For Law, this type of sentiment isn’t new. This winter, he previously ripped Dave Dombrowski for the Doug Fister trade, and has long maintained periodic disagreements with how the team goes about drafting, signing and acquiring players.
Regarding Detroit’s farm system, what Law doesn’t account for is this: the Tigers consistently operate in a “win now” mode, and have been operating that way for the better part of seven years. It hasn’t brought a World Series title to town yet, but for a championship-starved owner like Mike Ilitch, the consistent chase of sustained success is what matters most, and not the collection of prospects for the future.
In the midst of that, the team has picked up some nice players. Justin Verlander was a product of Detroit’s “bad” system, as was Rick Porcello, who’s been a solid fifth starter. Miguel Cabrera was acquired for a heap of “marginal” Tigers’ prospects from the minor leagues. Detroit will start Andy Dirks in left field, Alex Avila at catcher, Nick Castellanos at third, Jose Iglesias at shortstop and Austin Jackson in center field. Dirks, Avila and Castellanos came from the system, while Iglesias, Jackson and Max Scherzer were aquired thanks to deals made with players who climbed the ladder in Detroit’s minor league system.
Despite a few inconsistencies, that lineup figures to be pretty good in the minds of many. If anything, it’s good enough to catch the attention of those in the sabermetric community, who figure Detroit will have the best record in baseball during the 2014 season. Advanced metrics wouldn’t be able to hitch their statistical reputations to a roster full of players who couldn’t perform. As the saying goes, numbers never lie.
As it stands now, the Tigers’ system will produce Castellanos for 2014 along with greater returns from prospect Bruce Rondon, and has the potential to produce infielders Hernan Perez and Jordan Lennerton, reliever Jose Ortega and perhaps even newly acquired starter Robbie Ray if need matches timing. For teams that are contenders year in and year out, a farm system should be rated by its ability to deliver quality replacements and depth. Detroit’s system has been able to do that successfully, while being able to consistently supplement the Tigers with talent via trades.
Prospect stargazers like Law will always rate Detroit’s system low because the Tigers have been busy signing free agents and winning, unable to consistently restock their system with high-end talent in the draft. That doesn’t mean the team has been any less successful. For all the talent and depth of the Washington Nationals’ system, overhyped players like Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and Ian Desmond have only won two playoff games and have been hit or miss in the league.
Painting all minor league systems with a broad brush doesn’t work, as baseball success is always determined on the field. For the team he has compiled, Dombrowski has done a solid job of meshing outside talent with home grown contributions to find wins. It beats the simple collection of prospects, most of which are unknown commodities. Prior to Dombrowski’s arrival, the Tigers collected “blue chip” talent like it was going out of style. Matt Anderson, Nate Cornejo, Kenny Baugh, Kyle Sleeth, Eric Munson and Scott Moore now sit on top of the mountain as a who’s who of failed prospects.
Today, most fans would probably take the contributions of Verlander, Cabrera, Jackson, Iglesias, Scherzer and Porcello over the below modest returns the others brought. Baeball is about winning, which is something the Tigers have been doing as good as anybody else the past eight years.
Dombrowski should be judged on that fact alone, and not how his farm system rates.
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax