August 8th, 2011
Still trying to get out of KC — apparently a commercial jet does indeed need a working seatbelt for the pilot (I kid, Delta actually did a wonderful job helping me change my flight plans today, and I am very grateful) — but I wanted to tie up some loose ends coming out of the Dombrowski conference call and the removal of the elephant from the Tigers clubhouse:
First is the question of a four-year contract for Dave Dombrowski compared with only one for Jim Leyland: Dombrowski said on the call that a multi-year deal for Leyland was never discussed. He apparently didn’t bring it up, they didn’t offer it, and he accepted a one-year offer. Does that mean this same contract-year issue will play out next season? Not necessarily, since they could conceivably revisit the issue in the offseason. Does it mean Leyland is set? I’m not sure that’s the case either.
“It’s a situation where for Jim, he’s done a very very good job,” Dombrowski said on the conference. “To me, when we tackle next year I think in my situation, being extended for four years, it puts some stability in the organization, and I’m hopeful that Jim not only signs for next year, but we hope that he’s here for a long, long time. But we thought at this time it was better just to tackle next season and get him signed for then.”
A long-term extension for Dombrowski, in my opinion, makes sense given the situation. To change over a front office is basically a commitment to rebuilding, and that’s not where this team is. And if you’re going to extend a GM, at least three years makes sense for some security.
Next is why now: As I wrote in the story on the site, Dombrowski said it wasn’t a distraction, but it had the potential to become a distraction. Leyland hadn’t talked about it. The players hadn’t brought it up publicly. It became an issue among some players back in 2009 before Leyland got an extension.
“I don’t think it has been a distraction,” Dombrowski said. “We’re in a position where we’re four games in first place and the guys have played well, but it always has the potential to be a distraction, and not from our perspective, but in the sense that it constantly is brought up. You’re aware that it’s out there. If you can avoid it, you try to avoid it. And in this situation, we were able to do that.”
There was another subtle point from Dombrowski that others in the organization had to worry about their status the longer it went. Could have been assistants, or scouts, or instructors, Dombrowski didn’t specify. But if the intention all along was to extend Dombrowski and his front office, it was best to get rid of the speculation and keep folks from jumping elsewhere.
“I think the most important part is you don’t to risk losing people in your organization that are important members,” Dombrowski said. “And I think that it’s a siutation that even though I feel very secure in that regard, I also understand that insecurities at times are part of anybody’s life and part of our business. And so the closer you get to the end of people’s contracts, which is Oct. 31, it’s not that people want to leave your organization, but I’m also not naive. …
“Sometimes people from other organizations will sometimes approach your individuals about other opportunities. You’re aware that those things are out there and you don’t want that to happen if you can avoid it. You’re in a position where, by getting signed now, we have plenty of time to be able to approach all of our people.”
One of the biggest strengths of Dombrowski, maybe the biggest, is the organization. He has a small circle that he trusts, he treats them well and they’ve stuck around. They have honest discussions, honest disagreements and he trusts their opinions. As organizations go, this one runs pretty smooth that way. This should keep that group together, and it should allow them to move ahead with some things.
I asked Dombrowski about that continuity on the conference call, and he got into the topic of evolving as a group, about incorporating new ideas over the years and adding new statistical analysis to the tools they use. He delved into that himself. I don’t know if that would have been a topic six years ago.
“When you start talking about people like Al Avila and Scott Reid and John Westhoff and David Chadd, from the baseball perspective, I think they’re as fine a people in doing their jobs,” Dombrowski said. “They’re very knowledgeable, they’re hard-working, they’re loyal. We know each other’s ways. Everybody’s not afraid to speak their minds. We have disagreements about decisions we make, but when we walk out of there, we’re all in a position where we’re united in what we do.
“They’re also all always trying to get better. It’s impressive because new ways, new styles come into the game all the time. We always look at them. We incorporate them into what we’re doing, things that we think can be helpful. I think the part of it, when you have that continuity, you have that relationship, you’re always looking to get better. So you’re not starting fresh. You’re always looking for ways to improve as an organization and get better, and you’re building upon methods that you already have. So we have a lot of things in place, things that we will examine once again. For us, it’s important now that we know we’re going to be here for an extended period. We need to continue to examine everything we do and make sure we’re as efficient as possible and continue to look at new methods and styles that we can implement.”
In that regard, Dombrowski also mentioned Mike Smith, the baseball operations director, who has been crucial to their work on statistical analysis from the time Dombrowski arrived.
The Tigers headed into the season with pressure to win, and with everyone from the coaching staff to the front office on their contract years to do it. Now that they’re in first place with little more than seven weeks left in the season, they’ll head into the thick of the pennant race with renewed job security for president/general manager Dave Dombrowski, manager Jim Leyland and much of the front officed.
The Tigers took the uncertain futures out of the background on Monday by announcing contract extensions for Dombrowski, his assistants and Leyland. Dombrowski received a four-year contract extension through 2015. Leyland received a one-year extension through next season.
Vice presidents Al Avila, David Chadd, Scott Reid and John Westhoff also earned contract extensions.
The extensions ensures that Dombrowski and his support team will go into a second decade running the club both on and off the field. Together, Dombrowski, Avila, Reid and Westhoff have overseen a rebuilding process that took the Tigers from back-to-back 100-loss seasons and 119 losses in 2003 to a team expected to contend every year. Detroit leads the AL Central in August for the fourth time in the last six years, and has potentially its best chance for the Tigers’ first division title since 1987.
Dombrowski has also been in charge on the Tigers’ business side, which has seen a turnaround of its own. What was once a difficult task to draw fans after the first season at Comerica Park has become one of Major League Baseball’s better success stories, with consistently strong attendance figures over the last six seasons. The Tigers have sold out eight games this year, including three on their recent seven-game homestand.
“Dave has built a solid foundation for this organization and assembled competitive teams that give us a chance to win year in and year out,” team owner Mike Ilitch said in a statement. “We have a lot of confidence in his continued leadership of the Detroit Tigers.”
Those last six seasons have been under Leyland’s leadership at manager, the longest run by a Tigers skipper since Hall of Famer Sparky Anderson’s tenure. Leyland led the Tigers to the World Series in 2006, losing to the Cardinals, and has put them in contention to get back to the playoffs ever since. He owns a 485-440 record as Tigers manager, including 61-53 this season.
“I know Jim shares our desire to deliver a winner,” Ilitch said in the same statement. “We’re pleased to have him continue leading the Detroit Tigers on the field.”
Leyland is in his 20th season as a Major League manager and looking for his sixth spot in the postseason. The 66-year-old former Tigers farmhand, who got his managerial start in Detroit’s farm system in the 1970s, has said he would like to manage for several more years.
Though the Tigers have been at or near the division lead for much of the season, the contract years for Dombrowski and Leyland — and the accompanying pressure to win now — have been an underlying theme all season. The Tigers made a midseason coaching move last month by changing pitching coaches from Rick Knapp to Jeff Jones, trying to get more production out of a pitching staff that had its ups and downs aside from Cy Young candidate Justin Verlander.
Detroit also has had its share of trades aimed at this year, from the May swap of Scott Sizemore for David Purcey to the Trade Deadline acquisitions of Wilson Betemit, Doug Fister and David Pauley. After all that, the Tigers head into a crucial three-game series at Cleveland Tuesday with a four-game lead in the division.
“I am grateful for the continued opportunity Mr. Ilitch has given me to run this franchise, and I am equally appreciative of the unwavering support he has demonstrated the past ten seasons in our efforts to bring a World Championship back to Detroit,” Dombrowski said in a statement.
Neither Victor Martinez nor Tigers manager Jim Leyland said they expect Martinez in the lineup for the Tigers’ series opener at Cleveland on Tuesday. But they sounded increasing optimism that he could be.
“I think so,” Leyland said before Sunday’s game, “but I can’t swear to that. I don’t know what’s going to happen. … As we always say, the only thing that ever takes care of injuries is time. But I don’t think it’s going to take that much time.”
After the game, Leyland said, “He’s doing good. He’s doing really good.”
Martinez sounded similar.
“I feel pretty good,” he said. “I’m obviously a little sore. I think the off-day [Monday] is going to help a lot.”