He is called Dave the Dombrowski-nator. Think Terminator, mixed with the Dominator, mixed with Polish heritage.
Such was the word on the street whispered by general managers across baseball at this year's winter meetings about Dave Dombrowski, general manager of the Detroit Tigers.
The Jedi Master who turned the expansion Florida Marlins into World Series champions has now orchestrated two World Series appearances for the history-rich Tigers, basement dwellers before Dombrowski weaved his magic.
You have to remember, the Tigers were perennial 100-game losers and at one point set the AL record with 119 loses in a season. Three years later, the 2006 Tigers were in the World Series.
That run featured free agent signings of Magglio Ordonez, Kenny Rogers, and Pudge Rodriguez along with three trades so one-sided they were laughable, bringing the Tigers Carlos Pena, Jeremy Bonderman, Carlos Guillen and Placido Polanco.
Since, Dombrowski has dismantled and rebuilt another championship-quality team, just as he did with the Marlins. Here’s a look at the main moves that turned these Tigers into Perennial World Series Contenders.
The Trade Master
There were numerous inconsequential trades throughout Dombrowski's history and a few even ones.
What stands out are the immense number of highway robbery steals Dombrowski has made acquiring both veterans and future stars. While not every player has worked out, he's never really been burnt with Curtis Granderson, Matt Joyce and Jair Jurrjens being the most notable losses during his tenure. Consider these steals:
Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis for Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller and three other minor leaguers — Willis was a bust, but so were the prospects. Tigers got Cabrera, the best hitter in the game, for free;
Max Scherzer, Austin Jackson, Phil Coke, and Daniel Schlereth for Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson — While Granderson has been a star in New York, Edwin Jackson has been inconsistent and Scherzer, Coke and Austin Jackson were fixtures on last year's World Series team;
Jhonny Peralta for Giovanni Soto — Peralta has been the most reliable shortstop in the game finishing in the top couple every year in fewest errors and has been a reliable bat in the Tigers line-up. Peralta had worn out his welcome in Cleveland and Dombrowski swept in at the right time. Soto who?;
Delmon Young for Cole Nelson and Lester Oliveros — Young was a proven big leaguer on his way out and Dombrowski bought low. Young proved to be a steal and the Tigers’ best hitter in the playoffs two years in a row. Nelson and Oliveros were busts;
Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante for Jacob Turner, Rob Brantly and Brian Flynn — It's still early on the prospects, but the main one, Turner, has struggled and not made an impact. Sanchez was unhittable in the playoffs and World Series and Infante is a top 10 Major League second basemen;
Doug Fister and David Pauley for Casper Wells, Charlie Furbush, Chance Ruffin, Francisco Martinez — Pauley was a bust but Fister is an ace, a perfect complement to Justin Verlander. Fister is a rare breed, tall easy thrower with great movement and control. Fister is in his prime and should be good for a while and cheap. None of the prospects have done anything to this point although the jury is still out on Martinez and Ruffin.
As great as those trades have been, strong drafting has provided the Tigers with a young foundation to build around.
Perhaps Dombrowski's best attribute seems to be his uncanny knowledge of which prospects to let go and which ones to hold on to. He consistently has gone for top end starting pitching in the early rounds which has been a big key to his trade leverage. He has also had great success finding and developing talent in South America.
• Justin Verlander (1st round -2004) - Cy Young, MVP
• Rick Porcello (1st round - 2007) - 48 wins in 4 years, only 24
• Drew Smyly (2nd round - 2010) - 3.99 ERA as rookie
• Alex Avila (34th round - 2005) - 2012 All Star
• Andy Dirks (8th round - 2008) - .322 average in 2012
• Brayan Villarreal - (non-drafted free agent - 2005) - 2.63 ERA in 2012
Dombrowski knows who he wants. He usually only signs one or two per off season but he's been very aggressive going after them early in free agency and they've been impact front line players. He has gotten them at a reasonable cost, with the notable exception of Prince Fielder, and hasn't had any bad franchise killing contracts.
• Prince Fielder (.313 30 HR, 108 RBI)
• Jose Valverde (51 saves in a row)
• Joaquin Benoit (One of the best set up men in the game, 2.95 ERA in 2011, 3.68 ERA in 2012)
• Octavio Dotel (One of the best 7th innings guys in the game 3.57 ERA),
• Torii Hunter (We'll see),
• Victor Martinez (.330, 103 RBI)