Tigers President/CEO/General Manager David Dombrowski was kind enough to do an interview with DTW. The discussion touched on trends from the off-season, player development, and a look forward to the 2005 season. The theme throughout is that if the Tigers are going to have success, the improvement will have to come from within the organization.
Despite the Tigers and other AL Central teams trying to acquire free agents this offseason, once again most of those players migrated to the coasts. New York and Boston can offer players more money and the chance to play for a winning team. The west coast can offer players a great place to live, and in some cases a truck load of money (LA, Seattle, and somehow Arizona). The Central can offer a colder climate and much less money. Dombrowski recognizes this, “For the clubs [in the Central division] from a financial perspective it’s hard to compete for players with the upper echelon clubs because the dollars just aren’t there. You have to practice some fiscal responsibility. To be successful you’ll have to have successful farm systems. Minnesota has had success with their farm system. Cleveland is starting to have success as well. There may be occasional situations when people come to your city, but you have to develop players.”
Unfortunately for the Tigers, they have had difficulty producing talent from the farm system for more than a decade. While Tigers fans might not see money being invested in marquee free agents this year, there is an investment going towards improving the Tigers’ talent base. The Tigers hired David Chadd from Boston to become their new scouting director, and James Orr as Assistant Scouting Director. They have also increased their presence in Latin America. The Tigers have tried to “be more aggressive in signing players,” said Dombrowski who mentioned prospect Wilken Ramirez as an example. The Tigers also have improved facilities to work with in the Dominican Republic. They are now leasing Luis Rijo’s baseball facility which is a “much nicer place to bring players to and train them,” according to Dombrowski.
For Tigers fans that are tired of watching losing baseball, the investment in the minors may be of little consolation. To that end the Tigers did pursue free agents this year, but they didn’t get in all out bidding wars and avoided contracts that may be regrettable (i.e. Juan Gonzalez who was offered an 8 year contract by the Tigers is looking to sign a minor league deal now). The Tigers are in a “very solid position going forward,” Dombrowski said. The Tigers only have 3 players under contract beyond this season (Guillen, Percival, Rodriguez). What’s more, is that the Tigers young core of Infante, Bonderman, Maroth, Robertson, Ledezma, and others will still be at least 2 years away from free agency.
When asked if he felt additional pressure to build off the momentum of last season’s improvement, and capitalize on the increased revenue with the All Star game Dombrowski replied, “No, I don?t feel any additional pressure. I don’t think this year makes it different than any other year. You always want to put the best team out there. We’ve had some good things happen. What will continue the interest in the club is the club’s continued improvement.” Dombrowski believes that the club will continue to improve through the improvement of the young players. The thinking is that if the veterans can make their core contributions (performances typical of their career), the resulting improvement will come from the continued growth of the young players.
Two players who are looking to join that young core, Chris Spurling and Fernando Rodney, both underwent arm surgeries. Dombrowski said that both are progressing well. Spurling was throwing during the instructional league and Rodney is right on track. Alex Sanchez who missed the second half of the year with a hamstring injury is fully recovered.
As for Dombrowski’s takes on the off-season:
On the length and price of contracts and how if insuring contracts is still an issue:
“The insurability hasn’t changed. It is still out there. It may be that more clubs are willing to take the risk.”
On why more clubs haven’t worked out contracts similar to Pudge’s that have an out clause for specific injuries:
“Without getting into all of the details, it was a rather unique situation in Pudge’s case. A lot of things would have to fall into place.”
On the surge in big, long term contracts:
“Every year the off-season seems to take its own direction. You’re never sure what to anticipate. The industry had a healthy year last year. Also, a lot of contracts came off the books this year. It surprised me to the extent that the dollars and length went up.”
I’d like to thank Mr. Dombrowski for taking the time to talk with me. As someone who has watched this team closely for a long time, it is great to see members of the organization take such an interest in their fans. Keep in mind that this is a “fan site.” While I try to post news and insightful commentary (big emphasis on “try”) I’m by no means a journalist. Mr. Dombrowski had no obligation to spend time talking to me, and I wouldn’t have been the least bit offended if he declined my request.