Dave Dombrowski was hired as the Detroit Tigers president and CEO in November 2001. Six games into the 2002 season, he fired then-general manager Randy Smith and inserted himself into that post. Dombrowski is now in his 14th season in that role with the Tigers, and is the architect of one of the most successful eras in franchise history. The team has been to the playoffs four years in a row, an unprecedented feat in the club's 115 seasons of existence.
To get to this level, Dombrowski has had to make some savvy moves and acquisitions. From signing Ivan Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez to trading for Miguel Cabrera, "Trader Dave" has earned his reputation as one of the top executives in the game. The big moves are well known, but there are several others that have gone by the wayside. One reader (and friend of the site), H. Jose Bosch, asked about some of those lesser moves.
@blessyouboys In his career, what has been Dombroski's most underrated move as a GM.— Hector Jose Bosch (@HJBosch21) June 18, 2015
Instead of cramming my answer into a few paragraphs at the back end of a mailbag post, I thought this question deserved more attention. So, I did what any self-respecting blogger would do: I stole an idea from our friends at Crawfish Boxes and polled the entire staff. Here are their answers.
Deserving of a mention is acquiring Jhonny Peralta for nothing, and re-signing him for $16.8 million. Peralta put up over 11 wins above replacement (WAR) in Detroit, or roughly $1.5 million per WAR. Not to mention the fact that his suspension opened the door for Dombrowski to trade for Jose Iglesias.
Getting Jose Iglesias to be the shortstop of the future in response to a player getting suspended is one of the more impressive Dombrowski moves. At the time, people thought the Tigers bought a premium glove and an empty bat, but it is becoming increasingly clear that Iglesias brings much more to the Tigers. Additionally, the Tigers left with the best player in the trade. Getting an All-Star caliber shortstop with elite defense, impressive contact ability and ample speed for the cost of a toolsy-but-raw right fielder (still miss you, Avisail Garcia) and Brayan Villarreal is looking like a steal.
The trade also embodies Dombrowski at his best, building to win now and shoring up needs for the future to hold up that heavy window that causes everyone so much stress.
Phil Coke's Brain:
That's easy. Getting Delmon Young for Cole Nelson and Lester Oliveros in a deal after the non-waiver deadline. Sure, Delmon can't field, throw, or stay in the good graces of the Anti-Defamation League but he was good in the post-season and was easy to get!
I hate to say it, but I think picking up Delmon Young in 2011 is the most underrated move. It's underrated because of Delmon's off-field controversies and deplorable defense, so people probably don't think of this move as being a good one -- but he was good enough offensively to be voted the ALCS MVP in 2012, and he put up pretty solid numbers for the Tigers as soon as he showed up in 2011.
Getting Carlos Guillen from the Mariners. One of the most memorable moments in Guilen's Tiger career when he homered off Los Angeles Angels pitcher Jered Weaver.
Tom said what my immediate thought was: trading Ramon Santiago for Carlos Guillen. For icing on the cake, Dombrowski then picked up Santiago off waivers for nothing, meaning that Guillen was essentially free. Carlos hit .297 as a Tiger, with a .366 on-base percentage, 95 homers and 449 RBI in 3009 at-bats. Santiago stuck around for another eight easons after the Tigers reacquired him.
I gotta go with the trade for Carlos Guillen. As Patrick already pointed out, we essentially got him for free. That in itself makes it a brilliant move. But on top of that, the trade always felt like an important part of the Tigers turnaround after hitting rock bottom in 2003. Everybody always talks about signing Pudge, and no doubt that was important too, but nobody really talks about the Guillen trade. That trade really signified the beginning of a new era for me.
Jeff Roberts (bobrob2004):
Underrated as in no one talks about it? Trading Matt Joyce for Edwin Jackson. Jackson had a very solid year for the Tigers in 2009, with a 3.62 ERA and an All-Star selection. That trade also set up the Max Scherzer/Austin Jackson trade, a trade that likely would not have happened with Joyce instead of Edwin.
I'd say the double moves at the 2011 trade dealine that sent away Antonio Cruz and Julio Rodriguez for Wilson Betemit, as well as trading away Casper Wells, Francisco Martinez, Chance Ruffin, and Charlie Furbush for Doug Fister and David Pauley. Betemit filled a huge hole at third with Brandon Inge hitting sub-.200 and Fister went on an absolute tear to help Detroit lock up its first ever AL Central Division title.
I like the Placido Polanco trade. We knew we were getting a solid defender, but had no idea of the offense he would supply to the team as it made its World Series run. He also was a great chemistry guy, a sort of stealth bonus piece who became part of a great group. In addition, Dombrowski was able to jettison Ugueth Urbina in the process.
Trading for Miguel Cabrera. This seems counterintuitive because he's a Hall of Fame caliber player. But seriously, for all the good moves -- trading Curtis Granderson for Max Scherzer and Austin Jackson, the Ramon Santiago for Carlos Guillen deal, Placido Polanco, etc., Miguel Cabrera has been in Detroit for so long you kind of forget that a trade brought him here. It just feels like he's always been a Tiger. Getting a deal done in the first place blew my mind, and Dombrowski didn't give up any players who went on to careers of great acclaim. No matter how high you rate this deal, it's always going to be less than the actual impact on the organization. This was a huge deal in the history of the Detroit Tigers.
I'd have to say the Cabrera trade. It was straight robbery and a minor miracle that Dombrowski was able to pull that off. It's hard to see this now, but imagine if Cabrera had turned out to be a fluke and all of those traded players had become/stayed hot instead of burning out. It could have gone down as his worst trade -- worse than the Fister trade. Yep, I said it.
I'm also going to go with the Cabrera trade. That was gigantic. I still can't believe that happened.
I'm seconding Catherine with the Cabrera trade. People knew he had talent, but I don't believe anyone anticipated the level of production he would put out in the coming years. Hands down, one of the best opportunities the Tigers took advantage of.
To my mind, acquiring a future Cy Young winner who at that point was just a great arm with no success to recommend it is one of the hardest things to do. So, I'll take the trade for Scherzer, Austin Jackson and Phil Coke. That was the backbone of the four division titles. It came at a time very similar to this past offseason, when people felt that the team was aging out.
Max could have been nothing, and pitchers break down constantly. Jackson might have been a year away from being ready for the majors. Instead we got one of the best starters in the game and one of the better centerfielders for several years, and cut a lot of payroll all in one fell swoop. Those savings helped us pay Victor Martinez and then Anibal Sanchez. It was a brilliant trade that a lot of people looked at like a risky rebuild, that might at best pay dividends a few years down the road. Instead it was the key to this current run.
Let's give the Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez trade some love here as well. Both were integral pieces in the World Series run. Infante was especially good in 2013 and Anibal, outside of some rough patches this year, has been an outstanding number three starter in some loaded rotations, including casually finishing 4th in the AL Cy Young voting in 2013.
Dombrowski parted with Rob Brantly, Brian Flynn, and Jacob Turner. Obviously Turner was the catch on this trade, and those players are still young, but unless Turner ends up massively outperforming his current trajectory, this was a big win for Dave.
Something that hasn’t been mentioned is the Rick Porcello trade. It was a trade that was rumored forever. Many people, including myself, weren’t a fan of the trade immediately. I hoped that it would be a wash at best. Additionally, it looked like Dombrowski was giving away a first round pick, since Cespedes isn’t eligible for draft pick compensation.
Instead, it has been a clear win. Cespedes has been worth 2.6 WAR thus far, and Porcello has been with 0.6 with a 5.29 ERA. Additionally, Alex Wilson, who Dombrowski said was acquired because of the difference in draft pick eligibility between the two, has been worth 0.5 WAR.
Dombrowski has added 2.5 WAR this year, and we still have half of the season to go. If the Tigers make the playoffs, it may be because of this trade.
The most underrated move of Dombrowski's tenure with the Tigers was hiring Jim Leyland as manager. I think that Leyland's presence in that 2006 clubhouse was one of the few instances where the manager has a tangible and significant impact on a team's win-loss record. His mid-April rant to the media after a loss to the Cleveland Indians is now the stuff of legend, and helped spring the team to a 95-win season and their first playoff appearance in almost two decades.
Leyland's eight years in Detroit parallel Dombrowski's as the most successful period in Tigers history. Leyland ranks third in franchise history with 700 wins, and he is one of two Tigers managers to be over 100 games above .500. It's disappointing that Leyland wasn't able to win a World Series with the Tigers, because that would have cemented his legacy as the best manager in team history.
What do you think is Dombrowski's most underrated move as Tigers general manager?