Yesterday, the Tigers made a surprise move in their front office, as Dave Dombrowski, their president and general manager, was relieved of his duties. On the surface, it seemed like a mutual parting, as Mike Illitch said that he "decided to release Dave from his contract in order to afford him the time to pursue other career opportunities." That statement doesn't give the impression that Illitch was upset with Dombrowski, but rather that it was simply time for both parties to go their separate ways.
He wasn't under contract after this season, and he reportedly wants a promotion, something that other teams could provide him. The Blue Jays and Angels are attractive options, and the Mariners, Brewers, and Red Sox could all be in the market for new leadership. Perhaps sensing that his GM was going to leave, Illitch decided that it would be in his team's best interest to install Dombrowski's successor (Al Avila) as soon as possible, so that he could acclimate to his new position before the offseason. While that could be possible, after learning more about how this change in power occurred, that doesn't seem to be the case.
Dombrowski wasn't given an explanation as for why he was let go, and was merely told that it was a "change of direction", which all but confirms that this was a firing, and not an agreement to separate. If it had been mutual, a statement like that wouldn't be necessary, as he would have been aware of the impending announcement; and according to Avila himself, this was something that manifested over the weekend.
Avila: "Mr. Ilitch called me on Saturday afternoon. I was on my way home [from BAL], and he offered me the job on Saturday afternoon."— Jason Beck (@beckjason) August 4, 2015
This past Saturday was August 2nd, just two days after the trade deadline passed. This is suspicious for two reasons. Either Illitch knew he was going to fire his GM, but let Dombrowski make franchise altering deals anyway, or that he didn't know until recently. It's difficult to know which is the case, but regardless, it's extremely worrying.
If it was the first scenario, then it implies that Illitch seemingly didn't have confidence in Avila to be able to run the trade deadline adequately; and wanted someone with experience to remain in charge until it was over. While that's not a bad strategy, it's also not the biggest boost of confidence for a man who was just promoted to VP of Baseball Operations, and GM. However it's the latter option that seems more likely, and that Illitch's decision was something that came about somewhat recently.
While one could assume that he might have been upset with Dombrowski over his recommendation to sell at the trade deadline, as the Tigers are just four games behind the second Wild Card, it's important to point out that he did ultimately agree with it. Once Illitch had time to think over what had been proposed, he "called Dombrowski the following day to sign off on deals that sent David Price to the Blue Jays, Yoenis Cespedes to the Mets, and Joakim Soria to the Pirates".
By trading those players away, the Tigers chances at making the playoff this season were effectively ended. But in Avila's press conference, the impression he gave was that Illitch still expects to win, now.
Avila on Ilitch message: "I want you to take this job and I want you to run with it. And make sure you know the foot is on the pedal, hard."— Jason Beck (@beckjason) August 4, 2015
It's going to be almost impossible for Avila to be able to turn things around this season, and as was outlined yesterday, the next few years won't be easy for him either. He's inheriting a team that is locked into several large financial agreements with aging stars, and he won't have much flexibility to make improvements while his owner watches over his shoulder.
Perhaps the most surprising piece of information to come from all of this, is the time difference between when Illitch informed both men of his decision. By Avila's account, he was told on Saturday, but from what Dombrowski has told reporters, he didn't know until minutes before the public found out; which means that for all of Monday, and Tuesday, Illitch let him remain in his role despite having already replaced him.
While those two days won't have any effect on the long-term outcome of the Tigers franchise moving forward, it's still incredibly strange that Dombrowski wasn't told immediately after Avila. It speaks to the chaos and sudden nature of this change, rather than a calm and calculated move that Illitch tried to make this seem like.
It will be interesting to see what route Avila takes this team in now that he's in control. He's been with the team since 2002, and has been the Vice President and Assistant General Manager up until yesterday. Avila obviously has an intimate knowledge of their entire organization, which will help make this a smooth transition. Once the offseason has started, we'll get a better sense of how he's going to approach his new task of putting the Tigers back in the win column. His owner desperately wants to win a championship now, and there's undoubtedly an unfair amount of pressure on Avila to make that happen.