Dombrowski out, Avila in as Tigers general manager
The Tigers and president/CEO Dave Dombrowski parted ways Tuesday, ending a 14-year tenure that saw the Tigers rise from the worst season in American League history to two World Series appearances and four straight division titles.
Al Avila, Dombrowski’s top assistant since 2002, was named general manager and president of baseball operations, reporting directly to owner Mike Ilitch. He’ll handle all responsibilities related to baseball operations, while executive vice president of business operations will assume all operations on the business side.
The team announced the split in a press release Tuesday afternoon, with Ilitch directly quoted but not Dombrowski.
“I would like to thank Dave Dombrowski for his 14 years of service,” Ilitch said in the statement. “Together we’ve enjoyed some success, but we’re still in aggressive pursuit of our ultimate goal: to bring a World Series title to Detroit and Michigan. I’ve decided to release Dave from his contract in order to afford him the time to pursue other career opportunities. I feel this is the right time for the Tigers to move forward under new leadership.”
The release followed a lengthy clubhouse meeting before batting practice. Dombrowski was seen walking out of the clubhouse with bags. Avila and other Tigers assistants went in.
“I just want to say I’m very excited for this opportunity and honored and grateful to Mr. Ilitch for having the faith and trust in me to run this ballclub in our continuing effort in a pursuit of a World Series championship,” Avila said in a press conference. “And after 24 years in professional baseball and going on 14 years with the Detroit Tigers, I believe I am uniquely qualified to be successful in this role leading the organization. We’re confident we can make a strong push this year and that we have the foundation in place to win next year and for years to come.”
Ilitch hired Dombrowski just after the 2001 season as president and CEO. He took over general manager duties six games into the 2002 season, replacing Randy Smith, and undersaw a rebuild that saw the Tigers turn to younger players in search of talent. After an AL-record 119-loss season in 2003, Dombrowski and Ilitch began rebuilding the team with trades and free-agent signings, from Carlos Guillen and Ivan Rodriguez in 2004 to Magglio Ordonez and Kenny Rogers soon after, along with top draft pick Justin Verlander.
Once Dombrowski hired Jim Leyland as manager, the build-up got a jump start. The Tigers not only posted their first winning season since 1993, they won their first American League pennant since 1984, advancing to the World Series before falling to the Cardinals.
From that point on, the Tigers became perennial contenders, with the exception of a last-place finish in 2008. The Tigers finished second to Cleveland in 2007, lost a division tiebreaker to Minnesota in 2009, then finished .500 with a younger roster in 2010.
All the while, Dombrowski showed the flexibility to adjust the roster as situations changed. He traded for Miguel Cabrera after the 2007 season, giving Ilitch the superstar draw he’d long coveted, then traded away popular All-Star center fielder Curtis Granderson two years later to bring in young talent and retool the roster.
The return from the latter, including Max Scherzer and Austin Jackson, helped set up the Tigers’ four-year reign atop the American League Central. Scherzer and Verlander formed the basis of a dominant starting rotation that overpowered the rest of the division, with trade acquisitions Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez mixed in.
All that was missing on the resume was a World Series title. The Tigers went back to the Fall Classic in 2012 with Cabrera and Prince Fielder a power-hitting duo in the lineup, but were swept out by the Giants. They added Torii Hunter a year later and made it to the ALCS, but dropped a heartbreaking series to the Red Sox that included two go-ahead home runs at Fenway Park.
Dombrowski got creative to keep adding players and leaving the window of contention, swooping in to acquire David Price when few expected a fit, then sending Fielder to Texas for Ian Kinsler. But Detroit was swept out of the AL Division Series by Baltimore last year, and fell out of the division race this season, leading to Dombrowski trading Price, Yoenis Cespedes and Joakim Soria for prospects a few days.
The day after the Trade Deadline, Avila was offered the job.
“The main focus,” Avila said of Ilitch’s message, “was, ‘I’m committed to win. I want you to take this job and I want you to run with it. And make sure you know the foot is on the pedal, hard.”
Ilitch remains committed to doing whatever he can to try to pursue a World Series, Avila said. In fact, other than the man at the top, very little changes immediately, either in goals or personnel. The same core group that Dombrowski is the group Avila trusts, though he noted some will likely leave to join Dombrowski wherever he lands.
“I have the utmost belief that the guys that I want to stay will stay,” Avila said.
As for manager Brad Ausmus, Avila said he’ll remain manager for the rest of the season.
“He’s done a good job,” Avila said. “Just like everything else from here on out, everything will be evaulated. And we’ll make decisions moving forward.”