Tigers’ GM proves master of the trade

It’s unfair to judge a general manager’s career while it still is going on.

Had you talked to me in 1996, I’d have told you that then-Cleveland Indians GM John Hart was one of the best in the game.

Then Hart seemingly forgot how to draft, obsessively traded prospects for veterans, then bolted to the Texas Rangers where he had no success.

Had you talked to me in 1999, I’d have argued Jim Bowden’s genius. The man found just enough discarded parts from other teams – Pete Harnisch, by then 32 and thought to be done as big league starter, won 16 games – to engineer a team that won 96 games and tied for the National League Wild Card.

After the season, Bowden traded for Ken Griffey Jr. and the team began a nosedive it took more than a decade to recover from. Put it this way: Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman was once asked to list his favorite days with the Reds.

The day Bowden was fired in 2003 was one of them.

Bowden was the GM for the Washington Nationals. Now he’s a radio show host and an ESPN contributor.

So when I write about how impressed I am with Tigers’ General Manager Dave Dombrowski and his trading prowess, I’m fully aware that times change, and a great GM today could be mediocre analyst tomorrow.

It’s the business.

It’s just that right now, Dombrowski is excelling at it.

I write this as something less than a fan of the Tigers. The Indians – my team – last won a division in 2007. Since then, it seems that whatever the Indians have done, Detroit has done it better.

Yes, the Tigers have more money to spend than the Indians. But Dombrowski is spending his team’s money better than almost anyone in the American League. The Indians – regardless of what some people claim – do spend money. But they don’t always spend it well. For fun, go to www.baseballreference.com and see what Brett Myers did last year, and how much he was paid for it. Gets me every time.

Dombrowski impresses me because he does things differently. If the Tigers need a starting pitcher, they not only get the best one on the market, but they do it in their own way.

David Price, a Cy Young winner, figured to get the Tampa Bay Rays a haul of top prospects.

The Rays got them. But they didn’t get them from Detroit.

Traditionally, a small-market team trades a top starter for three or four prospects. Look at the Indians when they traded CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee in consecutive years. In each of those trades, the Milwaukee Brewers and Philadelphia Phillies, respectively, traded their futures to win immediately. The Indians ended up with an All-Star – Michael Brantley – from the Brewers’ deal. Most in Cleveland prefer not to talk about the Cliff Lee deal.

When the Indians were consistent contenders in the 1990s, they frequently parted with young players like Danny Graves, Sean Casey, Steve Kline, David Bell, Brian Giles and Jeremy Burnitz to acquire veterans.

Some of those deals were better than others.

But the point is, those deals followed the formula.

Dombrowski doesn’t.

When he made the deal for Price, he didn’t gut his system. He merely subtracted from his big league roster. He worked a deal that also included the playoff-hopeful Seattle Mariners. The M’s got center fielder Austin Jackson. The Rays got starter Drew Smyly and 18-year-old minor league infielder Willy Adames. Seattle sent young outfielder Nick Franklin to the Rays.

So, to recap:

The Tigers gave up two major leaguers to get Price, who still is under their control for 2015. In Jackson, they lose a fantastic defensive outfielder. Price simply will replace Smyly in the rotation. The minor leaguer they gave up is years away from making an impact.

It’s win-win.

It’s also being a great – for now – general manager.

Bravo, Mr. Dombrowski.

Zach Baker is the sports editor for The Advertiser-Tribune.

Contact him at:

zbaker@advertiser-tribune.com or on Twitter @Zachthewriter