When the Tigers lured Dave Dombrowski from the Florida Marlins in November 2001 to be their new, three-headed baseball man — president, general manager, chief executive officer — it was quite a sell job, to be honest. For the Tigers of the early 21st century were a team devoid of much talent on the field, and with a mostly bare cupboard of young talent in the minor leagues. They had a brand-new ballpark with ridiculous dimensions in left and left center field, and after two seasons of Comerica Park, the novelty was already starting to wear off.
How the Tigers managed to get the well-respected Dombrowski to come to Detroit to resuscitate their franchise, after over a decade of poor decisions and horrible drafting, surely will go down as one of the greatest coups in this city’s sports history.
Back then, when Dombrowski addressed the media for the first time as a Tigers employee, wearing a Tigers jacket inside a CoPa suite — the baseball diamond as a backdrop — you might have wondered if even he knew what he was truly getting himself into. Did he have buyer’s remorse?
Dombrowski’s approach is to do whatever it takes to secure solid big leaguers like Renteria
In the early years of his job here, he spoke of the future. The idea was to cobble together a product on the field that, one day, would be good enough to challenge the Yankees and Red Sox and even the Twins for league supremacy. The other phase of Dombrowski’s plan was to fortify the minor league system — one that had become an MLB-wide joke. A third phase was to have the first two phases in place so that he could begin talking as he did yesterday.
“We’re trying to win now,” Dombrowski said in the wake of the news that the Tigers had acquired shortstop Edgar Renteria from the Atlanta Braves. The price for the 32-year-old, five-time All-Star Renteria was pitching prospect Jair Jurrjens and potential big league outfielder Gorkys Hernandez. Two of the Tigers’ brightest young prospects, in other words.
That’s where the Tigers are now. They are in Phase III of Dombrowski’s plan. They now have a big league roster loaded with talent and a feeder system overstocked, to be used as bait for more talented big league talent.
It’s why Dombrowski can talk with the sense of urgency normally reserved for the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, and other big-market MLB clubs. It’s even being mentioned that the Tigers’ “window” for winning some serious hardware might be closing soon — based on the ages of some of the team’s key cogs.
Talk of windows and “winning now” and trading some of the future for some of the present is all new stuff for the baseball team from Detroit. It was talk that would have seemed absurd as recently as four years ago. Then Dombrowski, perhaps using the same salesman skills once used on him, managed to get Fernando Vina, Rondell White, and most of all, Pudge Rodriguez, to sign with the Tigers in the off-season after the horrific 43-win season of 2003. The path to respectability had begun to be forged. A pre-2004 trade brought Carlos Guillen into the fold. A mid-2005 trade fetched Placido Polanco. Free agency brought Kenny Rogers in December 2005, and another trade sent Gary Sheffield to Detroit last November.
Now, the Renteria deal. And talk, from the GM himself, of winning now.
“You always want to set yourself up for the future, but to get someone like Edgar we knew we’d have to give up some talent,” Dombrowski said. And the Tigers, thanks to Dombrowski and his razor-sharp lieutenants like scouting director David Chadd (swiped from the Red Sox), have managed to put together a model big league organization in relatively short order.
Edgar Renteria is a Tiger this morning because the team saw an opportunity, seized on it, and filled another hole that needed to be filled, thanks to their stockpiling of young, quality players. Just like that.
That’s how the consistent winners in baseball do it. Which is what the Tigers have now become, and clearly intend to remain.