The Mariners nudged right up against the 1 p.m. trading deadline Thursday before pulling off an unanticipated deal that has the hallmarks of a winner. The Mariners essentially turned infielder Nick Franklin, going nowhere in the Seattle organization, into Austin Jackson, 27, a right-handed-hitting outfielder who slashed .270/.330/.397 in 99 games with the Detroit Tigers.
Jackson’s acquisition and Franklin’s departure were part of a blockbuster, three-team exchange involving the Tigers, Mariners and Tampa Bay. The prize in the package, former Cy Young winner David Price, went to Detroit. Franklin went to Tampa Bay, along with LHP Drew Smyly. The Rays also received infield prospect Willy Adames from the Tigers.
The Mariners particularly coveted the 28-year-old Price, but couldn’t, or wouldn’t, pony up the resources to get him. The Tigers now have the past three AL Cy Young winners — Justin Verlander (2011), Price (2012) and Max Scherzer (2013) — in their rotation as well as the last three AL MVPs (Verlander, 2011; Miguel Cabrera (2012-13).
Nor did the Mariners come away with Price’s Tampa Bay teammate Ben Zobrist, a man of all positions who was traded to Pittsburgh.
While this isn’t the magnitude of upgrade the Mariners sought as the trade deadline approached, it’s a definite improvement for Seattle’s anemic offense, defeated with just 85 pitches Wednesday by Corey Kluber of Cleveland.
Jackson is a career .277 hitter who has played above-average defense in center in five seasons with the Tigers. He doesn’t have much power — 46 career home runs, including four this season — but his current stats, if inserted into the Seattle lineup, would make him the team’s third-best hitter behind Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. The fact that he bats right-handed is a major plus: Mariners’ righthanders sport a dismal .222 average this season.
Jackson, who avoided arbitration last winter by agreeing to a one-year, $6 million deal with Detroit, is eligible for arbitration this winter but won’t reach free agency until after 2015.
He hit leadoff for the Tigers Thursday and went 2-for-4 with an RBI against the White Sox before the Tigers pulled him off the field as the trade went down.
The New York Yankees selected Jackson in the eighth round of the 2005 amateur draft and traded him to the Tigers in 2009. Jackson made his major league debut at 23 in 2010. He hit his first leaderboard in 2011 when he led the American League in triples with 11. He led the league again in 2012 with 10. Jackson had a 3.4 defensive WAR in 2011, best in the AL. He has twice (2011, 2013) been named American League Player of the Week.
This year, Jackson is leading the league in sacrifice flies (8). He has produced four three-hit games and had a long hitting streak of nine games.
While Jackson is a career .277 hitter who has a .292 mark at Comerica Park in Detroit, the cautionary note is that his numbers at Safeco Field aren’t exactly dazzling. He’s a .247 hitter in 17 games and has a weak .629 OPS at Safeco. He also struggles at three other AL West ballparks. Jackson is a .167 hitter with a .473 OPS at Angels Stadium, a .208/.519 hitter at Houston, and a .225/.620 batter at Oakland.
Even with that, Jackson represents an improvement for a Mariner team that that ranks 13th in the AL in batting (.244), 15th in OPS (.298), 14th in slugging (.371), 15th in OPS (.668) and 15th in runs scored (.408). He’ll take over in center field for James Jones, who is batting .196 with three RBIs this month.
His acquisition won’t enable the Mariners to overtake the Oakland Athletics, who acquired Tacoma’s Jon Lester Thursday, but it could help — a little — in the Wild Card race. The Mariners still have too many donuts in their lineup.
Jones is likely to be sent to AAA Tacoma, along with Stefen Romero, to make room for Jackson and OF Chris Denorfia, a .242 hitter acquired earlier Thursday from San Diego for two minor leaguers, OF Abraham Almonte and RHP Stephen Kohlscheen.
Franklin was over-matched by major league pitching. Although he hit 12 home runs in 2013, he batted .225 in 102 games. This year, he played in 17 games and never could get his average above .128. He hit .294 in 75 games for the AAA Tacoma Rainiers. The Mariners are already using a tandem at shortstop with Chris Taylor and Brad Miller.
The Mariners close out a three-game set in Cleveland Thursday night. RHP Chris Young (9-6, 3.04) is opposingRHP Zach McAllister (3-6, 5.65).