The abrupt end of the Dombrowski era
The biggest signing of the Dave Dombrowski era, Prince Fielder’s arrival as a free agent, took a week to officially announce. Adam Everett once agreed to a deal during the winter meetings that didn’t get announced until closer to the holidays.
That was Dave Dombrowski’s way sometimes, maddeningly thorough, hesitant to rush. And yet, the end of the Dombrowski era in Detroit went down in a half-hour clubhouse meeting, a quick yet detailed press release and a hastily arranged press conference that included neither Dombrowski (Randy Smith had a press conference after he was fired in 2002) nor anyone from the ownership family that made the move.
“I assure you,” Dombrowski said last Friday after the Yoenis Cespedes trade, “that our goal going into next year will be to try to win a world championship.”
Less than 24 hours later, supposedly, Al Avila was offered the GM job.
“On my way home [owner Mike Ilitch] called me,” Avila said, “and he offered me the job on Saturday afternoon. So I did know on Saturday. Obviously he asked me to wait, that he was going to make this announcement.”
The move came on the heels of franchise-shaping trades that Dombrowski put together and ownership approved. The David Price trade would’ve been done late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning, but Dombrowski waited until Friday morning to get the OK.
And yet, here we are. A team that went through a relative shock with the decision to trade Cespedes, David Price and Joakim Soria now deals with the departure of the general manager who made the deals, even though Avila was part of the trade discussions too.
“I was in the clubhouse with everybody else going through a normal routine, and all of a sudden it was like shutdown in here for a little while,” Alex Avila said. “I found out with everybody else in here when he came in here to let everybody know.”
The rumors about Dombrowski’s future were as rampant as David Price rumors among scouts and executives in the days leading up to the trade deadline — Toronto, Anaheim, Boston, eventually Seattle. But the strong belief was that he wouldn’t undertake a rebuild, or a retool, or a reboot, that he knew he wouldn’t be a part of.
“If he’s selling,” one evaluator who worked with Dombrowski for years said, “he’s staying.”
With neither Dombrowski nor Ilitch talking publicly yet beyond the press release, we’re left to speculate what brought this, whether Ilitch felt Dombrowski had to atone for the moves that turned the Tigers into sellers this morning, or if there was a disagreement on salary, or if Dombrowski decided to end the wait and force a decision now to either resign him or let him look for his next job now instead of serving out his deal as a lame-duck GM.
Keep this in mind as you ponder that: The only change in the organization was the guy at the top. His front office, his core advisors behind his decisions, at least for now, remain in place. His longtime assistant took over with a longer contract (five years, reportedly) than the man he replaced (Dombrowski signed a four-year extension late in 2011). Does that sound like a clean-cut firing to you?
“The only conversation I had with Dave,” Al Avila said, “was basically, when he left, we said our goodbyes. Obviously, we’re still great friends. Really, I don’t know the how, the why. Mr. Ilitch made the decision. It’s really a question more for him, but that’s something I really had nothing to do with.”