Detroit Tigers News

Detroit Tigers–Tracking The Cats Who Left The Den

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Ever wonder what your long-lost high school buddies are up to?

Or how about that girl you dated junior year?

And whatever happened to your first house that’s up for sale again–did the new owner build that deck you never quite got around to because you were too busy watching Tiger baseball?

If you’re so inclined, compliments of the internet and social media, you may tidily procure the answers to these and other pressing issues related to your former life.

As rabid Detroit Tiger fans, we too are subject to similar curiosities regarding the players who in former times we passionately applauded, but no longer perform under the banner of the Olde English “D”.

This abiding interest is generally fueled by two factors.

First, the jettisoned player may well have been one of your favorite Tigers, and it’s entirely possible you still proudly attend games at Comerica Park with his name neatly knitted across the back of your jersey.

Second, and more to the point of this article, it’s instructive to gaze back upon general manager Dave Dombrowski’s major trades with an eye towards how they worked out for both teams.

This exercise, however, will not be a strict “thumbs up, thumbs down” device for evaluating each trade. The reasons for that are twofold.

First, the final word hasn’t been written on each player’s performance.

Many of the players populating this article are young, with the lion’s share of their careers in front of them. It would be preliminary and speculative to judge how they will eventually pan out.

The second reason is that the “fairness doctrine” is at play here. This suggests there’s no easier target practice than second-guessing a trade with the benefit of hindsight. No general manager is afforded that privilege, and the fair-minded fan should be subject to the same rule.

That said, where I’ve rendered an opinion on a trade below, it was enunciated on these pages at the time of the transaction.

So let’s turn to the major trades (excluding free agent transactions) the Tigers have made in the past two years to see how the expatriates are currently performing for their new teams.

Avisail Garcia (to Chicago White Sox) and Brayan Villarreal (to Boston Red Sox) for Jose Iglesias–July, 2013

Top outfield prospect Garcia was injured after being dealt to the White Sox and missed most of 2014. This year he is healthy, starting in right field, and slashing .292/.333/385 in 65 at bats.

Villarreal struggled in the Boston organization and signed a minor league contract with the Minnesota Twins this offseason.

Comment

The Tigers gave up a lot in this trade in the form of the toolsy Garcia, but the wondrous Iglesias made it all worthwhile.

Prince Fielder (to Texas Rangers) for Ian Kinsler–November, 2013

Fielder’s dismal postseason numbers as well as his perceived laissez faire attitude following the team’s dismissal from the 2013 ALCS sealed his fate in Detroit. He injured his neck in early 2014 and missed the rest of the season in Texas. This year he is off to a solid start as a Ranger, hitting .333. He has yet to rediscover his power stroke, though, as he has only six extra base hits in 87 at bats, only one of which is a home run.

Comment

Though the Tigers still owe Fielder millions, finding a taker for most of his bloated salary was one of Dombrowski’s finest moments. In the process they secured an elite second baseman in Kinsler, who–though not inexpensive himself–was a 2014 All-Star.

Doug Fister (to Washington Nationals) for Robbie Ray, Ian Krol, and Steve Lombardozzi–December, 2013

If Dombrowski ever writes his memoirs, perhaps he’ll admit this trade was an egregious mistake. Without gauging Fister’s true value around the baseball world, the Tiger GM abruptly dealt the lanky right hander, who fit the statistical profile of a cherished number two starter. Further, Fister had two years of club control remaining at an affordable salary, which made him a highly attractive commodity.

Fister had a typical stellar 2014 for the Nationals, carving out a 16-6 record, with a 2.41 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. He also got the decision in the Nationals’ only playoff win.

This year he’s at it again, with one win, one loss, and an ERA of 3.28.

Comment

Ray has since been traded, Krol has struggled and Lombardozzi is languishing in AAA ball for Baltimore.

In exchange for Fister, Dombrowski needed a sure thing. He completely whiffed.

Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel (to Texas Rangers) for Joakim Soria–July, 2014

Desperate for relief pitching, the Tigers paid a dear price in sending two of their top pitching prospects to Texas for an upper-echelon set-up man/closer in Soria.

Thompson (21), projected as an innings-eating, mid-rotation starter, finished 2014 with minor league totals of 10 wins, 5 losses, an ERA of 3.12 and a WHIP of 1.23. He is now pitching in AA for the Rangers, and is 2-2, with an ERA of  5.12 and a WHIP of 1.55.

Knebel was flipped to the Milwaukee Brewers in January. The reliever finished 2014 with a minor league ERA of 2.18 and a WHIP of 0.99. This year he’s hurling for the Brewers’ AAA team and to date is 1-1, with an ERA of  4.50 along with a WHIP of 1.63.

Comment

This was a classic trade deadline “the future is now” trade for the Tigers. Considering it only netted a little over two months of Soria (plus a $7 million club option for 2015, which they eventually picked up),  some–including myself–considered the price prohibitive at the time.

On the other hand, one shudders to think what the Tiger bullpen would look like today without Soria as the closer.

Austin Jackson (to Seattle Mariners), Drew Smyly and Willy Adames (to Tampa Bay Rays) for David Price–July, 2014

At the time, this blockbuster appeared to be the master stroke that would secure a World Series berth for the rotation-rich Tigers. Obviously it didn’t break that way, but they retain the services of staff ace Price through 2015.

Jackson, always popular in Detroit, had a cool second half after being dealt to Seattle (.229/.267 /.260). So far this year he is slashing a similar .229/.264/.325 as their starting center fielder. As in Detroit, he’s the Mariners’ lead-off hitter, although one wonders how long that’ll continue if his OBP doesn’t improve.

Smyly excelled after landing in Tampa Bay, as he went  3-1, with an ERA of 1.70 and a 0.76 WHIP. He was beset with an injury this spring, and has only recently rejoined the rotation. The early returns are again impressive, though, as he has an ERA of 3.37 , a WHIP of 0.84 and 15 strikeouts in 11 innings.

The young Adames was a key element in the deal, as he is only 19 years-old and has already been placed at Tampa Bay’s high-A affiliate. He has more than held his own at various minor league outposts, despite being almost four years younger than the average  player in the league. He is currently slashing .284/.338/.433.

Comment

This trade was universally acclaimed from the Tiger side last summer and remains a sound transaction. You only get so many swats at glory and the Tigers can’t be maligned for going for it.

Devon Travis (to Toronto Blue Jays) for Anthony Gose–November, 2014

The trade of Jackson created a void in center field, which the Tigers filled by trading second baseman Travis to the Jays. Travis was considered by many to be the Tigers’ number one prospect and has taken Toronto by storm. He started raking early in spring training and in short order won the starting second base job.

He is currently slashing .342/.405/.658, and no doubt has thrilled Toronto with his production.

Comment

Whereas both Travis and Gose are off to good starts, Toronto’s new second baseman gets the early nod. The season is young, though, and Gose is speedier and a better defender.

In any case, Travis was blocked at second base by Ian Kinsler and netted Detroit a welcome asset.

Robbie Ray and Domingo Leyba (to Arizona Diamondbacks) for Shane Greene (via Yankees)

Having suffered Ray’s inconsistency over a full season, given the opportunity Dombrowski didn’t hesitate to wheel him to Arizona, with Greene coming to Detroit in a three-way deal. Ray is again pitching in AAA where he’s 1-2, with an ERA of 4.19 and a 1.71 WHIP.

Like Adames in the Price deal, Leyba is a young infielder with significant potential. At 19 year’s old, he’s slashing .294/.293/.353 at high A , despite being almost four years younger than the league average age.

Comment

Front-line pitchers are hard to find, and it appears Detroit may have found one in Greene. One year removed, the original trade involving Ray can now be construed as two years of Fister plus Leyba for Greene and Ian Krol, which should make it somewhat more palatable for Tiger  fans.

Rick Porcello (to Boston Red Sox) for Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Wilson, and Gabe Speier–December, 2014.

This transaction weakened the Tigers’ starting rotation while bringing a dynamic offensive player to the Motor City.

Aside from signing a lucrative ($82.5 million) new contract, Porcello has had a rough go of it in Beantown in the early going (2 -2, 5.34 ERA, 1.25 WHIP), though he had a strong outing on Wednesday.

Meanwhile Cespedes is off to a hot start and has added considerable clout to an already potent line-up in Detroit.

Comment

This was a bold trade by Dombrowski. He gambled the back-end of the starting rotation could be filled competently in the absence of Porcello, and so far it’s worked. We’ll find out definitively in September if it was a long-term bet worth taking.

Eugenio Suarez and Jonathon Crawford (to Cincinnati Reds) for Alfredo Simon–December, 2014

A promising young shortstop and a pitcher who was the team’s number one draft choice in 2013 for one year of a 33-year-old former relief pitcher?

With the exception of the Fister-Ray trade, this transaction seemed the most inexplicable of Dombrowski’s recent moves.

To date, though, Simon has comported himself well (4-1, 3.13 ERA, 1.17 WHIP).

As for Suarez, he’s stationed at AAA as the team’s starting shortstop, with a slash line of .213/.289/.387.

Jonathon Crawford–please call home!

Despite an exhaustive search, I was unable to glean any information regarding Crawford’s status in 2015. He was due to report to spring training for the Reds in early March, but does not show up in their spring training stats, nor does he appear on the roster of any of their farm teams.

I can only assume he incurred some type of injury in early March and is shut down indefinitely.

His 2014 minor league stats at low A West Michigan were 8 wins and 3 losses, with an ERA of 2.85 and a WHIP of  1.16.

Comment

So far Simon’s fast start has made Dombrowski look good, but if he tails off in the same fashion as last year this trade will be regarded as highly questionable.

The Bottom Line

Major league baseball  is a zero sum game.

Every day someone wins and someone loses–this is true not only on the field but less visibly in the front offices of the 30 MLB teams.

General managers are under unrelenting pressure to improve their team, and to that end have vast networks at their disposal. Among these are domestic and international scouts, an extensive collection of minor league teaching and coaching professionals, and a full complement of specialists at the major league level.

To the extent the general manager marshals his resources and makes well-advised decisions, his reward is to retain his job.

If he swings and misses more than his peers, though, he’ll quickly discover the acronym “GM” also stands for “Gone in a Minute”.

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