Friday, October 16, 2009

Dombrowski Culpable for Tigers' Sticky Wicket

David Dombrowski has been President/G.M. of the Tigers for eight baseball seasons, and just what has the team accomplished?

One playoff appearance.

DD is 1-for-8, and that's a .125 BA---something that even Gerald Laird would scoff at.

It's time to take a serious look at how Dombrowski has been minding the store.

It's one thing to miss the playoffs; it's quite another to do so consistently in a notoriously weak division. It's yet another to do it whilst frittering away the owner's money like it grows on trees.

The Tigers, thanks to Dombrowski's questionable generosity of the past, are on the hook for a whole lot of Mike Ilitch's pizza dough spent on just a handful of players.

Nate Robertson. Jeremy Bonderman. Dontrelle Willis. On just those three mostly ineffective pitchers alone, the Tigers must cough up millions of bucks annually.

We laughed at DD's predecessor, Randy Smith, for ham-handed contract negotiations with the likes of Bobby Higginson, who was over-rewarded after his 2000 season, and for the pathetic courting of Juan Gonzalez---a contract that Ilitch ought to drop to his knees every night to thank God that it never materialized.

But Smith, in retrospect, just appears to be Dave Dombrowski Lite.

That's not a compliment to either man, by the way.

The Tigers are in a trick box this off-season, and for as much as you'd like to blame the field manager, Jim Leyland---and he's very culpable, too----the core of their troubles can be traced to Dombrowski.

In fairness, you can pretty much wipe away the first two of his seasons in Detroit, coming off Smith's disastrous run, which culminated in the horrific 43-119 season of 2003.

And you can give Dombrowski props for luring Pudge Rodriguez to the Tigers, even though Pudge wasn't exactly being flooded with offers at the time.

There was the Ugueth Urbina-for-Placido Polanco trade of 2005, which was among the very best and most lopsided in franchise history.

Beyond that?

This is a "what have you done for me lately?" business, and lately hasn't been filled with Dombrowski's finest hours.

The trades have been spotty in their success. The free agent signings have been similarly pocked. Contract extensions have been doled out with frightening recklessness.

The Central Division has never been a powerhouse grouping. Any division with the Kansas City Royals served up 18 times for consumption to each of the other teams can't be taken too seriously. Not to mention the Tigers.

If you're the White Sox or the Twins or the (until this season) Indians, and you got to play the Tigers and the Royals 36 times every season, that meant a guaranteed 20-25 wins (at least) per season until 2006, when the Tigers finally woke up.

The Tigers had no assemblance of an offense in 2009, albeit partly due to some players underachieving (yes, I'm looking at you, Curtis Granderson). Yet Dombrowski's efforts to bring bats in from outside the organization were laughable.

Aubrey Huff will go down as a poster child for Dombrowski's bungling.

When it was clear that Huff was gagging under the sheer force of pennant race pressure, being swallowed whole by it, DD still had time to pick someone off the scrap heap. That player wouldn't have been playoff eligible---he would have joined the team after September 1---but so what?

The Tigers added Matt Stairs in mid-September in 2006, and Matt hit a key home run in the final weekend series against the Royals to send a game into extra innings.

The Baltimore Orioles, in 1974, added ex-Tiger Jim Northrup in the final two weeks and Fox went 4-for-7, helping the O's cross the finish line ahead of the Yankees.

So it can be done.

But Dombrowski treated the September 1 date as if it was some sort of force field beyond which he couldn't make any more moves.

Dombrowski ought to thank his lucky stars that he works for a generous owner who is loathe to fire anyone. In lots of other towns, DD would have been long gone.

Dombrowski, in eight years, has fired a GM (Smith) and two managers (Luis Pujols and Alan Trammell), and all the franchise has to show for that and all the personnel moves is one post-season appearance---and the 2006 Tigers tried mightily to cough that one up, too.

Now the Tigers may not be able to add to their burgeoning payroll thanks to Dombrowski's painting them into a corner financially.

This is, like all the other ones, a crucial off-season. The 2010 Tigers are likely not going to look all that much like the 2009 version. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing will pretty much be up to what Dave Dombrowski does from between now and February.

How confident are YOU?


Blogger xman said...

Interesting take. Taking your strongest point - that we've failed to win a very weak division - under advisement, I've been relatively confident in DD. Obviously, not every move is going to pan out, but he has managed to rebuild our farm system from the Schembechler through Smith disaster years, so that we're relatively competitive at all levels and have started bringing on regular home grown talent (or using those chips in trade) for the first time in decades.
He's also managed to keep us competitive, which cannot be said in the decades that preceded him.
Despite 2008's disappointment, we were a WS contender "on paper," which means that many folks thought we were on the right track (before pitching, injuries and age proved our downfall).
He also deserved credit for finding guys like Galarraga & Jackson, that others had given up on.
I'm not totally defending DD, as you point out, there are certainly some failures (Willis, Bonderman, Nate, Inge) among his contracts, but I'm also not sure he deserves to be slammed as a failure or "no confidence" guy. He's certainly better than most, has a great track record with small market teams, and especially considering from where he started (Smith's disaster).

7:16 PM  
Blogger Michael David said...

Greg, I think you're pretty much right on again. The 2010 Tigers will have about the same payroll, but probably minus Palanco, the only other true hitter on the team. If DD can lure Placido back to wear the 'D', then there may be hope. I'm not sure just how strong the Tiger farm system is, with the Whitecaps the the only team to actually make the playoffs. One of the worse trades, was getting Renteria, while giving up Jurjens and Gorkys Hernandez. Despite Willis being a bust, and me missing Cameron Maybin, getting and wrapping up Cabrera was a good thing (isn't it?).

1:26 AM  
Blogger byrnes23 said...

While I am not in total disagreement with you that some of DD's moves have been questionable, you are really stretching a single into a triple here.

While they don't look good now, the deals for Bonderman (still only 27 and I believe a closer-in-waiting, but that's another topic) Robertson (left-handed innings eater, not a dime-a-dozen) and Willis (no Willis, no Miggy) were justifiable at the time of signing.

You also neglected to mention a couple of other favorable deals - Carlos Guillen from the Mariners and swiping Gallaraga from the Rangers - although we enjoy pointing out the Guillen deal came in desperation after a failed courtship of Rich Aurilia. Edwin Jackson looks like a cat burglar heist so far as well.

I know I was ecstatic with the deals for Washburn and Huff this summer - it was impossible to know they would both crap down their leg. Sure we'd love to have another hot bat down the stretch - but who? It reminds me of the talk-radio knuckleheads who call in and say "Aw we gotta fire the coach!" but when asked who they think will do a better job, they have no clue! Give me a name or two and maybe we can talk about that one.

Last offseason he banked on pitching and improved defense - bringing in under-the-radar cheap guys - and it darn near worked. Basically the entire team under-produced offensively or it would have been sewn up a week before. Like I tell my friends who believe Jim Leyland caused Hurricane Katrina, "You can't blame a manager for a player's lack of execution." Now you can blame him when he sends the same guys out to make the same mistakes, but again, that's another topic.

Actually the deal I have the biggest problem with was the Sheffield deal. As it turns out, the personnel weren't much, but the toll on the clubhouse and all that money for six weeks of production - sheesh! And something nobody else but I have mentioned , to my knowledge - Orlando Cabrera would have looked a LOT better in our lineup than Adam Everett and would have been a wash defensively. I'd like to know the reasoning behind that one.

DD has rebuilt the farm system and brought in quality baseball people to run the organization. Sure, he's swung and missed a few times, but overall I enjoy the fact that we go to every spring training with a chance to win it all if it all falls right. So yes - I look forward to the Hot Stove season with confidence that DD will make a move or two to improve the club for 2010.

7:48 AM  

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