Where were they three years ago, when the Tigers' president and general manager gave up Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson to get Max Scherzer, Austin Jackson and Phil Coke?
Come to think of it, where were they a year ago, when he parted with four solid prospects to acquire a finesse right-hander named Doug Fister, who was 12-30 in three seasons with the Mariners?
Or this past summer, when Dombrowski traded away three more prospects, including catcher Rob Brantly and pitcher Jacob Turner, to get Anibal Sanchez, who was 44-45 in seven seasons with the Marlins?
Dombrowski agonized over all those deals then, and he thinks about them even now as Scherzer, Fister and Sanchez have formed three-quarters of rotation that has sailed through this postseason with a 0.94 ERA and led the Tigers to within two victories of the American League pennant.
"There's this false feeling out there that you're going to acquire talent and not give up talent," Dombrowski said.
Dombrowski is a polite man, a gracious man, widely respected by his peers. He long ago established himself as one of baseball's best general managers and one of its most aggressive traders. In his own low-key way, that remark is a commentary on the criticism he has received for the deals.
Actually, there were some who didn't like the trade that brought Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers for the 2008 season.
Cue the sound of crickets.
"It hurts [to give up young players]," Dombrowski said. "You also have to realize where you are and what you think you can accomplish. We're at the point now where we think we have a chance to win. To this day, [I think about] Jacob Turner and Rob Brantly. It hurt. Brantly is going to be an everyday catcher in the big leagues. He's going to be a good one. Turner is going to be a good starting pitcher."
None of the three hurlers had established themselves as top-of-the-rotation talents when Dombrowski made the trades for them. For that, he salutes his assistant, Al Avila, and the baseball operation he has built.
When Sanchez came onto the Tigers' radar this summer, Dombrowski had seen very little of him. However, he trusted his personnel people, especially scout Mike Russell.
"I tip my cap to Mike Russell," he said. "He put his neck on the line. We didn't see a lot of Sanchez, because he was in the other league. He had seen him and said, 'Hey, this guy is going to help us.'
"I asked him specifically if he'd been one of our four guys getting the ball [in the postseason], and he said, 'Yes, he will.' You'll have the same comfort zone as you did with Doug Fister and Max Scherzer. He's a different type pitcher, but you'll have the same comfort zone."
After getting a combined 13 1/3 shutout innings from Sanchez and Fister over the weekend at Yankee Stadium, the Tigers will hand the ball to their ace, Justin Verlander, for Game 3 of the AL Championship Series on Tuesday at Comerica Park.
Verlander is the only member of the playoff rotation the Tigers drafted and developed on their own, but the three trades happened because Detroit had quality depth in its farm system.
What's also interesting -- and only a coincidence -- is that Dombrowski acquired three pitchers with such different styles. Scherzer and Sanchez both throw hard, although set up hitters differently. Fister's curveball and ability to change speeds give him upper-echelon stuff.
All three are pitching their best at the most important time of the year. Fister and Scherzer have both dealt with injuries, and Sanchez needed a few weeks to get comfortable with his new team.
"They can pitch in big games," Dombrowski said. "They can shut down good lineups. They're not one-pitch pitchers. They're all strong guys who go deep into games."
The Tigers hadn't made the playoffs in 15 seasons when Dombrowski took over the baseball operation before the 2002 season. They lost 106 and 119 games in his first two seasons. But amid the losses, a great baseball operation was taking shape.
Now the Tigers are close again, and those three trades are leading the way. Dombrowski has been through too much to feel comfortable, but so far, so good.
"If we keep getting starting pitching like this, we'll be in good shape," he said.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less