Current Detroit Tigers General Manager and President, Dave Dombrowski is a lightening rod in the city of Detroit to say the least. Take a poll of Tigers fans and you will get a vast variety of opinions on the GM; from a brilliant baseball mind to a man who has no idea what he is doing.
Whether or not he is the right man for the job, Dombrowski has definitely put his fingerprints on the Tigers organization; when he took the helm from Randy Smith in 2002 he presided over a ball club that went on to lose 119 games in 2003. With several unsuccessful seasons on the record the Tigers had a host of early draft picks, and under Dombrowksi they went on to build one of the most highly regarded farm systems in the league.
The Tigers continued to struggle but Dombrowski managed to instill enough confidence in Ivan Rodriguez to get him to sign a four year contract with Detroit in 2004. This signing helped to lure other veteran players to the club in the future. The following season Dombrowski made a controversial trade for the oft-injured Magglio Ordonez; coming off a severe injury many didn't believe Ordonez would ever return to form.
In 2006, the Tigers went on an improbable run all the way to the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. With a balance of veteran talent and young players, Detroit surprised everyone beating the New York Yankees in the Wild Card round of the playoffs and sweeping the Oakland Athletics in the American League Championship Series. They went on to win only one game against the Cardinals, losing the World Series in St. Louis in Game 5.
Because of the team's surprising success Dombrowski and his newly hired coach, Jim Leyland, were regarded in Detroit as brilliant baseball minds and any thoughts of not extending their contracts was considered blasphemy. However, the team that Leyland won with in 2006 was not his own, it had been put together by his predecessor Alan Trammel. Trammel was ousted from the coaching position after several losing seasons in Detroit; blame was placed on the manager for not winning, but no thought was given to the lack of talent provided to him by the general manager.
Dombrowski kept much of the 2006 American League Championship team intact for the 2007 season, even adding slugger Gary Sheffield to the lineup, but the Tigers failed to live up to expectations. Highlights of the season were the call-up's of top prospects Andrew Miller, Cameron Maybin and Jair Jurrjens to Detroit. Jurrjens impressed the most, coming from AAA Toledo and holding major league talent at bay for several starts.
In 2008, Dombrowski went for broke and auctioned the entire farm system in order to "win now." At the MLB Winter Meetings the Tigers traded top prospects Miller and Maybin to the Florida Marlins for Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera. Despite Willis' slumping numbers and unimpressive resume of late, Dombrowski extended Willis' contract. In the same off season, Dombrowski traded away Jurrjens for aging shortstop Edgar Renteria of the Atlanta Braves.
Baseball analysts across the country deemed the Tigers the team to beat in 2008, unfortunately Dombrowski had not anticipated the team chemistry and general ineffectiveness of the team that he had assembled. The team boasted the second highest payroll in the MLB, $138 million, but finished the season 74-88.
When the Tigers moved from Tiger Stadium to the beautiful Comerica Park, there was no adjustment in their team philosophy as there should have been. At Tiger Stadium, Detroit could play station to station baseball and lean heavily on home runs, but in Comerica Park they were given much more room to work with but continued to play their old style of baseball.
Baseball is the one sport in which home-field advantage means the most, because each team is free to design their stadium, and field, to whatever they like. Look at Fenway Park, the Green Monster robs many players of home runs while allowing the Red Sox outfielders to play caroms off the wall in a way that gives them an advantage over visiting players. Whereas in San Diego an outfielder running towards a fly ball in right field disappears from view while he makes a play on the ball.
Comerica Park is designed for a team that runs and does not play a station to station game, the team that inhabits Comerica Park should be one that can hit balls into the gaps and leg out doubles and triples. The stadium is designed to be favorable to balls hit to the gaps, and yet Dombrowski has not adapted the Tigers to fit the stadium where they play 81 games a year.
During Dombrowski's tenure, he has traded away so much of the farm system that it has gone from being ranked #3 among MLB clubs to #29. He has failed repeatedly in the MLB Draft, following his ideas instead of following the needs of the Detroit Tigers. The prototypical Dombrowski draft pick is a right handed college pitcher who throws 99 mph. Despite the need the Tigers have at second base and at third base, Dombrowski has continued to draft pitching prospects that never seem to pan out. In the 2011 MLB Draft, the first overall selection of the Detroit Tigers was a catcher out of Alabama, despite the Tigers having young Alex Avila as the catcher of the future. Dombrowski refused to address the problems the Tigers have at second base and instead selected more pitchers to add to the farm system.
Dombrowski has had more than eight years in the general managers position and he has repeatedly failed to field a successful product, and he has refused to adapt the Tigers to fit Comerica Park and take advantage of the benefits it offers. At the end of the 2011 season Dombrowski's contract is set to expire, for the sake of baseball in the city of Detroit let us hope that his contract runs out.