It all started with two draft picks. The Tigers selected Curtis Granderson, an athletic outfielder from Chicago, with their third round pick in the 2002 draft. Three years later, they drafted a corner outfielder named Matt Joyce. Just months earlier, Joyce's Florida Southern team had tied the Tigers 2-2 in an exhibition matchup.
The two contributed a fair amount of value to the Tigers during their tenure. Granderson put up 21.2 rWAR in six seasons in Detroit and became a fan favorite. Joyce was worth 1.7 WAR in just 92 games with the Tigers in 2008. Not to be outdone, he also saved a kitten. Joyce was traded after the 2008 season, while Granderson and the Tigers parted ways after 2009.
Even though it has been five years since either of them suited up for the Tigers, the repercussions of those two draft picks are still being felt throughout the organization.
Joyce's departure was the first domino to fall. Nearly six years ago to the day, the Tigers traded Joyce to the Tampa Bay Rays for right-hander Edwin Jackson. Joyce has continued to succeed in Tampa, compiling nine WAR in six seasons. Meanwhile, Jackson put up a career best 4.2 rWAR in his lone season in Detroit. He was named to the AL All-Star team and allowed a 3.62 ERA in a career high 214 innings.
Then, it happened.
Five years ago today, the Tigers completed a blockbuster three team trade with the New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks. Granderson was sent to New York, and Jackson to Arizona. In return, the Tigers received a pair of players from both teams. Center fielder Austin Jackson and left-handed pitcher Phil Coke came over from the Yankees, while right-hander Max Scherzer and lefty Daniel Schlereth arrived from the D-Backs.
The move quickly paid dividends. Jackson made himself at home at the top of the Tigers' lineup, hitting .293/.345/.400 with 48 extra base hits in 675 plate appearances in 2010. He finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting, a snub many Tigers fans still remember today.
Scherzer didn't start off as hot as Jackson, but by the end of the 2010 season, he still had Tigers fans excited for the future. He was 6-5 with a 4.61 ERA in the first half, but allowed a 2.47 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in the second half.
Even the relievers made some positive contributions. Coke was 7-5 with a 3.76 ERA and 3.23 FIP in 64 2/3 innings, resulting in 0.5 rWAR. Schlereth only pitched 18 2/3 innings and walked 10 batters, but ended up with a 2.89 ERA and 0.3 rWAR.
This was only the beginning, though. Jackson had an up-and-down career with the Tigers, but hit a solid .277/.342/.413 in just under 3000 plate appearances. He contributed 20.3 WAR across five seasons. Scherzer, the biggest name involved in the deal from the Tigers' perspective, has evolved into one of the best pitchers in the game. He won the 2013 AL Cy Young award and has made two All-Star teams. He contributed 21.5 rWAR in five seasons, and is expected to become one of the highest paid pitchers in baseball this offseason. Coke and Schlereth were not quite so effective, but still contributed a combined 1.2 rWAR in their respective Tigers careers.
The best part? That's not all. Jackson was part of the trade that brought star left-hander David Price to Detroit last July. Price's numbers fell off slightly from a torrid pace he set in Tampa to start the year, but he still tallied 1.9 rWAR in 77 2/3 innings, with potential for another big season in 2015.
So, let's add everything up. Between Granderson, Joyce, both Jacksons, Scherzer, Schlereth, Coke, and Price, the Tigers have gotten a whopping 72 WAR out of two draft picks, neither of which was a first round selection.
Amazingly, this "transaction tree" still has plenty of life left. Price has one more season left before he hits free agency, and the Tigers could accumulate a pair of compensation draft picks for Scherzer and Price, unless one of them is re-signed.
While this is definitely the Tigers' most productive transaction tree, it is not the longest. That distinction belongs to one that started back in 1997, when the Tigers signed Fernando Rodney as an amateur free agent. The end of that tree? The newest Tiger: right-hander Shane Greene. Ben Lindbergh of Grantland wrote an article about the longest transaction trees in Major League Baseball, and the Tigers ranked 21st on that list.