It’s a Wonderful Life, Dave Dombrowski


With all the flak that Dave Dombrowski has been getting over the poor return that he has gotten for Doug Fister (which is going to make fans think about other trades, like Edgar Renteria for Jair Jurrjens and gnash their teeth) it’s time for a little bit of a retrospective. What would the Tigers look like today if Dave Dombrowski was the most conservative GM ever and hadn’t made a single trade in his tenure? We’ll assume that any guys that the Tigers retain any and all of the veterans that they didn’t trade away, for simplicity’s sake.

Who on the current roster would the Tigers not have without trader Dave? No Miguel Cabrera. No Max Scherzer. No Austin Jackson. No Ian Kinsler. No Phil Coke.

Oct 8, 2013; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays right fielder

Matt Joyce

(20) at bat against the Boston Red Sox in game four of the American League divisional series at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers would still be making decisions this offseason about whether or not to re-sign Omar Infante and Ramon Santiago, but those two would have been Tigers for a decade already at this point in their careers. Beloved icons. There would be no extra in-house options to replace them (no Iglesias, no other prospects) so I think Infante would be a lock for an extension. I don’t think the Tigers would be enthusiastic about giving Santiago a new deal – given how “well” he hit last year but… The market is awfully thin for shortstops at the moment – it’s possible the Tigers might be the ones offering Rafael Furcal the 1-year $3.5 million deal or looking hard at Danny Worth or Hernan Perez for the position.

The Tigers never would have traded away Curtis Granderson, or Matt Joyce or Cameron Maybin. They’d also still have Casper Wells as a productive 4th outfielder and young Avisail Garcia knocking on the door. Offseason considerations for the outfield would revolve around Maybin’s health and whether to resign Granderson or hand LF to Garcia (probably not if you’re worried about Maybin). There never would have been a need for Torii Hunter, so those dollars likely would have been spent elsewhere (more on that later)

The spot in the rotation occupied by Max Scherzer at the moment would be occupied by Jacob Turner instead – who had a decent year in Miami in 2013 but really didn’t show the K/BB ratio you’d like to see. We wouldn’t be betting on any Cy Youngs in his future, but he’d be a lot cheaper – and under control for a number of years. The Tigers never would have traded for Doug Fister, hence never traded him away, but that would have left a definite hole in the rotation (given that Andy Oliver, Charlie Furbush and others flopped there). The Tigers never would have had Edwin Jackson to begin with – so I think it’s safe to assume that they would have been pursuing a starter heavily pre-2009 season (and would have been every bit as eager to outbid their rivals for Anibal Sanchez a year ago) – especially given just how bad the Tigers 2008 rotation was. The top free agent that offseason – if you recall – was C.C. Sabathia. I’m going to guess that the Yankees still would have outbid everyone for HIS services, but that the Tigers would have scooped up AJ Burnett – who probably would have done pretty well for Detroit, in a park less homer-happy than the one they have in New York. Now it would be the Tigers, rather than the Pirates, wondering whether Burnett would choose to resign or retire.

Though Santiago and Infante would have locked down the middle infield for years, without Miguel Cabrera Brandon Inge would have stuck at third for a while and the team would have had simply NO first baseman for years and years. Dmitri Young was a trade acquisition, so were Sean Casey and Carlos Pena. They might have given longer looks to Chris Shelton or the various AAAA-type prospects that have been through the system. I’d guess that the Tigers would have been dabbling on the free agent market from the moment Dombrowski arrived – when Detroit was a very, very unattractive destination – to try to fill that hole. As a result it’s next to impossible to say who would actually be at first base right now, but it’s not at all outlandish to imagine that they would have signed Victor Martinez to the exact same deal 3 years ago to play first and that they would have signed Prince Fielder to the exact same deal 2 years ago when Martinez got hurt. Since Dombrowski never traded Fielder away, he’d still be here. As for third – Brandon Inge was still under contract for the 2012 season, but he was so awful in 2011 that Dombrowski pushed him out by signing Fielder. I’d assume that in this alternate reality, the Tigers would have actually written a check to Aramis Ramirez to play third – something that was much discussed that offseason.

The backup catcher would be Rob Brantly, so at least that position would be taken care of.

Of the many, many prospects that Dave Dombrowski has traded away over the years – few have amounted to anything significant. Of those that have (other than the outfielders) the guys are mostly relievers and some have been really pretty good. The Tigers would have Charlie Furbush and Andrew Miller as quality lefties out of the ‘pen (assuming Miller was just as bad as a starter in 2008 in Detroit and found his way to the ‘pen). They’d also still have righties Jason Grilli, Burke Badenhop and Jason Frasor (who was traded away a long, long time ago) and a whole bunch of “depth” in guys like Chance Ruffin, Brayan Villarreal, Mauricio Robles, etc… the kind of guys you call up when somebody gets hurt or hope will earn a job in spring training. If we assume that the Tigers still felt the need to sign Jose Valverde to be that shutdown closer following before the 2010 season – they still wouldn’t have needed Joaquin Benoit or Octavio Dotel. When Rondon looked like he couldn’t handle closing in 2013 – it would have been the Tigers (not the Pirates) going to Grilli to close games. He’d still be thriving in that role – and the bullpen as a whole would look settled and deep.

Last season would not have been all that great, really. Maybin and Granderson missed almost the entire year – with Andy Dirks, Casper Wells and Garcia filling in. Bad knees put Ramirez on the shelf for a chunk of the season, so we saw a whole lot of Don Kelly. Ramon Santiago continued to not hit and is on the way out. It wasn’t ALL bad, though. The bullpen was actually really good. Verlander, Sanchez and Burnett made for an exceptional top 3. Smyly and Turner split time as the 5th starter – neither being what you would call ‘bad’ (and both possibly better than Rick Porcello). I’d say this team would not have won quite so many games as the real 2013 Tigers – though they would have been more likely to match their Pythagorean record. The pennant race with Cleveland would have gone right down to the wire (like in 2009).

We would assume that, at this point in the offseason, Alternate Dave Dombrowski has already re-signed Omar Infante to play second and has made a qualifying offer to Curtis Granderson. If Maybin’s knee isn’t right – they’ll need him, otherwise they’ll be comfortable using Avisail Garcia as a 4th outfielder OR giving him Grandy’s job in left. There don’t seem to be any good options at short – which is what is probably going to spend most of it’s collective energies debating. Fans – especially sabermetrically-minded ones – are very concerned about the Tigers poor infield defense, given how bad Prince Fielder and Aramis Ramirez both are at the corners. There’s no room for Nick Castellanos at third – yet – and if Ramirez’ trade value wasn’t negligible we’d probably be trading him away to make room. We’re wondering if Burnett will return or retire, but prepared to move on without him. The Tigers can afford to spend – but the only real position of need has absolutely nothing to bid on.

Here’s what we expect from the 25-man roster for 2014 – with OPS or ERA from Steamer in brackets:
(though we’d rather resign Burnett and let Smyly and Turner fight for the 5th spot…)
1. Cameron Maybin (CF) [.695]
2. Omar Infante (2B) [.733]
3. Matt Joyce (RF) [.781]
4. Prince Fielder (1B) [.884]
5. Victor Martinez (DH) [.799]
6. Aramis Ramirez (3B) [.803]
7. Alex Avila (C) [.757]
8. Avisail Garcia (LF) [.734]
9. Rafael Furcal (SS) [.694]

Bench: Don Kelly, Andy Dirks, Hernan Perez, Rob Brantly

1. Justin Verlander [3.62]
2. Anibal Sanchez [3.62]
3. Rick Porcello [3.85]
4. Drew Smyly [4.02]
5. Jacob Turner [4.68]

Closer – Jason Grilli
RHP: Jason Frasor, Burke Badenhop, Al Alburquerque, Bruce Rondon
LHP: Andrew Miller, Charlie Furbush