Rebuilding in Detroit
Sometimes the Truth Really Hurts
During a July 19 talk with season-ticket holders, Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski provided a rare peek inside the team's rebuilding process, and it wasn't pretty. Delivering zingers as if he were the emcee at a Friars Club roast, Dombrowski named seven veteran players—outfielder Bobby Higginson; infielders Damion Easley, Dean Palmer and Craig Paquette; and pitchers Matt Anderson, Danny Patterson and Steve Sparks—whom he said were untradable because they were overpaid and underachieving. Lamenting the degree to which those players had hamstrung his ability to repair the franchise, Dombrowski laughingly challenged his audience: "If you can trade [them], call me tomorrow."
Although the talk wasn't a savvy public relations move, his comments, for which Dombrowski apologized three days later, were dead-on. At week's end the hapless Tigers (41-69) were in last place in the American League Central, 27 games out of first. Since Dombrowski replaced Randy Smith as G.M. on April 8, his mission has been to unload as many of those veteran contracts as possible (the seven players named will earn about $40 million next season) as part of an overall restructuring of the organization.
In truth Dombrowski appears to have made several shrewd personnel moves. In five trades he has obtained several promising players, including first baseman Carlos Pena (.305 and 17 RBIs in 26 games with the Tigers) and outfielder George Lombard (.269, five stolen bases in 33 games). In addition budding closer Franklyn German (16 saves in 41? innings at Double A Midland before the trade from the A's on July 5) and infielder David Espinosa (44 RBIs and 26 stolen bases for Class A Stockton before his July 23 trade from the Reds) are prospects who will be counted on down the road. Says one American League executive, "Given the hand he was dealt, he's done a good job."
Dombrowski remains cautious in his assessment of a club that he predicted would be competitive this season. "We need to add more talent and depth to the organization," he says. "We have a ways to go. It's a long-term project."
—Daniel G. Habib