The Tigers have a history of big deals at baseball’s Winter Meetings, much of it dating back to Dave Dombrowski’s 14-year tenure as team president/general manager. Few executives took better advantage of the opportunity to talk with other GMs and executives in person than Dombrowski, and his challenge of rebuilding the Tigers provided the perfect opportunity. And no one was better prepared to take the podium in front of national media and explain his latest deal.
Still, other Tigers front offices swung big trades. Randy Smith traded Brad Ausmus twice to the same club during the Winter Meetings (not the same year, of course).
Here’s one reporter’s list of Detroit's five biggest moves in Winter Meetings history:
1) Tigers get Miggy in blockbuster trade (Dec. 4, 2007)
Tigers acquire: 3B Miguel Cabrera, LHP Dontrelle Willis
Marlins acquire: OF Cameron Maybin, LHP Andrew Miller, RHP Burke Badenhop, C Mike Rabelo, RHP Dallas Trahern, RHP Eulogio De La Cruz
Even the bellhops at the Opryland Resort knew Cabrera was going to be traded during those meetings; the Marlins made no secret that their All-Star slugger was on the market. The Tigers’ interest was the secret. Tigers owner Mike Ilitch asked Dombrowski about Cabrera over Thanksgiving weekend and gave his GM the go-ahead to see if he could make a deal. It took a package of young talent that included top prospects Maybin and Miller, but the Tigers outmaneuvered the Angels to swing the deal. The talks were so secretive that Dombrowski sequestered the Tigers' staff in their hotel suites while they worked out the details. Manager Jim Leyland was the only one let out so he could go outside and smoke. Cabrera, of course, became an American League Triple Crown winner, two-time AL MVP Award winner and a four-time batting champion in Detroit, and will go down as the biggest move of the Ilitch era for the Tigers.
2) Tigers get Scherzer in three-team deal (Dec. 8, 2009)
Tigers acquire: RHP Max Scherzer, LHP Daniel Schlereth, LHP Phil Coke, OF Austin Jackson
Tigers trade: OF Curtis Granderson, RHP Edwin Jackson
The Tigers made it known all offseason that Granderson was available as Detroit tried to free up payroll, partly for a Justin Verlander contract extension. The Yankees were interested, but Dombrowski had trouble finding a match until they looped in the D-backs, a decision that might not have happened without the Winter Meetings setting but one that completely changed the deal. Dombrowski took a lot of grief when the trade was done and faced questions about a rebuild, but the deal brought in Scherzer and Jackson, key pieces for Detroit’s ensuing run of four consecutive AL Central titles.
3) Tigers sign free agent LHP Kenny Rogers (Dec. 15, 2005)
Dombrowski went to the Winter Meetings in Dallas looking to add veteran pitching to a young core, but had limited payroll space after signing Ivan Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez the previous two offseasons. Tigers scout Dick Egan recommended Rogers, whom he coached years ago in the Rangers farm system. Rogers had just turned 41 years old and was coming off a tumultuous final season in Texas, but he was a back-to-back All-Star, a rotation workhorse and a fiery competitor. The two-year, $16 million contract gave Detroit the ace it needed. Rogers went on to a 17-win season, an All-Star Game start and three scoreless outings in the Tigers’ run to the World Series.
4) Tigers get Céspedes, trade Porcello (Dec. 11, 2014)
Tigers acquire: OF Yoenis Céspedes (from Red Sox), RHP Alfredo Simon (from Reds), RHP Alex Wilson (from Red Sox), LHP Gabe Speier (from Red Sox)
Tigers trade: RHP Rick Porcello (to Red Sox), IF Eugenio Suárez (to Reds), RHP Jonathon Crawford (to Reds)
Dombrowski had two trades at work during these Winter Meetings and pulled them off hours apart on the final day in San Diego. Detroit coveted Céspedes as a run-producer to round out its lineup for one more playoff run, but Dombrowski had to give up Porcello to get him, a move that created a void in the rotation. To fill that, Dombrowski acquired innings-eating Simon from the Reds for two prospects, including a then-little-known shortstop in Suárez. The moves didn’t help the Tigers, who fell to the AL Central cellar in 2015, but Dombrowski flipped Céspedes to the Mets at the Trade Deadline for pitching prospect Michael Fulmer.
5) Tigers trade Brad Ausmus and Jose Lima to Houston (Dec. 10, 1996)
Tigers acquire: RHP Todd Jones, OF Brian Hunter, RHP Doug Brocail, SS Orlando Miller
Tigers trade: C Brad Ausmus, RHP Jose Lima, LHP C.J. Nitkowski, OF Daryle Ward, LHP Trever Miller
Then-Tigers general manager Randy Smith traded Ausmus twice in four years, both times at the Winter Meetings, and both times to Houston, where Smith's father, Tal, was team president. The younger Smith already had a history of multi-player trades from his previous tenure as Padres GM, and he was looking to shake up the roster after a 109-loss season with a new ballpark a few years away. When the Astros expressed interest in Ausmus, Smith reportedly called him untouchable, so the Tigers and Astros expanded the deal. By the time the trade was finalized, nine players were involved, the Tigers’ largest deal in terms of manpower since 1957. Smith got Ausmus and Nitkowski back from Houston in a trade two offseasons later, then traded Ausmus back to the Astros (with Brocail) at the 2000 Winter Meetings.