Ferguson: Tigers GM Dombrowski likes to make the big trade

Scott Ferguson
8/1/2014 12:17:08 PM
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What would you think of a general manager who's had a losing record everywhere he's been?

Would you forgive him for making arguably the worst trade in franchise history? Would you hire him if you had the chance? Of course you would, in a "New York" second!  At least if his name was Dave Dombrowski.

Let me explain.

Dombrowski was hired to be the Montreal Expos GM back on July 5, 1988. At 31 he was the youngest general manager in the game. At that point in their history, the Expos had only made it to the postseason once back in the strike split 1981 campaign. The pressure was on to get back to the "promise land" and it was believed the Expos were just one ace pitcher away from getting there.

Less than a year after being hired Dombrowski pulled the trigger on a five-player deal with the Seattle Mariners on May 25, 1989. He got his ace in lefty Mark Langston along with a prospect for pitchers Gene Harris, Brian Holman and some guy named Randy Johnson. You might remember him, a flame throwing lefty, a 6'10" tower of power who had trouble finding the strike zone. Though Langston pitched well going (12-9) the rest of the way, Montreal didn't make the playoffs and Langston signed with the Angels as a free- agent after that season. 

Johnson, meanwhile, blossomed into a superstar and went on to a Hall of Fame career.

Making trades like that can dog a guy for the rest of his career, but Dombrowski was only getting started. In September 1991, he became general manager of the expansion Florida Marlins. By 1997, the Marlins had won their first World Series thanks in part to the open vault approach of owner Wayne Huizenga, who just as quickly ordered

Dombrowski to dismantle the team after the 1997 triumph. Dombrowski was gone by the time the Marlins won their second World Series in 2003, but it was organization and the team he helped build.

The Blue Jays were interested in hiring Dombrowski in 2001, but he chose the Detroit Tigers where he became club President as opposed to GM. But that didn't last very long. After the Tigers dropped their first six games in 2002, he immediately fired GM Randy Smith and manager Phil Garner and assumed the general manager's title for himself.

The next couple of years were rough, especially 2003 when the Tigers lost a Major League record 119 games breaking the All-time mark of the woeful 1962 New York Mets. By 2006 though, the farm system was flourishing, the right deals were made and Tigers made it to the World Series for the first time since 1984. Though they lost the Fall Classic in five games to the St. Louis Cardinals, the Tigers were back as a team that would be factor in the American League for the foreseeable future. They made it again to the World Series in 2012 under Jim Leyland but lost again, this time to the San Francisco Giants in four straight.

But it's not just the World Series appearances that intrigue you about Dombrowski. It's the way he constructs the "monster deal." In less than seven years, he has pulled off four career defining deals, that are arguably four of the biggest completed over that time span. It started on December 4, 2007, when he picked up Miguel Cabrera, who would become a two-time Triple Crown champ and lefty Dontrelle Willis from his old club in Florida for six prospects none of whom are with the Marlins now, though one lefty reliever Andrew Miller was dealt by the Boston Red Sox to the Baltimore Orioles at this year's non- waiver trade deadline.

Two years later on December 8, 2009, he may have pulled off the biggest trade of the bunch in a three-way swap with the Arizona Diamondbacks and the New York Yankees. The haul: a former first round draft pick of the D-Backs Max Scherzer who would go on to win the Cy Young award four years later, pitcher Dan Schlereth, reliever Phil Coke and centre field prospect Austin Jackson from the Yankees. Detroit sent right hander Edwin Jackson to Arizona and centre fielder Curtis Granderson to the Yankees. The Yankees completed the swap by sending right hander Ian Kennedy to Arizona.

This past off-season, Dombrowski was able to pull off a more modest one-for-one deal with the Texas Rangers. This one allowed the Tigers to send the onerous contract of Prince Fielder to the Rangers for second baseman and top of the order hitter Ian Kinsler. Dombrowski had no way of knowing Fielder would break down and require neck surgery that would knock him out for basically all of the 2014 season, but it turned this deal into a steal.

That leads as to this year's non-waiver trade deadline. After Oakland's Billy Beane had acquired ace lefty Jon Lester from Boston along with Jonny Gomes, for slugging outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, Dombrowski played his trump card and picked up former Cy Young winning lefty David Price from the Tampa Bay Rays in a three-way swap with the Rays and the Seattle Mariners. The price tag, no pun intended wasn't nearly as steep as you might have expected. Seattle got centre fielder Austin Jackson from Detroit. The Rays wound up with Tigers lefty Drew Smyly, Mariners middle infielder Nick Franklin and a prospect. You could argue Dombrowski won all four of those blockbuster deals.

As mentioned off the top, Dombrowski has had a losing record with each team he has been the GM of, though there were extenuating cash flow problems at times in Montreal and Florida. His career record as a general manager is a meager 905-975 with about eight weeks to go in the 2014 season. But who would argue that he hasn't put together a Hall of Fame resume and maybe this will be the year he joins the elite group of general managers who've won World Series in both leagues.


Interesting stat in the Buffalo News this week; the Bisons have made 194 roster moves this season, and that was before the Blue Jays called up reliever Chad Jenkins this week. That is a modern franchise record. The Bisons are in an all-out playoff push and last made the post season in 2005.

This will give you an idea of how important that 21-9 month was to the Blue Jays. They are only (27-26) since June 1st. Still the Jays are holding down that second Wild Card slot and are just a 1.5 game back of first place Baltimore in the AL-East.

The upcoming home stand starting Tuesday night against Baltimore and continuing through next week versus Detroit is the most important August stand in two decades.

That's where the real playoff push begins.

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