Count Detroit Tigers’ general manager Dave Dombrowski among those types of personalities. Coming off an offseason in which Dombrowski lost longtime manager Jim Leyland to retirement, dealt Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers and is depending on the contributions of several fresh faces, change figures to be the biggest buzzword at the corner of Woodward and Montcalm when the weather finally decides to inch warmer around Michigan.
Wednesday afternoon, days before he’ll depart for Lakeland, Dombrowski managed to attend the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association’s annual Tigers’ luncheon at Hockeytown Cafe despite treacherous blizzard conditions and admitted he has been going about things a bit differently this offseason. One such example? Considering staff familiarly, Dombrowski commented he usually felt comfortable skipping a dinner with the coaching staff prior to the start of the annual Winter Caravan to fit in time with his family. This year, that wasn’t the case, as he broke bread with the newcomers wanting every opportunity to get to know them.
“It’s a different feeling, obviously with new manager (Brad Ausmus) coming in,” Dombrowski commented. The biggest new feeling certainly revolves around many of the roster changes that Dombrowski himself has created. “Bringing back the same club (year to year) is tough,” Dombrowski said, referencing the multiple factors teams must consider during every different offseason, including most notably payroll changes.
The key domino this offseason, as Dombrowski saw it, was the move to deal Fielder early. “Prince did a lot of good,” Dombrowski admitted regarding the contributions of his former first baseman. In spite of that good, his philosophy became simple. Without Fielder in the fold, the Tigers had the opportunity to become faster (hello Rajai Davis), fill a need at second base (hello Ian Kinsler), move Miguel Cabrera to his more comfortable position of first base, and allow prospect Nick Castellanos to play his natural spot at third.
Interestingly enough, an uncomfortable offseason may have surprisingly led to some comfort, of all things.
As for the rotation, Dombrowski believes he’s got a strong group of three tied up for a significant amount of time in Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Drew Smyly. Max Scherzer, who’s contract status has been the topic of debate this offseason, still wants to be a member of the team despite appearing set to test free agency and Detroit wants him back. Otherwise, Dombrowski provided little update there, refusing to discuss the ongoing dialogue in the front office. The bullpen will be interesting, considering the battles of Jose Ortega and Luke Putkonen for roles and the hopeful development of Bruce Rondon into a consistent presence in the eighth inning, which Dombrowski admitted was a major point of emphasis this year.
Some other notes and quotes of interest:
- In spite of the fact that many have ragged on Detroit’s move to trade Doug Fister for Ian Kroll, Steve Lombardozzi and Robbie Ray, Dombrowski said the team wasn’t going to make a trade “just to make a trade.” The organization still feels confident in the return they received, particularly in Ray, who Dombrowski feels could be a solid three starter sooner rather than later. Kroll projects to be in the mix to become Detroit’s number one lefty out of the pen, and Lombardozzi, once considered an everyday second baseman, is capable of playing plenty of roles for the team.
- What about the batting order? “That’s in Brad’s hands,” Dombrowski said when pressed on what it might look like come this spring. The general manager admitted that the middle of the order, with Cabrera and Victor Martinez was something that could be counted on, but raved about the versatility of the lineup, saying Andy Dirks, Kinsler or Davis could hit between first or second.
- Was Alex Avila a defensive liability in 2013? Not completely according to Dombrowski, who said it was a bad year in general for the Tigers holding runners on base. The team likes Avila’s leadership and toughness behind the plate, and Dombrowski himself said Avila is a “real key” for next season.
- Letting super-sub Ramon Santiago walk proved to be a difficult decision, given “there’s not a finer individual than Ramon,” in Dombrowski’s own words.
- “We thought he’d benefit from a change of scenery”–Dombrowski on new reliever Joba Chamberlain, who the general manager claimed is healthier than in years past and better shape than at any point before. Dombrowski said the team likes his fastball, and imagines him in a versatile role, believing Chamberlain has the ability to pitch in either the seventh or eighth inning.
- What team is the biggest threat to Detroit in the division? “Based on who made the playoffs last season and who was close, Cleveland and Kansas City come to mind,” Dombrowski said, particularly noting the Royals were “young and improving.”
- Dombrowski remained flattered about offseason scuttlebutt that he may eventually be considered for Bud Selig’s soon-vacant commissioners job, but once again deflected talk away from that. “I’ve got a job I enjoy and that’s my focus at this point,” Dombrowski said, also adding that bringing a championship to Detroit was his main goal.
On a day where nearly seven inches of snow, cold temperatures and dreary, windy skies threatened to dampen any hopes of a baseball-ready mood, Dombrowski, embracer of change, managed to spread a tiny bit of warmth just prior to the beginning of spring training.
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax