History shows Tigers way ahead on trading prospects

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — Good luck to Corey Knebel and Jake Thompson on their Rangers careers, and the same for Willy Adames on his new life in the Rays system.

The three of them were among the most highly coveted prospects in the game ahead of the July 31 trade deadline, especially Adames, the rapidly developing shortstop who was drawing significant interest from a half-dozen or more teams, despite being all of 18 years old.

But, as history shows, the outlook for Knebel, Thompson and Adames probably isn’t great.

One highly regarded Tigers prospect after another has been sold high by the Tigers, only to fizzle and flame out like junk bonds with his next team.

Independent ball, far more than an All-Star Game roster, has been the more likely destination.

So, this is where Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers president and general manager, gets a pass for some rather lackluster draft classes — since he’s still been able to pawn off his clutter as another’s treasure. It’s also where Dombrowski gets cut some slack, though a little less, over the Tigers’ lack of minor league depth. (There’s still no excuse that injuries recently forced them to start a pitcher who was at Single A West Michigan last month.)

Think about it: Humberto Sanchez. Cameron Maybin. Andrew Miller. Mauricio Robles. Scott Sizemore. Francisco Martinez. Jacob Turner. And on and on. All of those gents, once upon a time, were blue-chippers by almost everyone’s definition, The Next Big Thing, and almost none has made any serious footprints anywhere else.

Hmmm, maybe there’s a reason the Tigers never check in high on any organizational rankings, after all.

One guy who’s never been overly enamored with Tigers prospects is ESPN’s Keith Law, who didn’t like the Doug Fister deal for the Tigers — but not just the one that sent Fister to the Nationals this past December, but the one that brought him over from the Mariners in July 2011. Law’s not alone, though. A bevy of analysts got that one wrong, and several other Dombrowski heists, too.

It’s almost amazing the experts even blink anymore when Dombrowski parts ways with another high draft pick. It’s like questioning the stock choices of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.

Really, since the Tigers turned the corner from irrelevant to major player in the summer of 2006, not one top-tier prospects has come back to haunt them. Sure, Miller, Charlie Furbush and Burke Badenhop have become nice relief pitchers, and at one point, starter Jair Jurrjens looked like a star in the making — until injuries and surgeries sent him spiraling so far, he went from Braves ace to Mud Hens castoff. Matt Joyce has done fine with the Rays, but not fine enough for the Tigers to kick themselves — seeing as, in a roundabout way, Joyce helped acquire Max Scherzer and Austin Jackson.

And it hasn’t even taken top prospects to pull off a laugher. Heck, Dombrowski once got Jhonny Peralta for the low, low price of baseball’s second-best Geovany Soto: Giovanni Soto.

So you’ll forgive us if we’re not expecting the world from Knebel, Thompson and Adames.

It’s not to say they won’t be the first to haunt the Tigers — or the seconds, as Avisail Garcia is the best bet to get the last and loudest laugh, since he now plays for the American League Central-rival White Sox, and figures to become a star player, or at least on the fringes of one.

Even so, the record is far superior for Dombrowski than the guys he’s done business with. It’s remarkable.

One deal after another goes the Tigers way, and lopsidedly so, when it comes to selling minor leaguers.

The Marlins, for one, have been a repeat victim of Dombrowski’s swindling ways. Tigers brass took all of six seconds to look at the six names coming out their hotel suite fax, containing the Marlins demands in December 2007, before pulling the trigger for Miguel Cabrera. And Jacob Turner? He got them Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante just two summers ago, and this month was just DFA’d by the Marlins — and claimed by the Cubs.

Still, general managers, many of whom try to build a roster from within, keep dialing up Dombrowski, who’s much more comfortable building from the outside — and has Mike Ilitch’s pocket book to do just that.

And now Knebel, Thompson and Adames have helped the Tigers land one of the game’s best relievers, in Joakim Soria, and one of the game’s true aces, David Price.

For a team in such win-now mode, each loss cause for widespread panic among the passionate fan base, the moves were pure brilliance from the Tigers perspective, the very day they were made. And if history holds true, a few years down the road, they should be seen as even sweeter.