August 16, 2016
Dombrowski gone, but his good
work should not be forgotton
By KEITH GAVE
Dave Dombrowski will be back in Detroit this week with his new team, the Boston Red Sox, and while he’s here the town might want to consider throwing him a parade.
The Tigers are in the thick of a pennant chase in the final six weeks of the regular season thanks especially to the deals he made at the trade deadline that got him fired. Think about it. Where would this team be without the three young pitchers – Michael Fulmer, Matt Boyd and Daniel Norris – that Dombrowski acquired when he decided, absolutely correctly, that his team didn’t stand a snowball’s chance of making the post-season?
Until then in his 14 years as president and general manager of the club, Dombrowski had cemented his reputation as a riverboat gambler, trading young assets in the minors for established stars like Miguel Cabrera and Max Scherzer. Those deals helped the club to two World Series appearances and four straight Central Division pennants.
Last year, he went the other way. Knowing his team had little chance of retaining outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and former Cy Young Award-winner David Price, both pending free agents. He traded them. He defied conventional wisdom in the process.
You’re not supposed to get prime young assets for so-called “rentals – those soon-to-be free agents. But when Dombrowski sent Price to Toronto, he got three top left-handed pitching prospects, including Boyd and Norris. Then, for an encore and just 15 minutes before the trade deadline expired, he sent Cespedes to the New York Mets for two young right-handers, including Fulmer.
“We have helped our pitching depth at the upper levels a great deal,” Dombrowski said at the time. “We changed the outlook of our organization at the upper level, which we needed to do.”
A few days later, Dombrowski was shown the door in what can only be described as “an angry old man firing.” Mike Ilitch doesn’t believe in quitting, but he hurt his team by firing the best GM in the game.
Dombrowski argued that he thought three of the five young pitchers he had acquired would be candidates for starting jobs this season – with the leading candidates being Norris, Boyd and either Fulmer or Louis Cessa (also acquired from the Mets) – he also acknowledged that the team’s starting pitching would need to be addressed in the off-season.
And this is where these young guys defied even Dombrowski.
You’re not going to stick three of these guys be putting three young guys into your rotation and saying you’re going to try to win a world championship,” he said.
Oh, but they are.
When the Tigers lost five straight and looked like they were headed for an oh-fer in their recent six game road trip, they turned to two of those rookies. Boyd was the stopper, allowing just two hits in seven innings in a 2-0 win.
The next night, Fulmer turned in his first complete-game effort in what is turning out to be an historic season. He allowed just four hits and struck out nine, and after shaking his catcher’s hand and high-fiving his teammates, he walked off the field as the American League’s ERA leader. At 2.25, Fulmer’s ERA was second only to Los Angeles’ Clayton Kershaw, the injured lefty who hasn’t pitched since June 26.
Suddenly, Fulmer is not only now the leading candidate to win the league’s Rookie of the Year honors, he’s also very much in the conversation about the Cy Young Award.
Monday it was Norris’ turn, and he did his part, scattering six hits and allowing just one run in 5 1/3 innings – honoring the first commandment of every starting pitcher: giving his team a chance to win.
And so I ask once more: Considering the issues the Tigers have had with their starting rotation, with Jordan Zimmermann ineffective and mostly injured since June, and both Anibel Sanchez and Mike Pelfrey (also on the disabled list) woefully inconsistent all season, where would the Tigers be without those three young arms Dombrowski acquired a year ago?
These youngsters have kept the Tigers competitive even while they’re missing three key bats in their order, with the left side of their infield, Nick Castellanos (broken left hand) and Jose Iglesias (hamstring) and centerfielder Cameron Maybin (sprained left thumb) on the DL. They’ll all return.
So, too, should veteran right-handers Pelfrey (back) and Zimmermann (neck), though right now it’s probably unreasonable to assume either of them will return and provide the kind of consistency the Tigers are getting these days from the three young arms.
In the meantime, the Tigers on Monday began what is arguably their most favorable stretch of the season: 16 of the next 19 games are at home; 18 of the next 22 games are against bottom feeders of the American League. They play six games each against the Chicago White Sox and the Royals – the reigning World Series champs who cashed in their chips shortly after the All-Star break in a disappointing, injury-plagued season. They also play three each against Minnesota and the Los Angeles Angeles.
The only team with a winning record in that stretch: Dombroski’s Red Sox, whom the Tigers right now are battling for the second wild card spot.
Interestingly, Dombrowski asked the Tigers to move back the staring time of Thursday’s series opener from 1:10 p.m. to 7:10 p.m. The reason, the Sox are playing the night before in Baltimore and have to travel after the game to Detroit for a quick turnaround.
The Tigers thought about that for, oh, about three seconds and said, “umm, no.”
Call it what you might – competitive gamesmanship or, pettiness, as the whining media in Boston describe it.
Sorry, Dave Dombrowski. While the Tigers and their fans might be grateful for how quickly you rebuilt this team before you left, they’re not that damned grateful. So you probably shouldn’t expect a parade, either.