I'm still reeling this morning from the news about Dave Dombrowski's ouster in Detroit. After more than a decade at the helm, and following four consecutive AL Central titles, the man who built the perennial contender has been replaced by one of his former lieutenants, in a move that seems permanent. After all, Al Avila isn't just getting the coveted GM title, but has been made an executive vice president as well.
The Tigers might have lost Dombrowski this offseason anyway, given that his contract was up and he was looking for a promotion. So, really, this move just gives Avila some time to get his feet wet as a GM and to prepare for the inevitable retooling that will occur this offseason in Mike Ilitch's latest quest to win a World Series before he dies.
Still, the timing of the decision is strange, coming just a week after the trade deadline. For one thing, it indicates that Dombrowski must have had no indication that this was coming down the pike, and that the separation wasn't his idea. Hell, it may indicate that the Tigers themselves didn't even know that it was coming.
After all, the Tigers would not have wanted Dombrowski to be making decisions on the deals designed to reinvigorate the Tigers if he knew for certain he would not be part of the organization to enjoy the fruits of his efforts. That isn't to question Dombrowski's integrity, of course. But from an organizational standpoint, the Tigers would want someone pulling the strings who is fully invested in the club's future, both in the short and the long terms.
But if the Tigers had been planning this move all along, it's telling that they allowed Dombrowski to manage the deadline anyway. That would be a tacit acknowledgment that they felt he could do a better job extracting value out of other clubs than Avila could. And he did a fine job of it, getting Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd for David Price, a couple of good arms for Yoenis Cespedes, and a potential power-hitting shortstop for Joakim Soria, even though all three were two-month rentals for their new clubs. Indeed, if the idea was, two weeks ago, that Avila wasn't ready to tackle the trading deadline, what makes anyone think that he will be the best choice two months from now to handle the offseason moves? Doesn't releasing Dombrowski now, and installing Avila, necessarily short circuit a genuine search for the best candidate this offseason?
Finally, and most likely, there's the possibility that the Tigers didn't have this transition planned at all. That something in the last week convinced Mike Ilitch that Dombrowski was the wrong guy going forward. Maybe it was the decision to sell and give up on 2015, rather than step on the accelerator and hope for the best. That certainly seems to be the indication, given that Ilitch's press conference announcing the move suggested the club was still trying to win in 2015. Maybe it was the return he negotiated for the players he dealt. Maybe Ilitch decided he didn't like the cut of Dombrowski's jib. After all, it's impossible to predict the whims of a deranged (note: Mike Ilitch probably isn't actually deranged, clinically speaking) billionaire nearing the end of his run who is singularly focused on winning a World Series.
Whatever the reason, it's clear to me that Dombrowski is getting a raw deal in Detroit, being made the scapegoat for the club not winning a championship. That's ridiculous. By now, we all know the chaotic nature of the postseason, where the best teams often get beat in a short series.
Dombrowski operated within the mandate given to him by Ilitch to stock the Tigers with expensive stars. He signed Prince Fielder when he was ordered to. When that plan developed holes, he dealt Fielder to the Rangers and got back the far more valuable Ian Kinsler, while saving money and years. Trying desperately to extend his core's window, he emptied the farm system to fill holes in the outfield and starting rotation. Ultimately, though, injuries and age catch up with everyone.
His biggest weakness, by far, was his inability to build an effective bullpen in Detroit, but the rest of the roster he assembled was consistently excellent. Wherever he winds up in 2016, whether as a GM or as a team president, Dave Dombrowski is not to blame for the end of the Tigers' dominance in the AL Central, and he was probably still the best option to run that franchise. Now free, someone is going to reap the benefits of what was probably a hasty decision in Detroit, and Dombrowski will build another contender somewhere else.