Detroit Tiger Off-Season Trades A Mixed Bag


Sep 4, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Detroit Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski watches the game from the press box in the ninth inning at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re a serious sports fan, you’re living in a golden era.

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You have a cornucopia of information at your fingertips–print and online newspapers and magazines; radio and television sports talk shows; live, world-spanning audio and video game coverage; and even a plethora of special interest websites (such as our own Motor City Bengals), which drill deeply into stories not covered by the mainstream press.

If you partake regularly of these resources, have some background in the sport, and care passionately about your favorite team, you naturally form well-documented opinions about how your team is managed, both on the field and in the front office.

So with that in mind my well-informed friends, because we’re Detroit Tiger fans and we care about such things, it’s time to pass judgment on general manager Dave Dombrowski’s off-season trades.

First though, to ensure the integrity of the process, there’s a proviso–just like double D, we don’t get the benefit of hindsight. To summarize that concept in somewhat earthy terms: “Once you opine, your butt is on the line”.

In practice, that means if you think trading Rick Porcello was a mistake (as I do) and Yoenis Cespedes goes on to have a great year and hits a walk-off home run to win the World Series, you are morally bound to drop to your knees, confess your mistake, and pay homage to the venerable House of Dombrowski.

Then, and only then, should you proceed to party like a rock star.

Adhere to this simple fairness doctrine, and Voila!–you’re now a fully certified second-guesser.

Got it?

Good, let’s begin.

The Trade (12/11/14)

Rick Porcello to the Boston Red Sox for Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Wilson, and Gabe Speier.

This trade was unnecessary and destructive.

It erodes the Tigers’ gold standard frontline pitching rotation, which was already in danger of losing free agent Max Scherzer when the trade was finalized. Scherzer’s subsequent departure makes it look even worse.

Sure, Cespedes should help in left field, but a platoon arrangement of Rajai Davis and Tyler Collins or a late season Steven Moyà could have largely accomplished the same thing.

Reducing the Tigers’ stable of reliable starting pitchers from four to three (David Price, Justin Verlander, and Anibal Sanchez) was an extreme ransom to pay for Cespedes, and one the Tigers will eventually regret.

The Grade–D

The Trade (12/05/14)

Robbie Ray and Domingo Leyba to the Arizona Diamondbacks for starting pitcher Shane Greene (via the New York Yankees).

This transaction represents Dombrowski’s tacit admission he whiffed on one of his most controversial trades as Tigers’ GM.

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But trading away Ray could cause even further angst within Tiger circles if he eventually develops into what they thought he was when they originally acquired him.

Similarly, Leyba is an intriguing prospect who as a mere 18 year-old last summer posted a partial year OPS of .919 for West Michigan in A ball. His inclusion in the trade made this an irresistible “2 for 1” special for Arizona as they wheeled shortstop Didi Gregorius to the Yankees.

Ominously, Leyba represents yet another precocious middle infielder the Tigers have jettisoned in past months in a frantic effort to remain competitive.

Of course if you happen to turn that proverbial “win now” coin over, the inscription on the other side reads “lose later”.

But that’s the price you pay, so to speak, if you’re the 2015 Tigers.

As for Greene–who knows?

Since he’s essentially replacing Porcello in the rotation, and they’re both the same age (25), consider that Porcello has amassed 76 major league wins and Greene has a total of, er, five.

If he struggles, at least Greene will have some ready-made intro music each time he trots out to the mound. I can almost hear Kermit warming up on his lily pad right now……

Mr. Ballpark DJ? Please cue up “It’s Not Easy Being Greene”.

The Grade–C

The Trade (11/12/14)

Devon Travis to the Toronto Blue Jays for center fielder Anthony Gose.

Lest I begin to resemble “The Grinch Who Stole The Off-Season”, Dombrowski may have nailed this one.

Though he possesses a nice hit tool, second baseman Travis has defensive limitations and probably was not going to play full-time in Detroit in the foreseeable future. Despite his lofty status as a prospect in a bereft Tiger farm system, he has probably approached his ceiling.

Gose, on the other hand, could leap off the chart if he starts to hit just a little–a little more than his current career batting average of .234, that is.

In the meanwhile, the Tigers can afford to wait on Gose’s bat as he dazzles in center field and on the bases.

The Grade–A

The Trade (12/11/14)

Jonathon Crawford and Eugenio Suarez to the Cincinnati Reds for Alfredo Simon.

A most curious transaction.

More than anything, this trade is an indictment of the Tigers’ scouting department, which pressed the button on starting pitcher Crawford (2.85 ERA, 1.16 WHIP at Single A West Michigan last year) with the 20th pick of the 2013 MLB draft. Such picks are precious commodities, and it’s discouraging to see Crawford prematurely banished from the organization at the age of 23, while fetching only a modest return.

Of course this was yet another “2 for 1” trade which required the Tigers to also (incredulously) include young shortstop Eugenio Suarez in the package.

Suarez, as you remember, was rushed to the majors last year to fill the shortstop void created by Jose Iglesias‘s injury, and performed creditably (.242 BA).

His upside remains that of an everyday shortstop, and as the Tigers discovered last year, such hombres are hard to find.  Additionally, his departure further reduces the team’s depth, which could be crucial should Iglesias become unavailable for an extended period.

So what did the Tigers receive in return?

If you haven’t already guessed from the tone of this commentary, it’s a bit underwhelming,

One year, I repeat one year, of a 34 year-old pitcher who had an ERA of 4.52 in the second half last year. Simon will make $5.55 million in 2015, and was a first-time starter in 2014. He also arrives with baggage, as he is entangled in a 2011 murder case in his native Dominican Republic.

To be fair, there are pluses.

Simon had a pristine first half last year with 12 wins, an ERA of 2.70, and made the National League All-Star team. He also has a tidy career ERA of 2.78 out of the bullpen, which is exactly where he’ll find himself if last year’s second half performance turns out to be the rule rather than the exception.

Overall, though, this trade remains inexplicable.

The Grade


The Bottom Line

There’s a whiff of desperation in the air.

As they face yet another post-season devoid of a World Series title, one gets the distinct impression the Detroit Tiger front office is making loose personnel decisions inimical to the long-term interests of the franchise.

Of course that is not their intent, and the Tiger brain trust is an accomplished group of professionals with an enviable track record.

But it’s apparent, from this perch at least, that the Tigers are over-reaching.

And in the end, over-reachers tend to under-perform.

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