December 9th, 2010

Dombrowski: We have to build

Dave Dombrowski characterized the Tigers’ courtship of Carl Crawford much the same as he did for Jayson Werth a few days ago: They inquired, heard the contract expectations, and moved on.

“I mean, you have to like Carl Crawford,” Dombrowski said. “When we were in our situation, we sat down and we looked at it. Any preliminary conversations we had were in a position where those were the type of dollars that they were looking for, and we were not prepared to go into that area with what we were trying to do. That’s why we had a feeling of that early and we went in a different direction.

“We never had any serious conversations, never had any feel. We always told them we like the player, but it’s just not the area we felt comfortable going to.”

They weren’t comfortable doing seven years and $20 million a season for Crawford, or Werth, or Cliff Lee. They weren’t comfortable doing that for anybody, really. It didn’t fit in the big picture of what they were looking to do.

“We have a wonderful owner, to me as fine as anybody in baseball,” Dombrowski said. “When you put together your club, short of a couple clubs, you can only have so many players that are making $20 million a year. We have two. So sometimes you choose those two and build around them. When you’re doing it, it’s always a combination of trying to put everything together.

“When you’re looking at it, we chose Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander to be our two key guys. We have a wonderful situation, fantastic, great owner, but you have to build. To me, you build around those guys.”

Is it a new financial reality for the Tigers? Maybe a little, but not really a shock. I can’t imagine many people expected Detroit to spend all $60 million or whatever of the payroll space that opened up in expiring contracts. On the other hand, the payroll is just under $100 million as is. Assuming the Tigers re-sign Magglio Ordonez around $10 million a season — not saying it’s happening, just predicting — payroll will spill just over $100 million heading into Spring Training.

Everybody remembers owner Mike Ilitch telling reporters at the Mike Modano press conference that he’s still going to spend on his baseball team. But lost in those remarks was the quote where he says he’s learned from recent years and that they have to make smart decisions. They signed Victor Martinez at a price that looks very good right now. They acknowledged the new market on setup relievers and signed Joaquin Benoit to a three-year deal they didn’t want but needed to do, and they’re the most likely team to get Ordonez.

It’s more than a lot of teams will do this winter. It’s just not what some might have expected or hoped.