Culbreath: Dombrowski goes big, not dumbWritten by Matt 'Shaggy' Culbreath | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Let it never be said that Dave Dombrowski is timid.
Almost two years ago, he made headlines for the Detroit Tigers by cracking open the pocketbook and signing Prince Fielder. Nine years, $214 million for the big man, the most expensive contract in Tigers history. This week, he sent that money packing to the Lone Star State, trading Fielder to the Texas Rangers for Ian Kinsler.
The logic was perfectly sound when they signed Fielder back in January of 2012. You already have a phenomenal power hitter in Miguel Cabrera, get another guy who can hit the longball and avoid all that messy intentional walking. And boy, what a year 2012 was. Not only did Fielder hit .313, with 30 home runs and 108 RBIs, but his presence allowed Cabrera to actually take ABs instead of walks, leading to his Triple Crown season.
In 2013, however, Fielder dropped off, batting .279 with 25 home runs, though he still drove in 106 runs. More importantly, once the Detroit Tigers entered the postseason, Fielder disappeared. Only five hits in the ALDS, and four in the ALCS, without a single RBI in either game. I mentioned it before in this column: sometimes, the power goes out.
While Fielder was flailing, another Tiger was dealing. Starting pitcher Max Scherzer had an absolutely lights-out 2013 with a 21-3 record, a 2.90 ERA, and the Baseball Writers Association of America recognized that season with the AL Cy Young. But with Scherzer coming up on the last year of his contract, Dombrowski had a situation on his hands – with so much money tied up in the bats and Justin Verlander, there’s no way they could pay Scherzer the money he’d command in free agency. They’d have to trade him to get some value before he walked.
Unless Dave could make some of that salary go away, that is.
Now I’m only assuming that’s the plan for Dombrowski. It could be that he leverages Scherzer for another player with a fat contract. Or maybe he’s simply bringing down the payroll so new manager Brad Ausmus has a fewer superstars to handle in his first year: the 2014 “win now” roster with a rookie manager is now a thing of the past.
But give Dombrowski credit, he goes big without going dumb. Signing Fielder was bigger than just signing another big bat, namely because of his father’s service to the Tigers organization. But with Fielder’s struggles and more important issues to attend to with the roster, he didn’t surrender to the narrative of trading away the hottest pitcher on the club. Instead, he found a way to solve two problems at once (and got a pretty decent on-base guy, to boot).
Too often, we see the front offices of sports programs do too little, content to play the waiting game a little too long. Or we see GMs who throw ridiculous money at aging talent, hoping that at the very least it’ll move tickets. Some are too bullheaded to admit that a change is needed, or to admit mistakes.
Tigers fans may be bummed to lose Fielder, but they know that their general manager will bring the right people to Comerica Park.
Tags: AL Cy Young, ALCS, ALDS, Baseball Writers Association of America, Comerica Park, Dave Dombrowski, Detroit Tigers, ERA, Ian Kinsler, manager Brad Ausmus, Miguel Cabrera, pitcher Max Scherzer, Prince Fielder, RBI, Texas Rangers, Triple Crown season