Former Tigers Farmhands: Where are they now?

21 Min Read

The Detroit Tigers have been one of the more aggressive franchises in baseball over the last handful of seasons because they are in ‘win now’ mode. Whether it is former team general manager Dave Dombrowski or current GM Al Avila, the man calling the shots has been given the green light by longtime owner Mike Ilitch.

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The team has made a bevy of moves over the years the help improve their team right away and increase their chances of winning a World Series. As always, those moves come at a price, some more expensive than others. And it makes us wonder – where are some of those old Tigers farmhands nowadays?

We’re going to look back at some of the more notable deals that Detroit has made to help benefit the big league club. With the trade deadline rapidly approaching, speculation seemingly rises with each day on whether the team will buy or sell.

We’re going to go all the way back to 2011 when the Tigers began their four-year run as American League Central Division champions.


Photo Credit: Keith Allison/Flickr
Photo Credit: Keith Allison/Flickr

The first real notable move came about ten days before the trade deadline in 2011 when the Tigers acquired Wilson Betemit from the Royals in exchange for a pair of prospects. Betemit was slotted right at third base and was a significant upgrade offensively over a struggling Brandon Inge at the time. Betemit in 40 games that season compiled .292/.346/.525 slash line with five homers and 19 RBI.

The two prospects Detroit dealt? Pitcher Antonio Cruz and Julio Rodriguez. Cruz, 24, last played in 2014 and has a career 2.89 ERA in six minor league seasons. Rodriguez, 26, has just a career .249/.295/.327 slash line in six minor league seasons, getting as high as the Royals Double-A affiliate in 2012. He’s not playing independent ball in the Frontier League.


Photo Credit: Keith Allison/Flickr
Photo Credit: Keith Allison/Flickr

Arguably one of the better moves made by Dombrowski came on deadline day in 2011 when he netted starter Doug Fister, along with reliever David Pauley. Fister posted a sparkling 1.79 ERA in 11 games for the Tigers that season, and a 3.29 ERA in 70 career appearances for Detroit in 2+ seasons.

The return package to Seattle was third baseman Francisco Martinez, outfielder Casper Wells, lefty reliever Charlie Furbush and a player to be named later. Martinez registered a career .264/.313/.354 in eight minor league campaigns and most recently found his way back to the Tigers farm system in 2015 with High Class-A Lakeland.

Wells was primarily a fourth or fifth option in the outfielder for the Tigers at the time of the trade and played parts of 2012 and ’13 with four different clubs. He recently played 15 games with Double-A Erie for Detroit in 2015.

Furbush had the best stint of the bunch. From 2011-15, he recorded a 4.02 ERA in 230 appearances for the Mariners. His service time this season has been severely diminished as he recovers from shoulder surgery.

The ‘player to be named later’ ended up being Chance Ruffin, who played in 22 games and posted a 5.70 ERA for the M’s in 2011 and ’13. He last pitched in 2014 for Seattle’s Triple-A club.


Photo Credit: Keith Allison/Flickr
Photo Credit: Keith Allison/Flickr

A few weeks after acquiring Fister, Detroit claimed Delmon Young from the Twins off waivers for one minor leaguer and a PTBNL. Despite being a bit of a liability in the field, Young was a steady bat in the lineup, hitting .268/.296/.422 in over 190 games for Detroit in 2011-12. He was also clutch in the postseason, hitting .280 with eight homers and 15 RBI in 22 playoff games.

The one minor leaguer that was named when the deal was made left-handed pitcher Cole Nelson. In four minor league seasons, Nelson has an ERA approaching 5.00 and never made it above High A ball. He last pitched in independent ball back in 2014.

The PTBNL was Lester Oliveros, who pitched in nine games for Detroit in 2011 prior to the trade allowing 5 ER in 8.0 IP. He had a solid 2015 campaign for Minnesota’s Triple-A club Rochester, recording a 3.79 ERA in 24 games. The Royals signed him to a minor league deal back in January.


Photo Credit: Tu Nexo De/Flickr
Photo Credit: Tu Nexo De/Flickr

Another big move made by Dealer Dave Dombrowski was acquiring Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante from the Marlins in exchange for a trio of prospects. Sanchez help solidify the rotation from 2012-14 when he posted a sub 3.00 ERA. Infante returned for a second tour of duty in Detroit and helped fill a gaping hole at second base, hitting .297 and driving in 71 runs in over 180 regular season games.

Among the three minor leaguers Detroit shipped to South Beach was then top pitching prospect Jacob Turner who oddly enough is pitching on Friday night for the White Sox against the Tigers. Turner made 27 starts in 2012-13 and compiled a solid 3.64 ERA. He posted an ERA north of 6.00 in 28 games with the Marlins and Cubs in ’14 and injuries pretty much sidelined him for much of 2015. Friday will be his second start with the White Sox after make 18 starts in Triple-A this season.

The other two prospects in the Sanchez/Infante deal were catcher Rob Brantly and pitcher Brian Flynn. Brantly hit .235/.298/.325 in 98 games for the Fish in 2012-13. After spending the 2015 season at three different levels with the White Sox, he’s now with Seattle’s Triple-A Tacoma club hitting .250/.272/.457 in 54 games this season.

Flynn came up through the Tigers’ system as a starter but over the last couple seasons has gradually transitioned as a reliever. Flynn yielded 24 ER in 25.0 IP in 2013-14 with the Marlins. This year, he finds himself as a depth reliever in the Royals system and has a 3.14 ERA in 14 games (one start) this season.


Photo Credit: Arturo Pardavila III/Flickr
Photo Credit: Arturo Pardavila III/Flickr

This was another relatively under-the-radar move on Dombrowski’s part, it came within days of the trading deadline during the 2013 season. Dombrowski pulled the trigger on acquiring a rental in closer Jose Veras from the Astros in exchange for a minor leaguer and PTBNL.

Veras had a 2.93 ERA in 42 games for the ‘Stros and continued that with a 3.20 ERA in 25 appearances for Detroit in the regular season. He helped lock down their chances for a third straight division crown but unfortunately, most people will either dismiss this move or not remember him, due to the fact he posted a 5.40 ERA (2 ER in 3.1 IP in 5 GMs) in the ALCS when Detroit lost to eventual champion Boston.

As far the return package to the Space City, the prospect that was originally named was outfielder Danry Vasquez, who has continued his gradual climb through the minors still at the young age of 22. Not known for his power, Vasquez has registered a solid .277/.325/.374 in the minors and at Double-A this season for Houston, he’s hitting .253/.310/.323 in 53 games played.

The PTBNL was right-hander David Paulino, also just 22 years of age and still climbing through the Houston farm system. Paulino has posted a strong 2.19 ERA in 41 games (32 starts) over the last five seasons. He’s recorded a 2.33 ERA at Corpus Christi (Double-A HOU) this season.


Photo Credit: Tom Haggerty/Flickr
Photo Credit: Tom Haggerty/Flickr

Faced with the 50-game suspension of steady shortstop Jhonny Peralta, the Tigers were a part of a three-team deal just a day after acquiring Veras. This deal netted hot shot Boston shortstop Jose Iglesias, who has been nothing short of smooth and consistent both offensively and defensively.

The other two teams involved – the Red Sox and White Sox – each got a pair of Tigers who at the time had potential of having successful careers. Boston got hard-throwing reliever Brayan Villarreal, who never really did a whole lot after a strong 2012 season when he posted a 2.63 ERA in 50 games. He only pitched in one game for Boston in 2013, one batter in fact and issued a walk. He had a small cup of coffee in their farm system in 2014 but last pitched in his native country of Venezuela in 2015.

The other side of the deal was Avisail Garcia going to Chicago. A much bigger priority in the infield as opposed to the outfield coupled with the rumors swirling of some inappropriate behavior in the clubhouse involving Garcia ultimately led to the deal. He’s been average at best for Chicago over the last 3+ seasons, hitting .257/.311/.367 with 30 homers and 137 RBI in over 300 games played. Some might say it is average, others might see it as Garcia not living up to his potential, at least not yet.


Photo Credit: David/Flickr
Photo Credit: David/Flickr

Okay, here’s one that I think Dombrowski would like back. A few weeks after landing Kinsler, Dave shocked Tigers fans and really a lot of baseball when he dealt Doug Fister for a trio of young, relatively unproven players. Two pitchers and one position player.

The position player was utility man Stven Lombardozzi, who at the time was coming off his age-24 season hitting .259/.278/.338 for the Nationals. Lombardozzi lasted mere weeks with the club in spring training and was traded again, back to the Beltway in Baltimore. This year, he started the season playing independent ball before being signed to a minor league deal with the Nats.

The two pitchers Detroit acquired in this deal were Ian Krol and Robbie Ray, a pair of lefties. Krol was coming off his first season in the majors, where he compiled a 3.95 ERA in 22 relief appearances. He struggled mightily in his two seasons with the Tigers, posting a 5.34 ERA in 78 games. Still only 25-years old, Krol was traded this past off-season to Atlanta as part of a package for current center fielder and former Tigers farmhand prospect Cameron Maybin.

Ray’s stint with the Tigers was even shorter than that of Krol. He appeared in just nine games (six starts) and recorded an ERA over 8.00. Ray was then traded  to Arizona prior to the 2015 season in a three-team deal in which Detroit acquired Shane Greene from the Yankees. Now a part of their rotation for potentially years to come, Robbie has a 3.96 ERA in 42 career starts with the Diamondbacks over the last two seasons, including a 4.49 ERA this year in 19 outings.


Photo Credit: beisbolsinaloa/Flickr
Photo Credit: beisbolsinaloa/Flickr

Another pair of trade deadline deals were made during the 2014 season to help bolster the team’s chances of making a deep playoff run. One move was acquiring reliever Joakim Soria from the Rangers in exchange for a pair of minor leaguers. Soria in 56 games registered a 3.29 ERA in 2014 and ’15 and was traded to Pittsburgh at the deadline in the ’15 season.

Both players the Tigers traded were pitchers, Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel. Thompson was a second-round pick in 2012 by Detroit and had a 3.06 ERA combined in 18 starts with Double-A Erie and High A Lakeland in 2014 at the time of the trade. He was flipped for the second time in as many seasons last year when he was shipped to Philadelphia as part of the Cole Hamels blockbuster deal. Still just 22-years-old, Thompson posts a sub 3.00 ERA with the Phillies’ Triple-A club this season.

Knebel was up and down with the Tigers in 2014, making only eight appearances and registering a 6.23 ERA. He was traded from Texas to Milwaukee as a package for starter Yovani Gallardo prior to 2015 and put together a good season (3.22 ERA in 48 GMs). He’s played in just 20 games this season, seven of which coming with the Brewers.


Photo Credit: besibolsinaloa/Flickr
Photo Credit: besibolsinaloa/Flickr

Days later after netting Soria, Dombrowski pulled off a blockbuster deal acquiring primetime ace David Price from the Rays as part of a three-team deal with the Mariners. Price was basically vintage price in his virtual one season with the Tigers, a 2.90 in 32 starts. Like Soria, he was dealt at the deadline in 2015 in a deal that got Detroit three much-needed pitching prospects.

Seattle got former Tigers CF Austin Jackson, who has hit just .254 for now three different teams since leaving the Motor City and has been swiping bags less. Jackson was having a decent season with the White Sox this year before being injured back in June.

Tampa got two Tigers, pitcher Drew Smyly and minor league prospect Willy Adames. Smyly has posted an ERA a tick above 4.00 in 37 starts over the last 2+ seasons and that is ballooned due to a 5.64 ERA this season. He very well could be on the trading block again in the next week.

Adames was signed by Dombrowski as an international free agent back in July of 2012 at the age of 16. He’s posting a very respectable .264/.365/.411 over his first four minor league seasons and is hitting .274 in 90 games for the Rays’ Double-A affiliate this year.


Photo Credit: Tom Haggerty/Flickr
Photo Credit: Tom Haggerty/Flickr

Here is another deal that, in hindsight, Dombrowski would probably like to do over. In November of 2014, Detroit traded then top prospect Devon Travis to Toronto in exchange for up-and-coming outfielder Anthony Gose.

The thought was that Gose would turn into an everyday outfielder for the Tigers and considered Davis expendable because Ian Kinsler had second base locked up for the foreseeable future. Gose had a solid 2015 season, his first as a true everyday outfielder hitting .254/.321/.387 in 140 games. Unfortunately, the progression of Gose has gone into a huge tailspin, so much so he finds himself back in Double-A.

Meanwhile, Travis has found a home. Despite being injured quite a bit over the last couple seasons, he has been productive when finding the field. In 104 career big league games, Devon is hitting .292/.342/.475 for the Jays. It seemed early on that Detroit might have given the slight edge in ‘winning this deal’ or been even/fair at the worst, but Gose’s demotion and decline has given Toronto a runaway victory.


Photo Credit: Tom Haggerty/Flickr
Photo Credit: Tom Haggerty/Flickr

This was a deal that had many Tigers fans going, “Huh?” The same day the Cespedes-Porcello-Wilson deal was official, Detroit also made a separate deal with Cincinnati, acquiring Alfredo Simon and sending young infielder Eugenio Suarez and pitching prospect Jonathan Crawford to the Reds.

Simon actually started off pretty solid in 2015 but tailed off considerably and finished with an ERA over 5.00. He was the only Tigers starter last season to make at least 30 starts. He’s now back with the Reds this season and has an ERA close to 10.00 in 13 games.

Suarez played in 84 games for Detroit in 2014 when the team needed a jolt at the shortstop position. He hit .242 with four homers. He’s now a part of a rebuilding project in Cincinnati and playing more third base for the Reds, hitting .258/.308/.428 with 29 homers in 189 games.

Crawford posted a 2.73 ERA in 2013-14 when still a member of the Tigers organization. Since being shipped to Cincinnati, he’s now owning a 5.57 (13 ER in 21 IP) over the last two seasons.

Shipping off Yoenis Cespedes, David Price and Joakim Soria at the 2015 deadline was the swan song in Detroit for Dombrowski but he knew where the team was at that point in the season and left the Motor City with parting gifts. New GM Al Avila has since then made some moves of his own, trading for the likes of outfielder Cameron Maybin, closer Francisco Rodriguez and reliever Justin Wilson. It will be interesting to see what comes of those down the road, with all three contributing strongly this season.

Looking back on some of the moves made during the one of the greatest eras of Tigers baseball, which trade stood out to you most and why?

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Posted by Alex Muller
MSU Graduate. Just a city boy born and raised in south Detroit. Baseball is life, a pitcher at heart. Freelance writer for MIPrepZone (News-Herald, Press & Guide).