For most of the 21st century, Dave Dombrowski has carried the reputation of being an executive unafraid to make the big splash move even if it’s at the expense of his organization’s future.
Had he not won, the criticism would’ve been louder and more justifiable. But he has won. He won World Series two decades apart with the Marlins and Red Sox. In between, he took over a Tigers team that lost 119 games in his first year as president and CEO. Three years later, Detroit was in the World Series. Dombrowski’s Tigers teams went to two World Series and four ALCS.
You can just hear all the selling points the Phillies will provide. His track record of four pennants and two championships. The fact that Dombrowski has led teams in major markets and small markets with huge payrolls and small ones. The fact that he has presided over significant turnarounds.
People are used to hearing that he “leaves organizations in shambles,” and that’s how many of the forgettable instant Twitter takes went on Thursday when it became apparent Dombrowski was set to take the Phillies’ baseball ops job. The boring truth is that nobody knows how this is going to play out. It could be fruitful. It could be disastrous. It could be mediocre.
Is Dombrowski going to overpay a Nate Eovaldi-type here just because he did in Boston? Is he going to give an aging player a massive contract in his mid-30s just because he did with Miguel Cabrera in Detroit?
All the situations are different. With the Marlins, Tigers and Red Sox, Dombrowski was tasked by ownership to win. He was given the authority to make win-now moves. The Phillies, this offseason, do not appear to be in position to make many win-now moves, so it’s hard to see him blowing up or shaking up too much right away.
This weekend, we’ll take a look at Dombrowski’s most regrettable transactions running teams. Today, we’ll start with the moves he’s made that worked out well.
2004: Traded Ugueth Urbina and Ramon Martinez to Phillies for Placido Polanco
Polanco went on to have the best years of his career with the Tigers, hitting .311 over five seasons.
2007: Acquired Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis from the Marlins for Andrew Miller, Cameron Maybin, Mike Rabelo, Burke Badenhop, Dallas Trahern and Eulogio De La Cruz
Dombrowski acquired one of the best hitters in MLB history, in his prime, for players who mostly never panned out. Miller certainly did as a reliever but not for another five seasons. It’s similar to the Phillies trading Carlos Carrasco to Cleveland in 2009 for Cliff Lee. Eventually, Carrasco panned out, but not until five years later when he was in his late-20s so there wasn't much to dislike.
Cabrera has declined but only after a truly historic run in Detroit that included a Triple Crown, two MVPs and four batting titles.
2008: Traded Mike Hernandez to Yankees for Armanda Galarraga
Not a big move, but an example of identifying a useful under-the-radar contributor. Hernandez never appeared in the majors. Galarraga made 77 starts for the Tigers from 2008-10 with about a league-average ERA. He famously came one out shy of a perfect game because of a blown call at first base by umpire Jim Joyce.
That trade was a win even though it didn’t alter the franchise’s trajectory.
2008: Traded Matt Joyce to Rays for Edwin Jackson
Joyce has been a part-time player for most of his career. The Tigers traded him after his rookie season for Jackson, who made an All-Star team right away with the Tigers at age 25 and paved the way a year later for a much better pitcher.
2009: Traded Edwin Jackson and Curtis Granderson to the Diamondbacks in a three-team deal that netted them Max Scherzer and Austin Jackson
Scherzer’s first two years in Detroit were good, not great. Then in 2013, he went 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and was the AL Cy Young-winner. It began a string of seven consecutive top-five Cy Young finishes for Scherzer, whom the Tigers were unable to retain after 2014.
Jackson, too, for a few years was a solid everyday centerfielder and much cheaper alternative to Granderson.
2010: Traded Giovanni Soto to Cleveland for Jhonny Peralta
Peralta had better numbers in four years with the Tigers than he had in Cleveland before or St. Louis after.
Soto (not to be confused with catcher Geovany Soto) pitched three innings in the majors.
2011: Acquired Doug Fister from Mariners for Chance Ruffin, Charlie Furbush, Casper Wells and Francisco Martinez
This trade worked out brilliantly for the Tigers. Fister went 32-20 with a 3.29 ERA in three seasons with Detroit. None of the players traded to Seattle for him accomplished much.
The unheralded Fisters of the world are the types of players the Phillies failed to identify under Matt Klentak.
2012: Acquired Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante from Marlins for Jacob Turner, Rob Brantly and Brian Flynn
Another trade where none of the prospects Dombrowski dealt panned out. Sanchez, meanwhile, made 130 starts for the Tigers over six seasons and had the best ERA in the AL in one of those years.
2013: Traded Prince Fielder to Rangers for Ian Kinsler
The Tigers saved a lot of money in this trade. Fielder had seven years and $214 million remaining on his contract when he was sent to Texas for Kinsler, who had four years and $75 million remaining. The Tigers sent the Rangers $30 million to cover part of Fielder’s contract but still came away with ample savings.
Fielder’s career ended three years later, at age 32, with a neck injury. That could not have been predicted, especially after Fielder ripped off a five-year stretch from 2009-13 in which he played 809 of 810 possible games. But Dombrowski and the Tigers did identify before much of the league could catch on that Fielder was beginning to decline.
2014: Traded Austin Jackson, Drew Smyly, Willy Adames, got David Price from Rays
Price pitched well for the Tigers down the stretch in 2014, had a strong playoff start and was 9-4 with a 2.53 ERA the next year when the Tigers traded him to the Blue Jays ... and got even more (Matt Boyd and Daniel Norris) than the Rays did a year earlier.
With Red Sox
2016: Acquired Chris Sale from White Sox for Yoan Moncada, Daniel Kopech, Victor Diaz and Luis Alexander Basabe
The Chris Sale contract does not look good. His five-year, $145 million deal began in 2020, a season he missed with injury.
But you can’t deny the dominance of Sale’s first two years in Boston, one of which resulted in a championship. That’s all that should matter, unless Moncada and/or Kopech become perennial All-Stars.
Sale went 29-12 with a 2.56 ERA and seven times more strikeouts than walks in those first two years with the Red Sox.
2018: Traded Santiago Espinal to Blue Jays for Steve Pearce
A move few even noticed. Pearce was incredibly clutch down the stretch. He went on to win World Series MVP for the Sox with three homers and eight RBI in five games against the Dodgers.
Dombrowski also signed J.D. Martinez at two different stops. The Tigers’ front office deserves a ton of credit for identifying his talent after 2013 when the Astros let him walk.
Martinez signed a minor-league deal, then in parts of four seasons with the Tigers, hit .300 with 99 homers and a .912 OPS.
These were the good ones at his last two stops that shouldn’t be ignored. Not all of Dombrowski’s moves have worked out, and this weekend, we’ll take a look at the bad ones.