In 14 years under Dave Dombrowski's stewardship, the Detroit Tigers won two American League pennants, four division titles, and made five playoff appearances, but failed to win a World Series title. Their four consecutive division championships from 2011 to 2014 is the longest string of first-place finishes in the team's 114 year history, while their 119-loss season in 2003 is the most by any American League team in history.
Dombrowski had a knack for making a big splash with big trades and free agent signings almost every season during his tenure in Detroit. Backed by free spending owner Mike Ilitch, the Tigers were in the market for some of the biggest named players in baseball.
Here is a look at how Dombrowski fared in several aspects of the game.
Signing free agents
The Tigers seemed to go through three distinctive phases in how they worked the free agent market over the past 14 years. After the initial tear down to begin Dombrowski's tenure, the Tigers signed Rondell White and Dmitri Young to start their rebuild. Dombrowski signed Ivan Rodriguez in 2004 and Magglio Ordonez in 2005, putting the Tigers back on the map. With the additions of Kenny Rogers and Todd Jones, the Tigers made it to the World Series in 2006, capping a remarkable turnaround.
For the next three seasons, the Tigers did not sign a single free agent player for more than $5 million nor to a multi-year contract. Instead they signed the heroes of 2006 to multi-year contract extensions while making expensive trade acquisitions. As payroll climbed, the team battled on the field, but failed to win a division title.
Following a close call in 2009, the Tigers signed a premium free agent in each of the next three years with Jose Valverde, Victor Martinez, and Prince Fielder all inking lucrative contracts. Each player performed well and earned their salaries, but each one cost the team a first round draft pick.
Other notable free agent signings have included Brandon Lyon, Troy Percival, Fernando Vina, Jose Mesa, Johnny Damon, Torii Hunter, Rajai Davis, Joba Chamberlain, Tom Gorzelanny and Joe Nathan.
The Tigers have had a lot of success in signing big free agent signings, with Nathan being the only big bust. Some smaller deals have not worked out. If anything, not making necessary acquisitions has hurt the team more.
Trades were Dombrowski's strongest suit in his time with Detroit. In both deadline deals and offseason moves, the Tigers got the better of their opponents more often than not. It helps that they had a payroll that could absorb larger salaries, as the Tigers often traded prospects for major league players, but the selection of players from the trade market has been excellent overall.
Mid-season trades brought Doug Fister, Jhonny Peralta, Placido Polanco, Delmon Young, Sean Casey, David Price, Omar Infante, Jose Iglesias, and Anibal Sanchez.
Off season trades brought Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis, Nate Robertson, Carlos Guillen, Max Scherzer, Ian Kinsler, Alex Wilson, and Yoenis Cespedes.
To really appreciate how well these deals have gone for the Tigers, make a list of the players who were traded away that thrived with their new teams. Other than the second Fister trade, trading away Omar Infante, and parting with Jair Jurrjens, few players have had ample success after leaving Detroit. The Tigers have gotten more production out of players that they have traded for than free agent signings or players that they drafted and developed.
The Tigers have gotten very little value from signing international free agents during Dombrowski's tenure. In fact, Jair Jurrjens is the only player signed by the Tigers to produce more than 1.0 WAR in the major leagues, and his production benefited the Atlanta Braves.
There are some young players in the organization who may yet become productive, such as Dixon Machado, Angel Nesbitt, and Bruce Rondon. So far, this area has been sadly lacking, and is one area where new general manager Al Avila has a strong background.
Drafting amateur players
This has not been a strong area of achievement for the Tigers during the Dombrowski era. The Tigers have failed to draft and develop talent successfully in recent years. Only four players drafted since 2002 have produced at least 10 WAR in the major leagues, and none since Alex Avila's selection in 2008. The draft has been particularly weak in recent years. Only four players on the 2015 Opening Day roster were drafted by Detroit.
It does not help that the club didn't have a first round pick from 2010 through 2012. If the team is going to have sustained success in the major leagues, they need to get more out of players that they draft and develop.
Player contract extensions
Contract extensions have been a troublesome area for Dombrowski. Multi year contract extensions rarely worked out well for the club, particularly following the team's success in 2006. Jeremy Bonderman, Dontrelle Willis, Nate Robertson, Carlos Guillen, Gary Sheffield, Adam Everett, and Brandon Inge all received extensions that the club later wished they hadn't signed.
Johnny Peralta and Anibal Sanchez signed free agent extensions that worked out well. Placido Polanco also offered solid production after receiving a contract extension, and the first extensions given to Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera worked out well.
Overall, it is hard to call Dombrowski's tenure in Detroit anything but a rousing success. He did not win a World Series, but nevertheless ushered in one of the most successful eras in Tigers history.