Though it was considered a major knee-jerk reaction then (pun intended), it was a good move, even if the long term dollars and cents made it confusing. Nobody could have predicted that Martinez would come back and play as well as he did last season. If Martinez, a player who is aging, lost a step quicker than expected after surgery and was somehow forced to retire prematurely, the Tigers were more than covered with one of the best left handed thumpers in the game, thus keeping their offense powerful.
It didn’t happen. Similarly, nobody could have predicted that Fielder would come to Detroit and lay a massive playoff egg, thus opening the slugger up to questions about clutchness. Nobody would know in the wake of that egg, Fielder would infuriate many with his relaxed, carefree approach to that failure, causing many to question his passion. From the beginning, the city wrapped its collective arms around him and embraced him. If Fielder wasn’t comfortable playing where he grew up and giving people who loved him an honest effort, he won’t be able to truly handle the pressure of any other market or any other situation.
Regardless, the Fielder signing and now trade reenforces why Dombrowski is the best general manager in baseball. In 2012, he agreed to taking a calculated risk for his boss Mike Ilitch and upgraded the team. Fielder did help Miguel Cabrera produce two MVP awards and was a contributor on team’s that went to the World Series and ALCS, meaning the move doesn’t have to be considered a complete failure forever.
Credit Dombrowski for also knowing when enough was enough, as nobody could have predicted he’d find a way to move Fielder’s deal. Don’t fool yourself, this move wasn’t exclusively about Fielder’s recent playoff failings and press conference ambivalence. Each of those elements could have been overcome had both parties been committed to the relationship. With extensions looming and moves needed to round out the team, Dombrowski knew he wouldn’t have the flexibility to truly improve the Tigers with Fielder’s massive deal hanging on the books, which is why word began to leak that he was available.
Miraculously, like the Los Angeles Dodgers did for the Boston Red Sox before them, the Texas Rangers bailed Dombrowski and the Tigers out. In return, instead of getting nothing but salary relief like the Red Sox, Detroit grabbed Ian Kinsler, a player which filled their need at second base who happens to have a .311 playoff batting average. He’s also been a notorious tough out for years in baseball. Twice in his seven year career, Kinsler has raked during the Rangers’ appearances at Comerica Park, hitting .333 in 2008 and .286 in 2010. Kinsler has a long contract too, but considering his speed and defense, his won’t look as bad as Fielder’s likely will in another two seasons.
With Fielder’s albatross now gone, the Tigers’ once closed looking 2013 offseason just became open for business. Now, the team can begin talking an extension with Max Scherzer. They can slot Nick Castellanos at third base and move Cabrera back to first. Castellanos could stay put in the outfield and Detroit could peruse a new first baseman or third basemen, if they chose. Additionally, outfield help in the form of Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran or Shin-Soo Choo could be sought on the open market. The most exciting and dangerous thing that a top flight baseball man like Dombrowski can have is more options. Unfortunately for the rest of the American League, he’s got plenty now.
Dombrowski’s genius remains not only in making the big, splashy move when necessary, but in also finding a way to maneuver around that big move when the proper time should come. It’s why he’s officially cemented his status as the best businessman in the game.
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax