Dombrowski Out in Detroit, Toronto Next?

This week Dave Dombrowski, the Detroit Tigers General Manager of 14 seasons, was released of his duties.  Since the news broke, there has been much speculation as to the reason for his dismissal and the general future of the Tigers organization.  For example, those at ESPN foresee a change in overall organizational philosophy, with some slight austerity measures due for the next few years.

This makes some sense, seeing as the bloated contracts of players such as Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Justin Verlander seemingly leave very little wiggle room regarding team payroll.  One could also point to deadline deals involving the removal of higher priced players such as David Price, Joakim Soria and Yoenis Cespedes as evidence that the Tigers have waved the white flag and are looking to change direction.

I don’t buy the argument, however.  In Dombrowski’s place now sits Al Avila, who was assistant GM for 14 years under Dombrowksi.  Along with Avila, word is that most of the personnel in the front office will be retained.  This points to a continuation of a “win-now” philosophy the Tigers have had for the last ten years, especially with a star player such as Cabrera anchoring the roster.  This makes sense, seeing as owner Mike Ilitch is 86 years old and bent on bringing a championship to the Motor City.  A complete overhaul at his age seems rather ludicrous.

As for Price, Soria and Cespedes, they were traded away not because of their cost, but because there was no guarantee that any of them would return after this season, with all three becoming free agents.  In exchange for trading away the three veterans, the Tigers received Major League or nearly-Major League ready players.

So what was the reason for Dombrowski’s termination?  The one major fact to consider is that Dombrowski was in the last year of his contract.  With his record, including two World Series appearances and four straight division titles with the Tigers, he was due for a significant pay raise.  To justify such a raise, many organizations often retain personnel through their promotion and expansion of their overall control and duties.  As an example, back in 2012 the Chicago White Sox “promoted” then GM Kenny Williams to the newly created position of Executive Vice President.  Seeing as Dombrowski was not only GM but also CEO and President of the Tigers organization and reported only to Ilitch, there was no higher position available to justify the increase in pay.  Who knows, maybe Dombrowski may have had the tenacity to ask for a stake in ownership.

Interestingly Ilitch, in a statement announcing Dombrowski’s dismissal, mentioned that the move to release Dombrowski was made in the middle of the season “in order to afford him the time to pursue other career opportunities.”  So where does Dombrowski go from here?  All signs point to the Toronto Blue Jays.  With a spot in the front office opening up as President Paul Beeston retires after the season, it makes sense that Dombrowski, whose first job as a general manager was with the Montreal Expos, returns to Canada.

Back in 1988 at age 31, Dombrowksi, the original baseball wunderkind, became the youngest GM at the time when he was thrust into the role for the Expos.  His ability to assess talent and develop players would have paid off in Montreal if not for the strike in 1994.  By the time of the strike, he had already jumped ship and began to help guide the expansion Florida Marlins to a World Series title only four years after their initial season.

The trade involving Price may turn out to be a big piece to the puzzle.  Not only does it point to a good working relationship between Dombrowski and the Blue Jays front office, but it may prove to be the reason for what many have called an overbuy for Toronto.  In return for Price, to be sure a left-handed ace but nonetheless a rental player, the Tigers received a package of high quality talent, headlined by Daniel Norris, the Jays’ number one pitching prospect going into the season.  Now consider the package the Jays gave up in trading for Troy Tulowitzki, a dominating All-Star shortstop (when healthy) with a controllable contract for years to come.  The Colorado Rockies received the aging and expensive Jose Reyes along with three prospects that don’t have the upside of Norris.  Either the Rockies didn’t get enough or the Tigers got too much.

It could be that the asking price the Tigers received for Price included an understanding that Dombrowski would be relieved of his duties in Detroit, giving more time for his transition to Toronto.  It was not even a week after the trade deadline that Dombrowski was released.  It could also very well mean that Price will be expected to sign a long term deal with the Jays, a deal that is, say, fostered by Dombrowski in his new front office role.  Of course this is all speculation, but the understood possibility of Dombrowski as the Jays’ President next season does shed a little light on some of the recent head-scratching moves.

Let’s face it, Dombrowski going to Toronto would be good news for the Blue Jays, as well as MLB as they look to increase a winning brand in Canada.  As we have reported here at Off Base, a new team in Montreal may be on the horizon and a potential powerhouse such as the Blue Jays could help create excitement and establish a new, loyal Canadian fan base.

As for the Tigers, Ilitch and the “win-now” philosophy could be in for some real disappointment.  Just look at the mess in Philadelphia known as the Phillies.

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