Detroit Tigers’ general manager Dave Dombrowski is no stranger to big trades, and he usually comes out on the winning end. Since taking over the Tigers in 2002, Dombrowski has turned a perennial cellar team into an AL powerhouse. During his time, the Tigers have won four division titles and two pennants. Despite his success with the club, Dombrowski was under fire last off-season when he dealt Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals for Ian Krol, Steve Lombardozzi, and Robbie Ray. At the time, the concerns were valid. The Tigers were coming off a 93-win season and had one of the best rotations in baseball, with reigning Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer leading the way. Fister had a great year himself in 2013, ending the year with a 3.67 ERA in over 200 innings pitched. He has been sensational with the Nationals so far, but he is a free agent at the end of this year. Based on contracts earned by similar pitchers, Fister should command around $20 million on the open market. Most likely, the Tigers would not have kept him around past 2015 anyway. The extra salary would have made re-signing Victor Martinez or trading for Yoenis Cespedes and David Price much more difficult.
Enter Shane Greene. A pitcher who earned nearly no interest out of high school and enrolled at University of West Florida. Late in his freshman year, he blew out his elbow and required Tommy John surgery. On his road to recovery, he transferred to nearby Daytona Beach Community College and sat out an entire season in 2009. Eager for a second chance, Greene asked a Yankees scout to watch him throw a bullpen session in hopes of earning recommendation for an offer to transfer to the University of Central Florida. The scout liked what he saw and the rest is history. The Yankees invited Greene to work out in Tampa and subsequently drafted him in the 2009 draft in the 15th round with a $100,000 signing bonus. Keep in mind, Greene hadn’t thrown a live pitch since his surgery at the time of the draft. Early in his professional career, Greene was a solid pitcher, working his way up the ranks every year, but hardly anyone predicted an MLB career. Everything started to click in 2013, when Greene had a 3.60 ERA in 13 starts at high-A Tampa. He continued to shine in AA Trenton, posting a 3.18 ERA and earning a call-up to the AAA team in Scranton at the start of 2014. Pitching depth caused the Yankees to call him up to the big leagues as a spot starter and relief option midway through the season.
Greene is Dombrowski’s roundabout prize from the Doug Fister trade. This off-season, Dombrowski acquired Greene from the New York Yankees in a three-way trade that sent Domingo Leyba and Robbie Ray to the Diamondbacks and Didi Gregorius to the Yankees. While Leyba is a promising player in his own right and Krol is a potential left-handed bullpen piece that the Tigers desperately need, the controversial 2013 deal essentially sent Fister to Washington in exchange for Greene.
Fister is the more experienced pitcher and would have certainly helped the Tigers last year in their playoff run, but Greene is a much better option for the Tigers’ long-term success. Greene is five years younger than Fister and is under team control until 2020, saving the Tigers millions at a time when the long contracts to Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, and Victor Martinez may start to take their toll. He will earn $515,000 this year, while Fister enjoys a one-year contract at $11.4 million that the Nationals offered to avoid arbitration. Despite his inexperience, Greene has been masterful in his own right. In his rookie year with the Yankees, he had a 3.78 ERA in 78 2/3 innings. His walk rate of 3.3 per nine innings cost him at times, so Greene set out to work on his control in the off-season. So far this year, his strikeouts have been down, but so has his WHIP. He is showing much better command of the strike zone and avoids deep counts. With a Gold Glove-caliber middle infield behind him in Jose Iglesias and Ian Kinsler, there’s little reason for him to always aim for swing-and-misses. In three starts with the Tigers in 2015, Greene is 3-0 with a 0.39 ERA. He has only allowed 12 hits in 23 innings and carries a 0.739 WHIP. Obviously his numbers will come back down to Earth at some point, but Greene is becoming a reliable third arm in the Tigers’ rotation, essentially replacing the void that Fister left.
After a year of criticism from many Tigers’ fans, Dave Dombrowski has to be smiling knowing he has six seasons of Greene under team control.