Detroit Tigers: When Prospect Love Goes Wrong

Miguel Cabrera look at the 2012 Triple Crown Award. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Miguel Cabrera look at the 2012 Triple Crown Award. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /
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How have prospect trades worked out for the Detroit Tigers since 2000?

You see the comments and the threads on Reddit about why X team should not trade their prospects for a veteran bat. So I started thinking about the major trades the Detroit Tigers have made since 2000, and if any of them have come back to haunt the team.

Why go back twenty years? Well, it covers the last portion of the Randy Smith era and the entire Dave Dombrowski regime. I disqualify the John Smoltz trade from the conversation because that angle has been beaten to a pulp.  So, with that, here is what we are looking at for each trade:

  1. Was a prospect high on a prospect list? (MLB Pipeline, Baseball America)
  2. Did the prospect produce at least a 2.0 WAR or more?
  3. How good did the Tigers get after the trade?

Let’s start with the 1999-2000 off-season, as this trade involved quite a few prospects.

The Juan Gonzalez trade

Traded Alan Webb, Frank Catalanotto, Francisco Cordero, Bill Haselman, Gabe Kapler, and Justin Thompson to the Texas Rangers. Received Juan Gonzalez, Danny Patterson, and Gregg Zaun.

Gabe Kapler had just one season under his belt in which he hit .245 with 18 home runs and put up a 1.8 bWAR for the Tigers in 1999. Kapler was the number one prospect on Baseball America’s Top 10 Detroit Tigers list and was ranked 34th overall. In three years with the Rangers, he put up a slash line of .280/.342/.433 and hit 31 home runs, good for an overall bWAR of 2.8.

Francisco Cordero, on the other hand, was second on the organization’s top 10 and not ranked in the top 100, but became an effective reliever for the Rangers. He earned an All-Star nod in 2004, and racked up 117 saves while putting up an overall WAR of 9.7 in seven seasons.

Frank Catalanotto had a good 2001 season in which he hit .330/.391/.490 and put up an impressive 4.1 bWAR.

So what did Detroit get back? One mediocre season of Juan Gonzalez (1.9 WAR) and two seasons or quality relief from Danny Patterson before injuries took a toll.  So for this first deal, the prospects fans win.

The Carlos Gullien trade

Traded Juan Gonzalez (minors) and Ramon Santiago to the Seattle Mariners. Received Carlos Guillen.

Santiago was on Baseball America’s Top 10 organizational board for about three seasons and even climbed into the top 100 twice.  He didn’t work out in Seattle and was back with Detroit two years later. And the return on Carlos Guillen was pretty, pretty good. This Juan Gonzalez never played in the majors.  The Tigers won this round handily.

The Gary Sheffield trade

Traded Anthony Claggett, Humberto Sanchez, and Kevin Whelan to the Yankees. Received Gary Sheffield.

Sanchez was another top 10 organizational arm, but these three pitchers saw just seven games in the majors. Detroit wins here.

The Miguel Cabrera trade

Traded Dallas Trahern (minors), Burke Badenhop, Frankie De La Cruz, Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, and Mike Rabelo to the Florida Marlins. Received Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis.

Outside of giving Willis a contract extension, Detroit won this trade in what was probably Dave Dombrowski’s best move ever. Maybin and Miller got better elsewhere, and Badenhop had a solid career, but Miguel is one of the best players to ever wear the Old English D.

The Doug Fister trade

Charlie Furbush, Chance Ruffin, Francisco Martinez, and Casper Wells to Seattle for Doug Fister and David Pauley.

Doug Fister became a huge part of the Tigers’ rotation, putting up 2.5 WAR in 2011 alone, and helped them reach the ALCS. Furbush spent five seasons in the Mariners bullpen (1.3 WAR) but he was not the marquee name in the trade. Ruffin was out of baseball by the end of 2013. The Tigers won this round again

Anibal Sanchez anchors the rotation

Traded Rob Brantly, Brian Flynn, and Jacob Turner to the Marlins. Received Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez.

Jacob Turner was the number one prospect in the organization’s top 10, and among the top 100 on Baseball America’s list. In Sanchez and Infante, the Tigers landed two veterans who helped the team stay competitive for the post-season. Turner was a bust (-2.6 WAR), and though Flynn and Brantly have had decent careers, they wouldn’t have helped the 2012 Tigers stay in contention?

The Jose Iglesias trade

Avisail Garcia to the Chicago White Sox and Brayan Villareal to the Boston Red Sox. Received Jose Iglesias from Boston.

Garcia was highly ranked on Baseball America and MLB Pipeline. Garcia was an All-Star with Chicago, but Iglesias was too for Detroit in 2015, so this one worked for both teams.

Joakim Soria joins the bullpen

Traded Corey Knebel and Jake Thompson to the Rangers. Received Joakim Soria.

Knebel got better elsewhere and Thompson bounced around the league for a few different ballclubs. Soria was decent in his time in Detroit, but I will consider this a victory for the prospects.

The David Price trade

Willy Adames and Drew Smyly to Tampa for David Price.

Adames was relatively unknown to all but the hardcore prospect lovers, and the general fan base was stoked for David Price. Price helped the club reach the playoffs one last time, and he was later flipped for Matthew Boyd and Daniel Norris, so the trade paid off for Detroit two-fold. Smyly was solid for the Rays (3.8 WAR), and Adames has been their starting shortstop for 2.5 years, ranking up 7.2 WAR so far. Still, this seems like a win for both sides.

Devon Travis to Toronto

Devon Travis to the Blue Jays for Anthony Gose.

So for these next few trades, I will admit I was angry when they happened. Travis was the first legit Tigers second base prospect in years, and he was rising through the system quickly out of Florida State. Granted, Travis was not able to stay healthy in the majors, but he gave the Jays 5.5 bWAR. Even before the trade, Gose could not hit against lefties and struck out too much. Gose is now a minor league pitcher who can touch 100 MPH.  A win for the prospects fan.

The Shane Green trade

Domingo Leyba and Robbie Ray to Arizona in a three-team deal that sent Shane Greene to Detroit.

This one trade was fine, as the return was Greene, and Ray was not an effective pitcher in his time in Detroit, although that was based on just six starts. But Shane Greene was pretty good in his time in Detroit, and both were All-Stars, so both teams won this trade.

The Eugenio Suarez trade

Jonathan Crawford and Eugenio Suarez to Cincinnati for Alfredo Simon.

Fans were upset the moment this trade happened. The Tigers traded for a veteran pitcher who had one good half of the season for two prospects in Suarez and Crawford, who were highly regarded. Simon was gone after one bad season, and though Crawford was a bust, Suarez has been a star for the Reds, with158 home runs and 14.5 WAR over parts of six seasons. In this case, the prospects fans won.

Overall, the Tigers got the best of most deals, managing to stay competitive for about a decade. There were two rough deals that came back to haunted them over a span of 20 years. For all the faults of Dombrowski and his spending, he was one hell of a trader.

If another team believes in what you have, and you can get proven quality back, it shows it can pay off. Fans may love prospects, but history shows that prospects don’t always love us back.

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