How Dave Dombrowski and the Detroit Tigers Fueled the Playoff Runs of MLB’s Hottest Teams

Yoenis Cespedes
The Associated Press

Approaching the trade deadline, the Detroit Tigers, Toronto Blue Jays, and New York Mets stood on the brink of playoff berths. Analysts nationwide debated who should buy and who should sell. Surprisingly, the perennial AL Central champions sold, springing the Mets and Blue Jays into title contention.

On July 30th, Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski faced a forked road. On the one hand, Detroit’s roster, aside from the injuries that plagued the club, stacked up to anyone’s. On the other hand, a fifth consecutive division title seemed miles away.

“I wish we were in a position where we could say we definitely should go get someone.” Tiger’s skipper Brad Ausmus told reporters before the deadline. “But I don’t think we’re in a position where we should say we definitely need to sell. Four games [out of the playoffs]. Let’s not jump off the cliff yet.”

Meanwhile, the Blue Jays and Mets played as inverse twins, dominating one half of baseball’s equation while floundering in the other. Toronto needed an ace to pair with their league-leading offense. The Mets needed a bat, looking to provide run support for the best pitching staff in baseball.

Fate should have it, Christmas came in July. Inadvertently, Dombrowski played the role of Santa Claus.

Detroit sent former All-Star Yoenis Céspedes to New York and 2012 AL CY Young Award-winner David  Price north of the border. Weeks later, the Mets and Blue Jays play as the talks of their respective towns, leaving fans hopeful of finally watching their teams in the playoffs.

Aside from their recent three-game slide at the hands of the equally scorching Pittsburgh Pirates, the Mets play as a team possessed. Once fielding the worst offense in baseball, Céspedes brought their bats to life. Since the trade deadline, New York ranks ninth in runs (73), fifth in home runs (20), and third in doubles (36). The Cuban star leads the way, contributing eight RBI and a .292 average.

More importantly, supporters pile into Citi Field at an unprecedented rate. Since its opening in 2009, the stadium has remained empty and silent during the playoffs. With a 4.5 game lead in the NL East, fans transform home games into celebrations. Oozing with joy, the team’s biggest fan encapsulates the moment:

The Blue Jays face a bigger demon to exorcise. A two-decade-plus playoff drought leaves the club devoid of even a modicum of postseason experience for its new generation of fans. The last time Toronto played meaningful October baseball, Bill Clinton served just months into the job as president, Wesley Snipes and Sylvester Stallone reigned at the box office in Demolition Man, and kids first played the transformational first-person shooter game, Doom.

Before the trade, Toronto appeared fading. Try as they might, their offense simply couldn’t carry a struggling staff that blew game after game. Enter Price, whose presence changed everything. In August, the Blue Jays boast the second best team ERA (2.18) behind the former Tigers’ 1.61 mark. The team rallies around Price, winning 13 of their past 16 contents. With a 3.5 game Wild Card lead, the Canadian Metropolis exudes an air of hardball hope.

By no means is this a knock on Dombrowski, who parted with the Tigers after the trades and today officially becomes the head baseball guy in Boston. By trading Céspedes and Price, the Tigers infused their organization with quality prospects. Seeing as both players compete on the final years of their contracts, receiving something for them appeared to Dombrowski a better option than letting them walk in a few months with nothing to show for them.

It is rare that trades works out in everyone’s favor—it usually seems that one team knows something the others don’t. In this case, all three win. Detroit possesses a collection of youngsters to look forward to, with several pitchers on the brink of starting roles. For the Mets and Blue Jays, light appears at the end of the tunnel.