Since taking the reigns in Detroit, Dave Dombrowski has only made a couple of trades exchanging only minor leaguers. The first of these was dealing pitcher Matt Coenen for the rights to Rule 5 selection Chris Spurling. Spurling provided the Tigers with roughly league average relief during the 2003 campaign, and as he continues his recovery from Tommy John surgery, he could become a useful reliever, while Coenen has continued struggling with his control in the Atlanta organization. Until one player steps up and contributes in some fashion, this trade is certainly a wash.
Last spring, Dombrowski dealt for hard-throwing reliever Felix Sanchez from the Cubs, giving up lefties Jon Connolly and Eric Eckenstahler in the process. Connolly had been one of the organizations most dominating pitchers during his brief career, despite less than average "stuff." Neither team has gotten much production from this trade yet, as both Connolly and Sanchez are on the shelf with injuries, and Eckenstahler is on the road to pitching himself out of baseball; another wash.
Two deals that are intertwined in DD's legacy at this point are the 2004 trade of outfielder Cody Ross to the Los Angeles Dodgers for power lefty Steve Colyer, and the subsequent 2005 trade of Colyer to the Mets for swingman Matt Ginter. The Ross for Colyer deal has generated much debate amongst Tiger fans, polarizing many on the virtues of general philosophy and production. While Ross battled a broken hand in 2004, Colyer battled his search for the strike zone. Fortunately for the Tigers, they were able to find a taker for Colyer, turning him into a potentially useful bullpen arm, hoping to help solidify the most glaring weakness of the 2004 team. Until any of the players involved in these interconnected transactions accomplish anything of significance at the Major League level, it will be hard to consider the trade as having favored any of the teams involved.
Dombrowski's trades at the minor league level have not yet provided the Tigers with anything to look forward to, but when evaluating the deals on the whole, the Tigers have not lost any major contributors at this point.
The last grouping of trades that requires evaluation would be those that involve the Tigers shipping prospect out of town for established Major Leaguers.
One of the first moves Dombrowski made with the Tigers was to try and find a speedy centerfielder to cover the spacious outfield at Comerica Park. It's a good thing first impressions are not always the lasting impressions, because the two deals Dombrowski made while looking for a centerfielder, flopped big time. Now, keep in mind that neither of these deals had any significant long-term impact on the organization, but they are also not the type of trend you want to establish in your trading legacy.
At the recommendation of manager Alan Trammell, DD traded the organizations top catching prospect, Mike Rivera, to the Padres for Gene Kingsale. That trade was followed up by shipping pitchers Tom Farmer and Jason Frasor to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Hiram Bocachica. As a Tiger fan, think back to the contributions of Kingsale and Bocachica. Are you having a little trouble thinking of any contributions? Yeah, so did I. Since Frasor is the only player involved in either trade to go on to any success, I think it is safe to chalk these two deals up as ties.
In yet another attempt to find a speedster for centerfield, the Tigers sent outfielder "Noochie" Varner and pitcher Chad Petty to the Brewers for leadoff man Alex Sanchez. Sanchez had maddened the Milwaukee brass with his inability to listen and improve, and Kirk Gibson thought he could get through to the raw talent. Well, that didn't work out so well either, as Sanchez was released this past spring, in part due to his frustrating defensive lapses, and also in part to his violation of the league's new substance abuse policy. Since neither Varner nor Petty has gone on to any abundance of success, and Sanchez did help in some respects, I would be willing to give a very slight edge to Dombrowski on this one.
The Tigers final two trades under Dombrowski's thumb thus far, were made this past offseason. First, the Tigers traded prospects Scott Moore, "Bo" Flowers, and Roberto Novoa to the Chicago Cubs for flame-throwing set-up man Kyle Farnsworth and a player to be named. Following the start of spring training, the Tigers then sent shortstop prospect Anderson Hernandez to the Mets for backup catcher Vance Wilson. While it is still far too early to evaluate these trades based on performance, we can certainly discuss the philosophy that guided them. Acquiring a more than adequate backup catcher was an essential task for the Tigers heading into this past offseason. Acquiring that backup catcher while only giving up a middling prospect like Hernandez was a job well done by the Tiger's GM. Dealing away three solid prospects for a generally league average reliever, who throws hard and has the potential to breakout, is a bit more questionable; at least in my mind.
That's quite the collection of trades over the course of only three and a half years. In my mind, summarizing briefly, I think DD should keep swindling people out of prospects by trading away some of his Major League veterans (i.e. Rondell White, Ugueth Urbina, etc.), and he should also continue to deal at the big league level, as he seems to be adept at obtaining good value for little in return at that level. I believe things get a bit fuzzier once we begin dealing with own minor leaguers. None of DD's minor league deals have netted anything of substance (and they have not hurt us either), and there are some glaring questions surrounding the trading of some prospects for the Major Leaguers we received in return.
I have developed one simple explanation for some of the deals I question most (Colyer-Ross, Sanchez-Connolly, and Farnsworth). That theory is that Dombrowski's unadulterated love for hard-throwers sometimes overshadows his objective thought about the other players involved. This is not to say I feel Dave has been wrong in his decisions, just that my personal philosophy disagrees with the ideals he has employed in the aforementioned trades.
Overall, Dombrowski has been the centerpiece in the revival of baseball in the Motor City, and without his guidance, and his uncanny knack for creating winners on a limited budget, the Tigers may well be buried deep in the doldrums of the American League to this day.