in person, with information overlaid on the action as it happens in real-time. The data is gathered from Statcast, MLB’s in-house analytics tool . . . Players on the field, meanwhile, get small, square popups featuring their faces that can be tapped open to offer up personalized player information

Which is kind of cool, actually. Personally I am fascinated with the possibilities of augmented reality. For me it usually comes to mind when I’m out hiking and I want to know what a certain kind of tree is or something (my natural education was sorely lacking as a child), but there are tons of other applications. Even though I probably know more about the players and what’s going on on the field than your average American, I’d still probably use such a product, at least a little bit at a game.

But, of course, there is that safety tradeoff. How can Major League Baseball continue to be hands-off about a netting policy and maintain that fans assume the risk of foul ball injuries while simultaneously encouraging the use of electronic devices that will, necessarily, distract them from directly observing on-field action? Indeed, if they do continue to maintain that paradoxical approach, I’d expect this quote from the article to be used at a trial of an injured fan suing for damages:

“People are already using their phones, and we don’t think this is all that different,” MLB Product VP Chad Evans told us at the event. Of course, in a sport where small spherical objects are regularly projected into the stands at high speeds, it’s a good idea to keep your eye on the field. Perhaps popping up an alert on screen when a ball approaches would be a good start.

That last bit — not the quote, but the article’s suggestion of a warning — is comical given how quickly a ball can make it into the stands. Even fans paying rapt attention can get hurt by fast foul balls. Expecting them to process a warning and then act based on it when instinct often isn’t fast enough is ridiculous.

Cool product, for sure. Like I said, I’d probably even use it on occasion. But the more technology and the more distractions Major League Baseball pours into the game, the more responsibility it will have when those distractions contribute to fan injuries. In light of that, they simply cannot continue to be hands-off with respect to the matter.