Next week baseball gathers for the annual MLB Winter Meetings. Undoubtedly, many deals will be made as the 30 general managers get together to move pieces around and shuffle rosters.
In that spirit, here are the nine best trades ever made by the Detroit Tigers:
#9. Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder
What do you do after your team owner forces a bad deal and sticks you with a fat contract and an even fatter headache? You spin that deal to get an All-Star second baseman. And that’s precisely what Dave Dombwoski did in the 2013 off-season when he exiled Prince Fielder to the Rangers in exchange for Ian Kinsler.
In January of 2012 when Detroit learned that Victor Martinez would miss the upcoming season with leg injuries, Mike Ilitch pulled out his checkbook to sign Fielder to fill those DH shoes. The deal looked ok for a year, the Tigers winning the pennant in ’12. But the size and length of the contract was ridiculous, and after Fielder struggled down the stretch in 2013, Dombrowski knew he needed to jettison this albatross. Fielder’s “ho hum” response after the Tigers were bounced from the 2013 ALCS didn’t help his case.
Trader Dave snatched the fiery Kinsler from Texas in a one-for-one deal that winter, keeping some of the millions owed to Fielder on the Tiger books. But still, the trade was a big win. Kinsler stepped in as a key cog at the to of the lineup, earned All-Star selections, a Gold Glove, and MVP consideration in his second season. Fielder retired after one season in Texas due to a serious neck injury.
#8. David Price for Drew Smyly, Austin Jackson, and a prospect
The 2014 Tigers were in full “go-for-it” mode. At the last moment at the trade deadline on July 31, they snagged Tampa Bay ace David Price in a deal that sent Austin Jackson to the Rays. The Detroit center fielder was summoned from his position in the outfield in his final game after the trade was announced.
Price became the third Cy Young Award winner in the Detroit rotation, joining Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer. He pitched brilliantly for his new team, and on the final Sunday of the season he won the division title when he tossed 7 1/3 innings of shutout ball against the Twins. Without Price, the Tigers don’t win the division.
Jackson has never had a good full season since leaving the Tigers.
#7. Doug Fister for four prospects
The sneakiest deal Dave Dombrowski made during his tenure in Detroit. Trader Dave snagged Fister from the Mariners at the deadline in 2011, and the wafer-thin 6’8 pitcher was nearly unbeatable down the stretch. The righty went 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA in 10 starts in his first season with Detroit, and followed it up with two more excellent seasons in the rotation. In all, Fister went 32-20 and pitched brilliantly in three postseasons for the Tigers. The team didn’t miss any of the prospects they gave up to get Fister, and Dombrowski even knew when to let him go: since Fister was traded after the ’13 season, he’s had one good season but struggled with injuries and consistency otherwise.
#6. Carlos Guillen for Ramon Santiago
The Mariners have a lot of reasons to never trade with Detroit again, after the Fister deal and this one. In Seattle, Guillen had been a solid shortstop with little pop in his bat. After the Tigs acquired him in January of 2004 for Santiago and a middle infield prospect, the switch-hitting Guillen blossomed into an All-Star. In his first three seasons as a Tiger, Guillen hit .318, .320, and .320 and developed a power stroke in spacious Comerica Park. The three-time All-Star provided several key hits for the team as they advanced to the World Series in 2006, and was a fan favorite until his body finally started to break down in 2011.
#5. Chet Lemon for Steve Kemp
At the time of this trade most experts believed the White Sox had gotten the better of the deal. Lemon had a reputation as a great defensive center fielder who could hit for average, but he had little power and was considered a poor instinctive player. Under Sparky Anderson, “Chester” blossomed, filling the center field slot for nearly a decade and helping the team to the playoffs twice, in 1984 and 1987. Kemp never had one good season for the ChiSox and then saw his career peter out.
#4. Willie Hernandez and Dave Bergman for Glenn Wilson and John Wockenfuss
Largely considered the move that sealed the championship for Detroit in 1984. Hernandez was a coveted lefthanded reliever the Tigers had wanted for a few seasons. The price was steep: the popular and useful Wockenfuss and the best outfield prospect in the organization in Wilson. But the trade paid off in several ways. Of course the team won the Series in ’84 as Willie won both the Cy Young and MVP awards, but the transaction kept giving long after that. Bergman was a team leader who played effectively for Detroit for almost a decade, providing a capable pinch-hitter and defensive role player for several positions on the diamond. Hernandez had only two great years for the Tigers, but one of them resulted in a title, and the pieces Detroit lost didn’t amount to much. Wockenfuss was pretty much done, and Wilson had a few solid years and that was it. More than anything this trade signaled that the Tigers were serious about going for it in 1984.
#3. Max Scherzer, Austin Jackson, and Phil Coke for Curtis Granderson
Another heist orchestrated by Dave Dombrowski. At the 2009 MLB Winter Meetings, Dombrowski had two goals: strengthen his starting rotation and add depth to his bullpen. The ’09 Tigers had been picked by many to win the AL Central, but they ultimately lost a heartbreaking one-game playoff to Minnesota and finished second. The team had a few weaknesses that needed to be shored up.
Justin Verlander was anchoring the rotation just fine, and 20-year old rookie Rick Porcello had a strong season. But after that the rotation was a patchwork mess. Dombrwoski and his scouts loved Scherzer, a 24-year old coming off his second season with Arizona. A three-team deal was structured that required Dombrowski to give up star center fielder Curtis Granderson, but in return he grabbed young outfielder Austin Jackson from the Yankees, who was far superior as a defender in center, Scherzer from the DBacks, and lefty reliever Phil Coke, also from the Yankees.
Jackson was a key defensive part of the Tigers and a leadoff man on three of their four division-winning teams from 2011-13. Coke was up and down, but solidified the left side of the pen, and in 2012 he stepped in to serve as closer in the playoffs, helping the team to the pennant as he pitched like John Hiller for nearly a month.
But the big prize was Scherzer, who emerged as one of the best pitchers in baseball and formed a tough one-two punch with Verlander. Max won a Cy Young Award and pitched several big games in the playoffs. The Tigers got five seasons out of the competitive righty until owner Mike Ilitch allowed him to walk via free agency…but that’s a different story.
#2. Norm Cash for Steve Demeter
On April 12, 1960, on the eve of the regular season, the Tigers fleeced the Indians when they sent Steve Demeter to Cleveland in exchange for an untested 25-year old first baseman from Texas named Norm Cash. Buried in the White Sox organization in the late 1950s, Cash had only belonged to the Indians for a few months when general manager Frank Lane sent him to Detroit. Lane traded so many players so often that he was known as “Trader Jack.” This deal was one of his all-time worst. In Demeter, the Indians got a third baseman with some power who had already spent seven years in the minor leagues and only saw action with Detroit in 11 games in 1959. Demeter never got a hit for Cleveland and eventually spent 12 more years in the minors.
While Demeter was playing out his pro career in the minors, Cash emerged as one of the most prolific lefthanded sluggers in the game. He smacked 18 homers for his new team in 1960, then he socked 41 the following year when he finished fourth in MVP voting. Cash would hit 373 homers in his 15 seasons in Detroit, ably filling the middle of the order. He was a key component on the ’68 World Series champs.
#1. Miguel Cabrera for a few other prospects
This deal will always be a monster of a steal for Detroit. Sure, one of the six prospects the Tigers gave up (lefty Andrew Miller) has developed into a valuable relief pitcher. But it doesn’t matter what Miller does from now on, the Cabrera-to-Detroit swap will go down as one of the most lopsided deals in baseball history.
While Miller and Cameron Maybin (the top outfield prospect Detroit sent to the Marlins in exchange for Cabrera) were trying to fulfill their promise and mostly falling short, Cabrera won a home run title, an RBI title, a batting title, a TRIPLE CROWN, two MVP awards, another batting title, and a fourth batting title for Detroit. The trade also coincided with the continued resurgence of the team, as Cabrera led the Tigers to four consecutive division titles, three trips to the league championship series, and one pennant.
If you’re a fan of the Tigers do I really have to explain any further how fantastic this trade turned out for Detroit?