Three years ago, he made news by signing veteran free agent pitcher Kenny Rogers, fresh off a summer in which Rogers took a few jabs — literally — at a cameraman and in which Rogers took an All-Star spot for the game at Comerica Park that Detroiters felt (me included) belonged to Jeremy Bonderman. Two years ago, he made news by trading for enigmatic outfielder/DH Gary Sheffield. Last year around this time, he set the baseball world on its ear by trading for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis — just a month after dealing for SS Edgar Renteria.
Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski sits on a considerably warmer seat this November and December than he did at any other time in his tenure in Detroit, which began seven Novembers ago. Never before, in Motown, has his job security been in question. There truly is a first time for everything.
DD is vulnerable because of the verifiably awful 12 months he has just experienced — some of his own doing. After the 2007 season, a summer in which the Tigers had the best record in baseball at the All-Star break then faded afterward, DD got out his scalpel. Then he said, “screw this”, and got out a meat cleaver.
In came LF Jacque Jones (remember him?), SS Renteria, and 3B/1B Cabrera and LHP Willis. Gone were a lot of the Tigers’ future players, in the trades. On paper, the moves seemed to be exactly what the team needed to separate itself from the pack in the AL Central. Some said it separated them from the rest of MLB.
Oh, they separated the Tigers, alright. But in the opposite direction. Incredibly, the Tigers sank to last place in their division, behind even those perennial doormats, the Kansas City Royals.
Was that bad season enough, by itself, to put DD on warning? Well, Tigers owner Mike Ilitch didn’t pay $138 million kajillion to finish behind the Royals. Let’s just put it that way.
Nothing DD touched last year turned into anything remotely like gold. If there was ever an award given out called The SO NOT Executive of the Year, Dombrowski would have won, hands down. He had all the success that that bull in the china shop had in not breaking anything.
So yes, these awful last 12 months are enough to make DD a potential ziggy victim, if significant improvement isn’t shown in 2009. He and his manager, Jim Leyland, are both on the radar now. Neither has much margin for error. A 75-87 record, after what the owner provided in terms of both financial and emotional support, is unacceptable. First there should be apologies. Then there should be some more careful, more precise moves to address the Tigers’ suddenly vacuous franchise. And these moves had better work.
Too much pressure? Tough. Dombrowski took a turn at the roulette wheel and the slot machines last year, and came up with nothing but 00s and lemons. With the owner’s money, to boot.
The Tigers are, strangely, much worse off now than they were one year ago before all the splashy, high-profile signings and trades. That’s usually not how it’s supposed to work.
Let’s see what DD does this off-season to patch these holes: pitching, defense, shortstop, catcher, left field. That’s a longer shopping list than you normally have if you are a contender. But it’s about the right length when you’re a last place team, which the Tigers are, like it or not.
Dave Dombrowski has done a lot of good things since taking over in November 2001. You could even argue that he’s done more good than bad, overall. But coaches with overall winning records get fired, if those wins didn’t come at the right time. It’s a “What have you done for me lately?” business, sports is, and if you look at DD’s record lately, it’s not pretty.
Is it ugly enough to get the ziggy? Not by itself, but another series of blunders is likely to put DD over the top — and off the cliff.