Two-day reboot reshapes Tigers' farm system
Dombrowski collects top prospects at Trade Deadline
BALTIMORE -- Tigers players and coaches saw a playoff spot within reach, if they could get on a roll out of the All-Star break and garner some help along the way. The run never came, and neither did the help.
General manager Dave Dombrowski saw a playoff race that was closer to being out of reach than the help needed to get there, and a team with too many soon-to-be free agents to stand pat. He and ownership chose a direction, one he admits might not have universal agreement.
"I'm sure that guys in there don't necessarily feel the same way, and I wouldn't expect them to," he said before Friday's 8-7 loss to the Orioles. "I wouldn't expect the Major League staff to feel the same way. But you take a step back [and evaluate]."
The rest of baseball largely saw a team with a window of contention that was rapidly closing, in part due to a need for young talent through the farm system. Dombrowski disagreed with it, pointing to the young players brought up and acquired in recent years, but saw the need to restock a farm system that had been stripped by trades.
Dombrowski and ownership agreed on Wednesday to be sellers at this year's Trade Deadline, with the team four games out of the second American League Wild Card spot. By Friday's 4 p.m. ET Deadline, Detroit's ace starter, closer and top positional contributor in terms of Wins Above Replacement were gone, traded to contending clubs -- some not that much further ahead than the Tigers.
In their place are a half-dozen prospects that reshape Detroit's farm system, five of them pitchers. All six immediately took spots within the MLBPipeline.com's top 15 Tigers prospects, and all but one will be at Double-A or higher. Daniel Norris, one of baseball's top left-handed pitching prospects and the key part of the David Price trade to Toronto, will soon leave the list to join the rotation, starting with Sunday's series finale against the Orioles.
It's a rebooting, not a rebuilding, Dombrowski has said, because it leaves the team core untouched and focused on prospects who had a chance to be in the big leagues this season or early next. Beyond Norris, the Tigers are hoping lefty Matt Boyd, also part of the Price trade, and potentially Michael Fulmer -- the Mets' right-handed prospect who was key to the Yoenis Cespedes deal -- can be ready to compete for spots next year.
"People kind of forget that we did somewhat like this when we [traded Curtis] Granderson and Edwin Jackson and we got [Max] Scherzer in that deal [along with] Austin Jackson," Dombrowski said. "We kind of took a step back, and then moved forward. And I think the organization's capable of doing that."
One AL talent evaluator said the Tigers did "very well" with the prospect packages for what amounted to late-season rentals, saying Fulmer could compete right now.
The deals themselves likely won't be enough to get the Tigers back to contention next season, as Dombrowski has said is his goal. Even Scherzer had his growing pains in 2010, landing him at Triple-A Toledo for a stretch, and the Tigers finished .500 that season in part due to season-ending injuries to Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen.
The Tigers still face an offseason construction process, from a front-line starter to a left fielder -- many speculate Cespedes could be back, though a late-season stint in New York could make him a hero there -- to an overdue bullpen makeover. Whom they add will likely play just as much of a role, if not moreso, to the Tigers' chances at contention.
By trading their free agents now instead of later, though, they made a bigger difference in 2017 and beyond. Not all of their pitching prospects will make it, but they have enough to expect more than one. And a pitching staff that spent the last couple of years winding down the formidable rotation that included Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello and Doug Fister now will reset with young talent around Anibal Sanchez and Justin Verlander.