Dave Dombrowski admits he’s made some mistakes along the way, but that’s because the Tigers general manager is a humble guy who doesn’t like the spotlight on him.
Oh sure, you can talk about the Edgar Renteria move in 2008 (though all he gave up to Atlanta were Gorkys Hernandez and Jair Jurrjens) or the 2009 pickups of Jarrod Washburn (he sent Mauricio Robles and Luke French to the Mariners) and Aubrey Huff (he gave minor league pitcher Brett Jacobson to the Orioles), but lately, wow, just shake your head and bow in reverence.
That’s what some of his contemporaries in the GM business do.
The Tigers needed a shortstop for now and in the future and what did he do? He acquired Jose Iglesias, who might be the best shortstop of his generation. He gave up in the three-team deal what could be a middle-of- the-order hitter in Avisail Garcia, but Detroit has plenty of those, so for Dombrowski it wasn’t a difficult decision knowing that his shortstop, free-agent-to-be Jhonny Peralta, was about to be suspended for PED use.
Iglesias has added to an already splendid infield.
“He’s created a lot of excitement for our team and brought a lot of energy,” Dombrowski said.
Brilliant, really. What other shortstop could Dombrowski have acquired who was any better defensively? No one. What other shortstop could he have acquired to create that “energy”? Nobody else.
That he got the Red Sox to give up what many scouts believe is the best defensive shortstop to come along in 20 years was pretty impressive.
It all started, however, when Dombrowski acquired the best player in baseball in Miguel Cabrera on Dec. 4, 2007, from the Marlins. Dombrowski also got Dontrelle Willis in the deal (OK that didn’t work out), but he gave up Dallas Trahern, Burke Badenhop, Frankie De La Cruz, Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, and Mike Rabelo.
The Marlins probably would rethink that one.
The next few years have been about building around Cabrera, so the Tigers added Prince Fielder, Torii Hunter, and Victor Martinez as free agents. They built up the pitching staff, adding Max Scherzer in a three-team deal on Dec. 8, 2009. They acquired Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth from the Diamondbacks and Austin Jackson and Phil Coke from the Yankees. They gave up Curtis Granderson (to New York) and Edwin Jackson (to Arizona).
Dombrowski acquired Doug Fister on July 30, 2011, when he traded outfielder Casper Wells, lefty Charlie Furbush, Francisco Martinez, and Chance Ruffin to the Mariners for Fister and David Pauley. Fister has given the Tigers a stable No. 3 starter.
Dombrowski rounded out the staff by acquiring Anibal Sanchez on July 23, 2012, and then kept him with a five-year, $88-million deal. Dombrowski gave up pitching prospect Jacob Turner and two minor leaguers in that deal. Turner, 22, is 3-5 with a 3.13 ERA in 17 starts for the Marlins and should be a decent major league pitcher. But in Sanchez, who is 12-7 with a 1.143 WHIP and a league-low 2.68 ERA, he knows he has a quality middle-of-rotation starter on a veteran team that has a window to win the World Series in the next few years.
And sometimes it’s about the deals you don’t make.
There was so much chatter last offseason about trading 24-year-old Rick Porcello. The team’s No. 1 pick in 2007 (27th overall), the Tigers rushed him to the majors in 2009. And while he had early success, he stumbled last season, but he has found himself again. Porcello, 11-7 with a 4.44 ERA, may be the best fifth starter in baseball.
The Tigers wanted to find a spot for 24-year-old lefty Drew Smyly, who has been the bullpen all season. Smyly entered Tuesday night’s game with a 5-0 with a 2.22 ERA, 1.014 WHIP, and 71 strikeouts and 15 walks in 69 innings. He will be in the rotation going forward, Dombrowski said, but with five very good starters on the roster now, Smyly will have to wait.
One underrated, underpublicized part of the Sanchez deal is that the Tigers also received second baseman Omar Infante, who stabilized their infield.
The Tigers also have been able to incorporate smaller pieces such as Matt Tuiasosopo and Andy Dirks, who has given them big hits this season.
The Tigers definitely had a bullpen issue this season. When you watch youngster Bruce Rondon, you now understand why Dombrowski wanted to give him a chance to be the closer when spring training began. Rondon struck David Ortiz out on a 101-mile-per-hour fastball Monday afternoon. And he’s been clocked at 103. Rondon has spent most of the season in the minors, but manager Jim Leyland slowly but surely has given the youngster more responsibility as the year has gone on.
Dombrowski acquired Astros closer Jose Veras at the trade deadline, then released former closer Jose Valverde Aug. 7. Veras now acts as Joaquin Benoit’s set-up man and closed out Monday’s game. The Tigers have solidified their bullpen as a result. Now when you look out at the team that Dombrowski put together, you don’t see too many flaws.
Leyland, too, deserves a lot of credit for the masterful manipulation of a bullpen that started out pretty poorly. He’s been able to work with what he’s had and also made sure a guy like Benoit stays fresh.
It’s nice, of course, to have an owner like Mike Ilitch, who puts his rubber stamp on big-ticket expenditures. The Tigers have not been burned on those as Fielder, for one, remains a productive player who entered Tuesday night’s action with 93 RBIs hitting behind Cabrera, who entered the game with 43 homers, 130 RBIs, and a .358 batting average.
And of course the whole staff is built around Justin Verlander, a former Rookie of the Year, Cy Young, and MVP winner. Verlander, 30, may not be having his best season (12-10, 3.59 ERA), but he’s still able to crank it up when he needs to and should be a force in the playoffs.
Sometimes it’s not hard to see how an organization can be this good. All you have to do is look at Dombrowski’s history of transactions. He’s made excellent deals and signed impact free agents. Yes he may regret one or two, but the plus-minus is heavily in Dombrowski’s favor.Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.