Early on in my youth, the Tigers gave me no reason to watch baseball. They were an appalling team with appalling players. The only reason they were relevant at all was because of how inferior they were. Dave Dombrowski changed that for me. What he did with the Tigers gave me a reason to watch and eventually love baseball. With that said, no GM is perfect and Dombrowski was no exception. He made his fair share of blunders, but more often than not, “DD” homered more than he struck out. Today we’re taking a walk down memory lane and looking at the ten best (and five worst) moves that Dave Dombrowski ever made with the Tigers. I’ll be taking into account the importance of the move and the impact it had on the franchise. In trade situations, I’ll be paying special attention to what the Tigers gave away and what those players went on to do with their careers. So let’s get started, shall we?
10. Signing Maggio Ordonez (2/5/2005)
It took several years for this one to pan out. Ordonez’s first year with Detroit was riddled with injuries. But his next three campaigns were spectacular and his 2007 season was up there with some of the best that the franchise has ever seen. In his MVP runner-up season, Mags posted a major league-best .363 average and led baseball in doubles with fifty-four. His shining moment came in the 2006 ALCS, when Mags sent the Tigers to the World Series on a walk-off home run against the Athletics.
9. Trading Avisail Garcia to the White Sox and Bryan Villarreal to the Red Sox for Jose Iglesias (7/31/2013)
With Jhonny Peralta facing a fifty game suspension for PEDs, the Tigers were left without a shortstop for the second half of the 2013 season. Jose Iglesias was supposed to be nothing more than a temporary placeholder. Right away, Iggy made an impact with the Tigers. He held his own with the bat and showed plenty of flash with the glove. The trade didn’t fully pay off until 2015, a season that has shown that Iglesias will be this franchise’s shortstop for years to come.
8. Trading Austin Jackson to the Mariners and minor leaguer Willy Adams to the Rays for David Price (7/31/2014)
David Price was baseball’s hottest commodity at the 2014 trade deadline. Lots of teams were in the running to get him, and lots of GM’s would’ve sold their soul for a piece of him. With only minutes to spare, it was the Tigers who were able to dive in and seize Price at the deadline. He got off to a bit of a rocky start with the Tigers, going 3-4 in his first nine outings and posting a 4.09 ERA. Like a true ace, Price was able to turn it on when it mattered most. With the division title hanging in the balance on the last day of the 2014 season, Price was brilliant, going seven and a third innings and holding the Twins to zero runs, surrendering only four hits along the way. He also had an exceptional postseason start against the Orioles, despite taking the loss. Even though he was traded in 2015, Price was one of the few reasons that the Tigers were able to stay afloat during a rocky first half.
7. Plucking J.D. Martinez out of obscurity (3/24/2014)
J.D. Martinez was cut by the Astros in 2014. For those with short term memory, there was a time when getting cut by the Lugnuts was less of a slap in the face. Over the next month, J.D. honed his craft, working on his swing. I imagine the experience being similar to Luke Skywalker’s training on the Dagoba system. A month later, he was a member of the Detroit Tigers. Today, he’s an All-Star outfielder who has become one of the premiere hitters in the game, and the Tigers got him for literally nothing. I almost didn’t put this on the list because to me, this was more an Al Avila move than it was a Dave Dombrowski move. But DD had to finalize the deal and he trusted Avila enough to pull the trigger so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on this one.
6. Signing Pudge Rodriguez (2/2/2004)
This was the one that started it all. At the time, it was one of the most shocking free agent signings in the history of baseball. For a player of Pudge’s caliber to sign with a team that had lost one hundred and nineteen games the year before was beyond unexpected. But somehow Dombrowski was able to pull it off. At the risk of sounding corny, it was Pudge who believed in this franchise before anyone else did.
5. Acquiring Doug Fister and David Pauley from the Mariners for Casper Wells, Francisco Martinez, and Charlie Furbush (7/31/2011)
The Tigers needed to bag a solid back end of the rotation starter if they wanted to win the Central in 2011. They traded for Doug Fister of the Seattle Mariners, a six foot eight, twenty-seven-year-old starter who, despite maintaining a respectable ERA, had a dismal 3-12 record when he was acquired by the Tigers. He wasn’t a player who was on anyone’s radar, he wasn’t some can’t miss commodity, but he may have ultimately been the biggest reason why the Tigers won the division in 2011, and that’s saying something considering the fact that Justin Verlander was the MVP that season. After three mediocre starts to begin his tenure with Detroit, Fister finished the 2011 campaign in dominant fashion. His last 8 appearances; 7-0 0.65 ERA. He was the winning pitcher in game five of the ALDS against the Yankees in Yankee Stadium as well as the winning pitcher in game three of the ALCS against the Rangers. He went on to post solid numbers in both 2012 and 2013. Fister was a workhorse on the mound, and the Tigers traded pretty much zilch for him.
4. Trading minor leaguers Jacob Turner, Rob Brantly, and Brian Flynn as well as a draft pick to the Marlins Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante (7/23/2012)
This one really goes overlooked. The Tigers had gotten no production from second base in the first half of the 2012 season. Trading for a middle infielder seemed as though it would be a must at the trade deadline, but to be able to snag both a quality second baseman and a capable back end of the rotation starter seemed unfathomable considering how little they were willing to give up. Infante helped the Tigers win the AL pennant in 2012 and followed that up with a career-best season in 2013. Sanchez was given a contract extension after 2012 and has since become a staple of the Tigers rotation. They wouldn’t have sniffed the playoffs in 2012 or 2013 if not for these two acquisitions.
3. Hiring Jim Leyland (10/4/2005)
Dowbrowski might have changed the landscape of Detroit baseball, but Jim Leyland changed the attitude. David hired a manager who had no intention of winning in three or five years, he hired a manager who intended on winning the second he arrived in Detroit. And win he did. In his first year, Leyland led the Tigers to the World Series. As Jack Ebling has often said, “Jim Leyland had a knack for getting people’s attention” and right away, he got the attention of the players and the fans. He might not have always shown it, but Jim Leyland loved managing the Detroit Tigers, and his players loved playing for him so much that they would’ve ran through walls for him. Skipper had his fair share of haters, but the numbers don’t lie. Eight years, eighty-seven and a half wins per season, four playoff appearances, three division championships, and two World Series berths. Can’t do much better than that.
2. Trading Edwin Jackson (from DET), Curtis Granderson to the Yankees for Max Scherzer, Daniel Schlereth, Phil Coke, Austin Jackson (12/8/2009)
This was a move that showed off the genius of Dave Dombrowski. Edwin Jackson and Curtis Granderson were both coming off of career best seasons. Lots of GM’s would’ve desired to sign them to long-term contracts. But DD saw something that no other GM saw, that was a lack of upside. Dombrowski felt that both of them had peaked, and he was absolutely right. Schlereth might not have panned out, but the other three all became key pieces to the Tigers success over the next few years. Phil Coke might’ve had a few infuriating moments, but his performance in the 2012 postseason gives him a free pass in my book. Then there is Austin Jackson. When A-Jacks was at his best, he was every bit as good as Granderson, and every bit at flashy. And of course Max Scherzer, a highly touted prospect who got off to a bit of a bumpy start in Detroit, but turned out to be one of the best pitchers and people that the franchise has ever had. Granderson has gone on to have a solid major league career, but trading him and Edwin was a move that very few would’ve had the guts to make.
1. Trading Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, Mike Rabelo Eulogio De La Cruz, Dallas Trahern and Burke Badenhop to the Marlins for Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera (12/5/2007)
I didn’t originally want to put this at number one for a few reasons, the main one being Dontrelle Willis. Willis set the franchise back a few years when he was given a contract extension before he’d even made a single start with Detroit. Dude took the money and ran, never doing a single thing with the Tigers. With that said….it’s Miguel Cabrera. Andrew Miller has turned into one of the elite relievers in all of baseball, but….it’s Miguel Cabrera. It really doesn’t matter who else was in that deal, it’s Miguel Cabrera. Willis’s contract wasn’t Cabrera’s fault, and even if it was….IT’S MIGUEL CABRERA. Three batting titles, two MVP’s, a triple crown, four division titles, an AL pennant, the list goes on and on. He has and will continue to be the face of the franchise and Dombrowski didn’t have to bend over backward to acquire him. Cabrera was one of the elite hitters in the game when the Tigers traded for him, but almost no one thought he’d become the monster that he has, ALMOST no one.
Now it’s time we discuss the stinkers, the head scratchers, the ones we regret. Here are Dombrowski’s worst moves with the Tigers
5. Signing Joe Nathan (12/4/2013)
It was between this or the Troy Percival signing but I went with Joe because it had more of an effect on the franchise. The Tigers needed a closer for the 2014 season, and Nathan seemed like the ideal choice. Right away, it was apparent that Nathan was no longer the pitcher that he once was. Despite saving thirty-five games for the Tigers last season, Nathan was wildly inconsistent, posting a 4.81 ERA and blowing seven saves. He didn’t blow a single save in 2015, that was because he missed the last one hundred and sixty-one games due to injury. Nathan was supposed to cure a wound, but instead he left the bullpen in critical condition.
4. Acquiring Jarrod Washburn from the Mariners for minor leaguers Luke French and Mauricio Robles (8/1/2009)
There are trades where both teams win. There are trades where one team wins. But there are also trades where no team wins. That’s what happened here. This trade looked like it was going to be a steal for the Tigers. Washburn was in the midst of a major comeback season and trading him for two unproven minor league prospects seemed like a sure-fire win for the Tigers. But Washburn was a complete bust with Detroit. He not only went 1-3 with an ERA over seven, but he suffered an arm injury and never pitched in the major leagues again.
3. Giving Justin Verlander a seven-year contract extension (3/29/2013)
It’s tough the really criticize Dombrowski for this move, but i’ll do it anyway. Verlander had no doubt earned a contract extension after his 2011 and 2012 seasons, but seven years? Even if Verlander didn’t fall off the way that he has, seven years for someone who was already seven years into a career that included a lot of innings and three deep postseason runs was a little bit much. Four or five years I would’ve understood, but a seven-year extension has since made Verlander completely untradeable. Even if JV is able to be a consistent starter for the rest of his career, he won’t earn the money that he’s being given.
2. Signing Dontrelle Willis to a three-year, $29 million dollar contract extension (12/21/2007)
I already talked about this one. Bottom line, Dombrowski gave a twenty-nine million dollar contract to Willis, which was about twenty-nine million more than he deserved. If you haven’t figured out by now, I really don’t like Dontrelle Willis. But I’ll leave the guy alone for now.
1. Trading Doug Fister to the Nationals for Ian Krol, Steve Lombardozzi and Robbie Ray (12/3/2013)
Every day it seems like this trade looks worse and worse. Ian Krol has good stuff, but his ERA can’t seem to get below six. I didn’t include a photo of Steve Lombardozzi in a Tigers uniform because he was traded before he ever played a regular season game in a Detroit Tigers uniform, and after a few disappointing starts last season with Detroit, Robbie Ray was eventually traded….for Shane Greene. Nothing about this trade made sense. It didn’t make sense at the time, and it looks even worse now. Fister might be having a down year in 2015, but he’s Bob Gibson compared the rotation that the Tigers have right now. It was a poorly timed and ill-advised trade that spelled the beginning of the end of the Dombrowski era.
What do you think were Dombrowski’s best and worst moves with Detroit? You can tell me on Twitter at Twitter.com/Castellani2014. Thanks for reading, have a good one, and GO TIGERS