By Matt Mirro, Lead American League Writer
As all empires rise eventually they must fall. In what is considered a lost season for the Detroit Tigers the higher-ups have made a stunning and unexpected move. Superstar general manager Dave Dombrowski has been relieved of his duties with the Tigers effective immediately. Assistant General Manager Al Avila (Yes, Tigers slugger Alex Avila’s father) has been promoted to Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager. A truly odd and disappointing season in the Motor City just became even more peculiar.
Dombrowski took command of the then 100-loss Tigers back in 2003. Since then he has compiled a Hall of Fame caliber resume, rebuilding Detroit into a long-standing powerhouse. Famous for his uncanny knack at acquiring stars via trade he brought stars like Ivan Rodriguez, Miguel Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta, Max Scherzer, Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez and Ian Kinsler to Detroit. For almost a decade the Tigers have been the top team in the American League Central, winning three pennants during his tenure. However, this season may mark the beginning of the end for Tiger dominance as it has marked the end of Dombrowski’s reign as the leader of organization.
With a record of 51-54 the Tigers sit in third place in the Central Division behind the Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins. The team’s struggles, highlighted by an injury to Miguel Cabrera and a horrid performance by Justin Verlander, led the team to sell before last week’s Trade Deadline. Just days before he would forfeit his position Dombrowski traded David Price to the Toronto Blue Jays, Joakim Soria to the Pittsburgh Pirates and Yoenis Cespedes to the New York Mets. While the moves were enough to ease the woes of a farm system depleted by the ever-growing demand to win by owner Mike Ilitch it wasn’t enough to secure Dombrowski’s job.
Dombroski was a free agent at the end of the season and a statement by Ilitch indicates that the long time baseball executive may have asked for his release, saying that Dombrowski was let go so that he “Could pursue other career opportunities”. For someone as well decorated as this it may not belong before Dombroski is at the helm of yet another franchise. The Toronto Blue Jays. Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Angels represent possible destinations. With the Red Sox struggling mightily Ben Cherrington may be on his last leg as General Manager and with the departure of Larry Lucchino it could make sense for Boston to chase Dombroski to help rebuild a broken front office.
For Detroit this moves comes as a true stunner. An organization that has put the one true goal as “winning at all costs” for over a decade the sudden collapse is a real shock. The end of the Dombroski Era may mark the end of Detroit’s ultra-competitiveness. Of course, Al Avila could simply take the team in the same direction his predecessor had been going but, as always in a regime change, things will change. With Cabrera, Martinez and Verlander still under long-term deals and emerging youngsters like James McCann and the newly acquired Daniel Norris it would not be a surprise to see Detroit back in the playoffs next season. For right now exactly what the future will hold for the Big Cats remains unknown.
An era has ended. Dombrowski will forever be remembered in Detroit as the man who turned a faltering ball club into a baseball superpower. He’s the genius architect that built the dynasty that never won a World Series.