DETROIT -- The last time Jeff Baker was traded to a team in contention, he went from the Rockies to the Cubs three years ago for a hard-throwing young reliever named Al Alburquerque, whose breakthrough season with the Tigers last year allowed Baker's teammate to give him some ribbing.
"At the time, I would kid around that I was traded for a city," Baker recalled on Monday. "I remember watching on TV, and I've got some buddies that play in Tampa Bay. When he was facing them, they were marveling at his slider. They were joking, saying the Cubs got hosed, the whole nine yards. They always give me a good ribbing about that."
Depending on how the next couple of weeks go, Baker and Alburquerque could be teammates battling for a playoff spot together.
When the Cubs broke the news to Baker on Sunday that he had been traded, they told him he gained about 21 games in the standings. That wasn't really a surprise; he figured that as a veteran right-handed hitter, he could be headed to a contender around last week's non-waiver Trade Deadline.
When he found out he was heading to Detroit, Baker thought of the Tigers-Cubs series at Wrigley Field back in June and how many Tigers fans made the trip.
"That was unbelievable, the day that [Justin] Verlander got a standing ovation at Wrigley Field," Baker said. "We have great fans, but you see how the fans come out to support. Wrigley Field is iconic and everybody wants to come, but it's a different thing when you come and you're loud and you're not just there to take in the atmosphere, have a beer and a hot dog with your buddies. They were there to support their team. They were loud and they were vocal. As a player, you remember that stuff.
"It's one of the first things I thought about when I did get traded here. The fan support's one of the big things. You remember the stadiums you play in when there's not a lot of people there, and you remember the stadiums when there's a lot of people here."
Baker has been a utility player for the vast majority of his career and knows what the role entails, and he says he's ready to contribute however the Tigers need him. He also knows what it means to play in a playoff race. In addition to 2009 with the Cubs, he came up a rookie in '07 on the Rockies team that went on a late-season run that landed Colorado in the World Series.
"It's in your own hands; that's all you can ask for," Baker said. "I'm excited to jump in and contribute and try to play a small role."
Hits starting to fall for more relaxed Infante
DETROIT -- Omar Infante admitted what the stats suggested, that he wasn't all that comfortable when he first rejoined the Tigers two weeks ago. He was coming back to where he started, but coming back with expectations.
"At first, I felt real tight," Infante said after his four-hit performance in Sunday's 10-8 win over the Indians in 10 innings. "Now I feel more comfortable, more relaxed, more confident at the plate."
That shows in Infante's stats, too. After five games with the Tigers again, he was 2-for-17 with no extra-base hits. In his six games last week, he went 9-for-21 with two triples, a double, a home run and six RBIs. Four of those hits, including the home run and double, came on Sunday.
Yet it was one of the two outs Infante made that stuck with him more.
"I felt bad because when [Austin] Jackson made the triple, I had the opportunity for a walk-off [hit] and I don't make contact in that situation," Infante said. "It didn't work out. I had another situation, and in that situation I wanted to make contact. He threw me a slider, and I made contact to center field. That's why I feel good. I made a base hit in that situation to tie the game."
Leyland careful not to overhype Jackson
DETROIT -- Perhaps it was because the Yankees were in town, or because of his 4-for-6 performance in Sunday's extra-innings comeback victory over the Indians, but there were quite a few questions asked about Austin Jackson in manager Jim Leyland's pregame session on Monday.
And the word "star" was being used.
"I don't think that matters; I think you just let time take its course," Leyland said when asked if Jackson needs a few more years before he is considered the team's "fourth star."
"If he turns into a star, great. You know he's going to be a good player. I think he's going to be a star at some point, but what's really the difference?"
Jackson is still only 25 years old. He joined the team in December 2009 as part of the three-team deal that sent former Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson to the Yankees. Jackson, a prospect at the time, had no Major League experience at that point.
Two-plus years into Jackson's big league career, it's evident he's rapidly maturing and turning into exactly what the Tigers organization hoped he would be. In a short time, he's gone from a player with alarming strikeout totals to a key component on what Detroit hopes will be a playoff team.
Jackson is not Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder or Justin Verlander. But this year, he might be just as important as those stars -- at least that's what the numbers suggest.
According to FanGraphs, Jackson's Wins Above Replacement total is 4.7, the highest on the Tigers -- including Miguel Cabrera (4.5) -- and the third highest in the American League behind Angels rookie Mike Trout (6.7) and Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano (5.1).
And Jackson's fielding stats are even more impressive. He's one of six outfielders without an error in 2012. Of those six, his range factor of 2.47 is the highest. It's also the seventh highest of all AL outfielders.
"I think he's at the point now where he's getting very comfortable as a very good Major League player," said Leyland, not ready to give Jackson the "star" label yet. "I think that takes time. You can't make a senior out of a freshman."
Tigers bump fireballer Rondon up to Triple-A
DETROIT -- Tigers relief prospect Bruce Rondon and his triple-digit fastball allowed just two earned runs on 15 hits over 21 2/3 innings for Double-A Erie, overmatching most of the Eastern League. The Tigers have decided to give the right-hander a new challenge by stepping him up a level with a month to go in the Minor League season.
Detroit made the move official on Monday, promoting Rondon from Erie to Triple-A Toledo. The Tigers have said nothing about whether Rondon -- the club's No. 4 prospect, according to MLB.com -- could end up being a September callup once rosters expand, but Monday's move will probably fuel speculation.
Rondon, 21 and listed at 270 pounds, has regularly topped 100 mph on radar guns. He hit 102 mph on the Kauffman Stadium radar gun at last month's XM All-Star Futures Game. That kind of fastball, no doubt, can make an impact in the big leagues. The question is whether that impact will come this year.
"I'm just going to keep working hard, and we will see what happens in the future," Rondon told reporters at the Futures Game. "We don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. All I can do is control how hard I work."
The move was a bit of a surprise. If Rondon was going to be moved at all, the expected destination was the big leagues, given the belief that there was little he could learn at Triple-A. Mud Hens closer Chris Bootcheck's injury on Sunday night might have changed the organization's thought process.
"In our evaluation, Rondon was ready to be moved to Toledo," Tigers vice president/assistant general manager Al Avila wrote in an email on Monday.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. Anthony Odoardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.