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July 31, 2009 at 10:01 AM

Key to Washburn deal was young Class A hurler from Venezuela

Everybody is focusing on Luke French, the 6-foot-4 lefty starter acquired from the Detroit Tigers this morning in the Jarrod Washburn trade. Larry Stone has an excellent rundown of French and all of his pros and cons in his most recent blog post.
But my sources in Detroit tell me the real key to this trade was the 20-year-old Venezuelan in Class A ball, Mauricio Robles. The fact that he made the Venezuelan team at the WBC tells you a lot.
His strikeout numbers tell you more.
Since advancing to High A ball, he’s got 40 in 35 innings. One of my sources described him as “easily a top-five prospect in the entire Tigers system.”
That’s not Top-5 in pitching. That’s in everything. At age 20.
“I guarantee you this is what made Jack take the deal over what the other guys were offering,” one source said of GM Jack Zdurtiencik.
Here is a story in the Detroit News bracing Tigers fans to be ready to regret losing Robles in a few years.

Robles is a 5-foot-10 lefty who can throw in the mid-90s and is still developing. Did I mention that he’s lefthanded? That combo of southpaw and power at such a young age is bound to get attention.
The Detroit story I posted compares Robles to Jair Jurrjens of the Atlanta Braves. He’s a guy the Tigers traded to Atlanta two seasons ago. Jurrjens has now become one of the better starters in the National League, with a 2.69 ERA and 134 innings pitched at age 23.
French is a major league starter, but projects more towards the back end of the rotation. I’m told he could eventually become a spot starter, long man type, but we’ll just have to see. He hasn’t been going all that deep into games, which is common for pitchers breaking into the majors.
But from what I’m hearing, he was just secondary.
“This deal has Jack Z.’s fingerprints all over it,” my source told me. “This Robles kid is exactly the type of guy he likes to go after. I have no doubt that if he didn’t get Robles, this deal would not have been done.”
Washburn, by the way, has been named as next Tuesday’s starter by the Tigers. Detroit was in desperate need of a lefty given the Dontrelle Willis fiasco. Comerica Park plays better to lefties than just about any in the bigs. There are a few great teams that have had championship runs without a lefty starter, but not many. The 1984 Tigers won a World Series and the great 1954 Indians went to one without a southpaw in the rotation. But that’s about it the last 60 years.
Wow, how times have changed. A year ago in May, Washburn was destroyed at Comerica in what may have been the worst outing of his life. Now, Comerica is his home park.
By the way, for those of you saying the Mariners should have held on to Washburn, tried to extend him and then taken a Type B compensation pick had he left as a free-agent, that would not have worked.
First off, he makes $10.3 million this season and to get the pick, he’d have to be offered arbitration. Had he accepted, a very likely outcome, he’d get a certain raise to anywhere from $12 million and up. That’s Roy Halladay money.
So, no. The Mariners were not going to get the pick. Would they have re-signed him? Who knows? Obviously, the Mariners felt they were better off dealing him and taking their chances this winter.
By the way, as an aside to all of this, the Tigers, and the Red Sox, are said to have inquired about the availability of Felix Hernandez, according to Jon Heyman of SI. I can confirm the Detroit end of that. But there is no evidence that Seattle did any of the approaching. Still, as we all talked about on the blog this past week, this is how baseball teams think and try to get an edge. Other teams now realize the Hernandez situation is going to become an issue for the Mariners within the next 12 months.



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