Dombrowski has undone a deal that he never really wanted for the Tigers

Detroit Tigers' GM and President Dave Dombrowski has wiggled his way out of a bad contract that was pushed on him by owner Mike Ilitch two years ago.

Detroit Tigers’ GM and President Dave Dombrowski has wiggled his way out of a bad contract that was pushed on him by owner Mike Ilitch two years ago.

Someday when his career in baseball is over, Dave Dombrowski will write his memoir. He might fill the large portion of one full chapter on the Prince Fielder era in Detroit.

At that point, with time removed, Dombrowski will be able to tell the full story from behind the scenes of how Prince came to Detroit, how Mike Ilitch pulled the strings, and how he, as GM of the Detroit Tigers, had to undo the deal to help the franchise win over the long stretch.

The Fielder signing was never Dombrowski’s idea, but he went along with it for the same reason we all listen to our boss’s crazy notions – we want to keep our job. But there was some eye rolling for sure 22 months ago when Ilitch told Dombrowski to pay Fielder a princely sum to come to Motown.

Of course, Dombrowski didn’t hate the idea of Prince in his lineup, after all the big slugger is a very good baseball player, one any team would like to have. The deal wasn’t a bust. But the hefty price and the circumstances around the move were never Dombrowski-approved. Left to his own devices, DD wouldn’t have pulled the trigger. He would have, in his genius way, used far less money to get a corner outfielder and maybe bolster his bullpen. Instead, Mr. I put $216 million on his payroll over nine seasons. The contract was an albatross. If albatrosses weighed 3,000 pounds and stunk like dumpster gravy.

Dombrowski was forced to move Miguel Cabrera to third base, which meant that with Victor Martinez at DH, he had three lineup spots cemented with slow-moving players. Considering how good all three were, it wasn’t a terrible thing, but it wasn’t ideal, especially considering the impact Comerica Park had on Prince.

And that’s the biggest reason the Fielder signing for that amount of money made little practical sense. The setting.

Milwaukee’s small ballpark was made for Fielder’s vicious upper-cut swing and gap-power, but in Detroit it was a curse. The deepest part of the ballpark (right center field at the brick scoreboard by the bleachers) was exactly where Prince’s power was most prominent. Dozens of times over the two years and 162 games he played at Detroit’s home park, Fielder sent flyballs to that area only to watch them land harmlessly in the leather of opposing outfielders. It weighed on the Tiger slugger.

Prince wanted desperately to do well for the fans of Detroit. He wanted to put up big numbers like he had in Milwaukee. He wanted to drive in boatloads of runs, trot around the bases, and form a fearsome duo with Miguel Cabrera. But  even though Prince performed adequately, his numbers were never going to be great as long as Comerica Park was his backyard. This is a pitcher’s ballpark. Prince wanted to earn his $216 million deal, so he hustled and played every day, and he tried as hard as he could. But the cards were stacked against him, the fans had a rich scapegoat, and Prince also put too much pressure on himself.

It’s an indication of how powerful and how important Dombrowski is to this franchise that just two years into a nine-year contract, he bypassed his owner and sent Fielder packing for a middle infielder and much more wiggle room financially. I presume that DD only had to phone Mr. I and tell him quickly that trading Prince would make the team better for years to come. Which is exactly why this deal is perfect for the Tigers at this time. If they were the Yankees and could afford to eat bad contracts, they’d keep Prince and still pursue every player on their shopping list like a wolf salivating over a pork chop. But the reality is that Ilitch has only a finite amount of money to spend on his sports teams, and DD knows the Tigs need cash to ink deals with Max Scherzer (free agent following 2014) and Cabrera (free agent after the ’15 season). If you think a Cy Young Award winner and two-time MVP Award winner are going to sign for a “hometown discount”, you’re crazy.

If fans try to gauge this trade by what the numbers on the field will be (that is, by how many homers and runs and hits Ian Kinsler accumulates in Detroit, and how many homers and RBI Fielder puts up down in Texas), they miss the point. The only two numbers that matter in this trade are dollars and titles. The Tigers save close to $90 million on this deal. That’s real money, folks – cash that can be funneled into a deal to re-sign Mad Max. Cash that frees up Ilitch to resign Cabrera in two years. Cash that enables Dombrowski to sign a few free agent relievers. As for titles, those will come if Dombrowski makes the right moves with the dollars he’s saved. He can do a lot of things now to make this team (which has reached baseball’s final four three years running) even better.

Having already pulled off trades that brought both Cabrera and Scherzer to Detroit, as well as landing Anibal Sanchez, Austin Jackson, Omar Infante, Jose Iglesias, and Doug Fister via trade, Dombrowski has an Ivy League pedigree when it comes to swapping. He’s the best executive in the game, period.

Once his memoir is written 20 years from now, I for one hope Dombrowski has a long chapter on the championship years in Detroit. This trade and what he does following it, will go a long way toward making that possible.

Comments

comments

About Dan Holmes

The editor of Detroit Athletic Co. blog, is the author of Ty Cobb: A Biography. He was formerly the Web Producer for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY, and worked for Major League Baseball as a producer. He contributed to Sock it to 'Em Tigers: The Incredible Story of the 1968 Detroit Tigers, and Deadball Stars of the American League. Follow him on Twitter at @twebman or visit his personal blog at danholmes.com.