Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Dave Dombrowski axed as GM

The circumstances involved with Dave Dombrowski being "relieved of command" as Detroit Tigers Prez, GM, and all-around honcho might never be known for sure. But the decision could have only come from one place. Owner Mike Ilitch. Nobody else had the authority to do so.

Though it seemed to "come out of the blue" on Tuesday to the amazement of most Tiger fans, actually the decision had been made a few days earlier. This has been confirmed by one Alex Avila, formerly assistant GM, who just got promoted to Dombrowski's old job.

The AA man went public and said Ilitch had notified him on Saturday, three days before, as to his major front office shake-up. It can be presumed Dave Dombrowksi was made aware of it at roughly the same time as Avila. What's somewhat amazing is that it didn't leak for 3 days. The reporters, with all their "sources", were as clueless as everybody else. Why the secrecy over that short period of time is anybody's guess, and what point did it serve? On Saturday, when the word from the boss first went out to the affected parties, the Tigers were still in Baltimore playing a series against the Orioles. But they sat on it until the the Tigers came home to face the division leading KC Royals. Why? What difference did it make?

GMs and managers get fired all the time. This is hardly earth-shattering news. True, Dombrowski had 14 years of service with the Tigers and had made some brilliant moves over the years -- but also a few boneheads along the way. Nobody gets them all right. Like other pro sports, major league baseball is a crapshoot. A GM tries to get the best players possible while juggling the salary cap/luxury tax and hopes it results in a championship or two. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't. The best teams "on paper" don't always wind up winning the title. Nor do those with the best regular season win/loss records. Once the playoffs start, anything can happen and often does.

Dombrowski has presented a mixed bag of tricks over the years. Shortly before he came on board with the Tigers, DD held the same position with the then Florida Marlins. Ownership allowed him to spend freely and Dombrowski basically assembled an All-Star team. The Marlins would win the World Series in 2003. Then the boss man changed his fiscal mind and ordered a fire sale. All those high-priced assets had to go. To no one's great surprise, the Marlins went into the dumpster the following year. This was hardly Dombrowski's fault. Superior talent doesn't ALWAYS win, but having it certainly improves the odds. Dombrowski himself would be out the door a short time later. On to the Tigers.

Over the last decade or so, the Detroit Tigers have been perennial contenders. They won several division championships, a few playoff series', and even made it to the World Series. Ironically enough, this was with a manager named Jim Leyland, the same guy that filled out the line-up card for the Marlins when Dombrowski was his boss down in Miami. But they could never quite get over the hump and bring a title to Detroit. Close but no cigar will generate a lot of hype (and revenue) at the time, but result in little more than a footnote when all is said and done. Nobody cares who came in second.

Idle thought: During Tiger Woods' heyday he said second was only the first loser. These days Tiger's lucky to make a cut. Bet a second place finish would look pretty good to him. Times change indeed.

Thing is, even with all of Dombrowski's maneuvering to assemble a terrific team, Mike Ilitch never got the title he so coveted. This despite the "best starting rotation in baseball", and a regular "murderer's row" of hitters. They could pitch. They could hit. But in the end they couldn't get it done.

And now the window of opportunity is quickly closing on the Tigers. Max Scherzer is gone. Same with Rick Porcello and Doug Fister. Justin Verlander has become just another journeyman pitcher. The bullpen is a farce. Slugger Miguel Cabrera has been hobbled. DH Victor Martinez is getting old and barely hits his weight anymore. Ace pitcher David Price just got dealt for a few "prospects". Same with outfielder Yoenis Cespides. Third baseman Nick Castellanos, never much with the glove, is struggling to hit his weight as well. On the positive side, second sacker Ian Kinsler remains steady and outfielder J. D. Martinez has been quite the pleasant surprise with his bat. The same could be said for shortstop Jose Iglesias. But the Tigers have career minor-leaguer Anthony Gose patrolling center field, and Rajai Davis has become a clown act, both at the plate and in left field. Who the heck is Jeffry Marte and where did he come from? Beats me, but he's starting at first base.

Bottom line? This is not a good baseball team right now. And that fell at the feet of Dave Dombrowski. Owner Mike Ilitch expected a winner somewhere along the line and didn't get it, despite having one of the highest payrolls in the major leagues. Now 86 years old, and with the Tigers definitely trending downwards, chances are Ilitch will never see that elusive World Series title come to Detroit.

But that begs the question -- why axe Dombrowski now? His contract was up at the end of this year anyway. The Tigers are what they are and swapping GMs with a couple months left in the season isn't going to change that. And Ilitch has to pay Dombrowski's salary through the end of the year anyway. Why not just let him ride out the string and quietly not renew his contract in the off-season instead of making such a big splash right now?

Only the Tigers' upper echelon inner circle knows that for sure. The public likely never will.

They might not be such a good team anymore, but you have to give them credit for one thing. By God, they can keep a secret for 3 days.

In today's world with prying reporters swarming like locusts, hidden cameras, "anonymous sources" and typically more leaks than the Titanic, that's fairly impressive itself.

I think, but I still don't understand what their point was.

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