TWICE AS NICE

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

Usually the Hot Stove League is over when Spring Training comes around, but this season the two threaten to overlap. Soon, pitchers and catchers will report, so it’s not too early to talk about what to expect in Lakeland.

As always, Holly and Kurt have not shared their responses to the topic below in the interests of offering a wide range of perspectives.  Let’s see what they have cooking this week.


Spring training is almost upon us. What is the one single thing you will be most anxious to see in Lakeland?


HOLLY

While it would be really nice to see the return of Miggy to his old self, this really is about the future. I need to see the Tigers looking forward…moving forward… and not just treading water.

I don’t want to be wandering through the wilderness for years, waiting for the Tigers to rise above .500. There needs to be a sense of urgency about this rebuild which means that the Tigers can’t be hanging onto the past.

They can’t be clinging to players once presumed to be stop-gap solutions and now possibly may become entrenched on the roster.

So the sooner they move along, the better, so they can gauge the rookies earlier and make the necessary changes more quickly.

This means that I want to see the promising players more than I have in the past spring trainings. Give them all a long, hard regular look instead of the occasional auditions.

I think Ron Gardenhire is more capable of doing this that the previous two skippers who either played their favorites or were too intimidated to bench the veterans.

What I’d really like to see is the promise of youthful talent who show solid skills on the field and revisit the feeling we all had when we saw the likes of Tram, Whitaker, Parrish and Morris rising through the ranks decades ago.


KURT

The spring of 2019 will kick off the ‘anchor watch’ which may not qualify as one single thing, so forgive me.

The ‘anchor watch’ will consist of another spring of taking a hard look at the likes of Jordan Zimmermann, Michael Fulmer and Daniel Norris, whose performances have not lived up to their billing and are holding the team back.

Jordan Zimmermann and his neck injections should continue to scare the life out of us. There is a limit to what we can expect from him, given his health. And considering everything, his limitations make him a very expensive liability.

Michael Fulmer’s injuries have hurt the team’s ability to trade him. Not long ago, he was one of our top trade prospects. However, injuries and surgery took him off the block.

Daniel Norris enters a pivotal season as the Tigers have been patiently waiting for things to click for him. Just an injury-free year may be all he needs, but his failures seem to mess with his confidence.


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TWICE AS NICE

By:  Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning

No need to check the Hot Stove. All the burners are set on simmer.

That’s a good way to describe the off-season as we await the biggest of signings. But a dirty word is floating around out there to describe the inactivity.

As always, Holly and Kurt have not shared their responses to the topic below in the interests of offering a wide range of perspective. Let’s see what they have cooking this week.


The Hot Stove season has been rather cold with very few free agents signing new contracts. Is the “collusion” argument that many players are offering, a valid reason?


KURT

The market is actually more active than it was during last year’s off-season, so it would be one heck of a time to claim collusion – ‘cause that ain’t it.

Last year, JD Martinez had to wait until spring training to get signed; all his numbers and outfield deficiencies had to be run through the meat grinder before the Red Sox realized his bat would make them forget everything else.

The same is happening this season. I am sure we are all getting a little sick of  hearing who’s offering what to Machado and Harper, but no one is biting until they know for sure what they are doing makes sense. Finally, a little thought is going into these transactions.

This isn’t collusion – when 2 players like Machado and Harper publicize the kind of the money they want; you have to expect a little time for some soul-searching.

General Managers and their finance people need to make damn sure they don’t strike deals that will handcuff the franchise for a decade. I know that sounds funny, because isn’t that what they are destined to do?

Like I have said before, the teams who end up signing these 2 better hope the championships start rolling in before Manny and Bryce become debilitating anchors. It’s what the Tigers hoped when they re-signedMiggy.


HOLLY

I believe the moves – or non-moves as the case may be – are a result of everything but collusion. It’s been years in the making but baseball owners are finally getting smart and making more decisions based upon the swarms of top college grads they’ve hired who have degrees (including MBAs) in sports economics, statistics and other baseball-relevant fields. The human emotional factor that often makes expensive mistakes has been removed and replaced by cold, hard stats and charts.

Even the Tigers have taken the decision-making about contracts away from the GM and lawyers and given them to young guys who can easily tell you how many more game wins a particular player may be worth.

The dramatic decline of PED use has continued to add to this pattern with the hesitancy now to sign players over 30, combined with what is now a lengthy trail of proof that long-term contracts have been overall disastrous.

But for me, the second biggest reason (after the effect of statistics) is what I wrote about last week – the staggering influx of revenue for teams that is not based upon performance. Income from media and technology rights, combined with the dual welfare system that rewards poorly-performing teams doesn’t inspire any sound businessman to spend his own money fielding a highly-competitive – and expensive – team. Ironically, teams are making more money by stripping their teams of expensive players and not teams (most of the AL) claim they are “rebuilding.”

I don’t think owners have been on the phone with each other sharing details of how to save money or keep costs down. As it currently stands, they simply have to sit back, do nothing and watch the money roll in with no effort at all. All courtesy of MLB.


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TWICE AS NICE

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

It may be that we have misjudged what our Friday segment should be about. Twice as Nice maybe, should be, say, nicer.

Well, let’s try that for a change, even though it has been much easier to find things that bother us about our baseball team. Today, our writers dug deep, really deep, to find something good.

As always, Holly and Kurt have not shared their responses to the topic below, in the interests of offering a wide range of perspective. So here we go…


What has been the most positive news you’ve heard or seen to come out of the Tigers’ camp this off-season?


HOLLY

We knew this wasn’t going to be a happy off-season given the Tigers “rebuilding.” We expected news of more trades of familiar faces and uninspired stop-gap signings.

Normally I would say that details of Miggy’s recovery and process would be one of the top things on my list. On Wednesday, David Chadd said in an interview that he just watched a video of Miggy working out but he used the same formula description (“looks great”, “he’s back to his old self”, “appears to be 100%”, yadda, yadda, yadda) attributed to all of the other Tigers over the past years. He offered no specifics that would personalize the progress being made and given this lack of info, combined with Miggy’s absence from social media (where he used to post his workouts), I’m going to hold my breath until I actually see him.

However, I was very pleased this week to see the Tigers invest more money and manpower into their scouting and analytics departments because I expected the organization would remain stuck in neutral and not make any hires. I had expected that the moratorium on not spending would extend beyond the roster.

They hired 6 new scouts from outside organizations (including the Cubs) with no discernible ties to Jim Leyland. They also did some reorganizing of their Latin American system and more importantly, hired a new senior software engineer for the Analytics Department and added 3 new analysts.

At the very least, it appears that the Tigers are taking analytics seriously and looking to catch up with the rest of MLB in this area.


KURT

There is one discussion that has taken place this off-season that couldn’t be more refreshing. Heading into spring training, who’s your DH? Finally, the answer is not just Victor Martinez and no one else, as options are now available to the Tigers.

Miggy, should he stay healthy (something we say every year), will be the first baseman heading into the season. But he knows and we know that he will spend a fair amount of time at DH, which is something he has needed to do for years but never could.

The Tigers wanted VMart’s bat in the lineup, but it handicapped them for years, knowing he offered nothing else but plate appearances.

So finally, Miggy will get a better shot at staying healthy. Nick Castellanos, assuming he’s not traded, can put the glove down and do some DH’ing as well, providing the opportunity to field a better defense without losing his bat.

In the opposite corner, another guy weak with the glove but strong with the bat (Christin Stewart) will get his shots at DH as well … not to mention John Hicks.

Flexibility has finally arrived at the DH spot in Detroit.


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HAPPY NEW YEAR 2019

Incredibly – another year of Totally Tigers is in the books!

It hasn’t come without a lot of work, but it’s been the fun kind.  Our writers only have one thing in common;  passion for the Tigers and the game of baseball.  And that’s where the similarities end!  But the combination has worked.

The different writing styles, interests and backgrounds have combined to give our readers a new feel every day, and you have responded with the kind of input and thought-provoking feedback necessary for us to continue to grow.

As topsy-turvy as the Tiger road has been, we love following every minute.  We have the bug.  And it’s quite evident that our readers do as well.

Many are hanging with us and many more are welcome, as we continue to strive for building something big.  But readership is the only way to get there.  So we thank you for bringing us this far – and ask you to spread to the word.

We will never be more challenged as we change course and follow a team in transition.   The Tigers will look ugly for at least another year or 2, but we are ready to get down and dirty with them.   It’s our continued goal to spend another year challenging ourselves and challenging you.

We could not have come this far without you.  Have a great New Year, everyone!

KUDOS OR COAL – PART 2

By:  Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning

‘Tis the holiday season and what better time than to share Santa’s Naughty and Nice lists for the Tigers. Who got kudos – and who got coal for the 2018 year? Today, our two bloggers share their lists for the top five nice guys…

Again, Kurt and Holly have not shared their responses in the interests of offering a wide range of perspective.


KURT

KUDOS

1. Ron Gardenhire – The validation of the obvious, but maybe the only one brave enough to mention it; this team needs to be built for its ballpark.

2. Al Avila – It is almost the forgotten deal that may be looked back on as a critical one that helped rebuild the bullpen – the trade of Cameron Maybin for Victor Alcantara; the kind of deal I hated before I vowed never to judge a trade until knowing what we’re getting and we got a good one.

3. Jose Iglesias – He may have irked a few in the clubhouse, but on that diamond, who brought more flair, athleticism and an incredible display of elite defensive talent?

4. JaCoby Jones – If you are building a lineup for a ballpark with an incredibly vast centerfield, you have exactly what you need – an elite defensive talent, with great instinct, speed and athleticism, not to mention an enthusiasm that is infectious.

5. Chris Ilitch – Hey, we got what we asked for last summer – 2 more retired numbers hanging on the bricks at Comerica and had 2 great ceremonies celebrating the number retirements and the Hall of Fame inductions of Jack Morris and Alan Trammell.


HOLLY

KUDOS

1. Nick Castellanos – He has done everything the Tigers have asked him to without complaining, practiced exceptional work habits and despite having zero protection in the lineup this year, he excelled at the plate.

2. Matt Boyd – Despite being overshadowed by the rest of the starting pitching, he persevered and upped his game, showing Verlander-levels of determination, skills and gamesmanship.

3. Niko Goodrum – Overlooked for years, he proved that given the chance, he could be a solid super-utility guy and win the job going forward.

4. Al Avila – Yes, he also got coal from me but he inherited a very tough job and situation and yet excelled at finding financially friendly diamonds in the rough like JD, Fiers, Liriano and Goodrum.

5. Ron Gardenhire – He’s not afraid to call out his players (and diplomatically, his coaches) and the poor play practices like hitting and fielding and forcing the Front Office to finally move on in correcting the problems and to finally start enforcing the Tigers Way manual.


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KUDOS OR COAL – PART 1

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

‘Tis the holiday season and what a better time to share Santa’s Naughty and Nice lists for the Tigers. Who got kudos – and who got coal for the 2018 year? Today, our two bloggers share their lists for the naughty…

As always, Holly and Kurt have not shared their responses to the topic below in the interests of offering a wide range of perspective.


HOLLY

COAL

1. Training and Conditioning Staff – Four more core surgeries added just in ‘18 to the already-lengthy list of similarly injured players over past recent years that prove this group either doesn’t update their training and/or they simply don’t care enough.

2. Miguel Cabrera – His DL stints are getting longer and diminishing the value he brings to the team, but it’s the continuing personal poor conduct decisions that have overshadowed his talent – the latest one now dragging into its third year and distracting him from being fully focused on his performance and helping the team.

3. Al Avila – The inability to deal from a position of strength, the tendency to lay out all of his cards with absolute transparency and the inability to lay claim to any solid trades since taking over as GM 3.5 years ago.

4. Dave Littlefield – Four years after the Tigers announced that they would have a Tigers Way manual, none of the fundamentals were being taught and players were not assigned responsibility for the standards set forth in the book which is the responsibility of this executive.

5. Fox Sports Detroit – For knowing that the relationship between Impemba and Allen was volatile and yet they did nothing for years about it until a physical assault forced them to address it.


KURT

COAL

1. Chris Ilitch – A full year went by without upgrading his executive staff in order to properly execute a rebuild, while instead the franchise carries on in the opposite direction, making decisions based on the opinions of people who should have been given their pink slips.

2. Jim Leyland – Sometimes you have to realize it yourself; just because you continue to be employed by a ball club who still finds value in your contribution, you need to look in the mirror and contemplate whether what you contribute is really helping, in an era where executive staff members with fresh and analytical ideas are favored.

3. Ron Gardenhire – This is what I would have liked to have read about Gardy: Instead of taking the manager job and living with the fact that he would not have the power to hire his own staff of coaches, I would have loved to have heard that he turned it down after demanding that he be given more power, exposing the Tigers.

4. Lloyd McClendon – When your manager has to speak out about lack of discipline at the plate, it definitely speaks to the contributions of your hitting coach, who was not among the ranks of the quoted, strangely enough.

5. Al Avila – He has never really a taken ahold of this team and made it his own – strong will and decisiveness must be characteristics of a general manager, but sadly he backs down and takes counsel as direction without opposition. Many decisions appear to be made for him with no regard for whether or not he is receiving the best course of action.


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TWICE AS NICE

By:  Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning

With the Winter Meetings now history, the Tigers added 3 players to their roster. Two pitchers will compete for their 2019 rotation and they now have a new shortstop who will be the starter heading into Spring Training.

So, we all have our opinions on all 3 of these players. But for now, let’s talk shortstop.

As always, Kurt and Holly have not shared their responses to the topic below in the interests of offering a wide range of perspectives. So what will readers get today as Totally Tigers addresses a question about Jordy Mercer?


What are our two bloggers’ thoughts about the signing of Jordy Mercer?


KURT

From my perspective, it’s fine that the Tigers have chosen a veteran, under-the-radar and safe pick in Jordy Mercer for next year’s shortstop position. But to me, it’s the opposite of the kind of signings that brought them Matt Moore and Tyson Ross.

Hey I know, Matt Moore had a horrible season last year and he wasn’t going to get many takers. But, this is a good spot for him to start fresh and try to get things back on track, which would be a plus for both sides, and he has that potential.   And the same can be said for Tyson Ross; like Moore, he has had success in the past and has a chance to resurrect things and may be trade-worthy at the deadline.

But that’s not the kind of player the Tigers got for a shortstop. He is a veteran shortstop with underwhelming numbers, both offensively and defensively. The guy has reached his ceiling, so don’t be surprised if he stays in Detroit the entire season.

He is not the kind of player who’s going to break through and be sought after at the end of July. He just isn’t, which flies in the face of what all these stop-gap players were supposed to do and become. Is Jordy Mercer really going to become a valuable commodity who will bring back prospects?


HOLLY

The Tigers had stated that a new shortstop was their top priority, especially during the Winter Meetings, with a focus on low-cost options.

Therefore, Mercer’s price of $5.75 million was rather unexpected considering that Iggy was making just over $6 mill. But Iglesias was never an option to keep, not just because of his salary after arbitration, but the fact that he wanted a long-term contract and was labeled by sources within the organization as having a “strong personality” – which roughly translates into “difficult.”

But the more you dig down into the signing of Mercer, the more it makes sense. He missed over a third of a season in 2018 and was slowed down by the injury sustained so he has to rebuild his value. Incentives always make for better performers. And then there’s the value added of being a veteran and leader for a team rebuilding and skewing much younger and inexperienced.

But don’t think that the Tigers will keep him all year. Avila has stated that cutting payroll is the second primary goal of the year so think of Mercer’s contract as a short-term investment. Like Fiers, they’ll hope his value builds and then flip him for prospects and potentially half his salary, which will make this bargain-hunting a successful mission.


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TWICE AS NICE

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

As the Tigers have settled into a downturn and subsequent rebuild, fans can surely share in the agony after watching the window close on 10 years of failed opportunities and rosters full of great talent.

So about that rebuild and what the Tigers have done so far in Las Vegas … How do you think it’s going? The Tigers have made some moves and our writers have first dibs on evaluating what has taken place so far at the Winter Meetings.

As always, Holly and Kurt have not shared their responses to the topic below in the interest of offering a wide range of perspectives. So what will readers get today as Totally Tigers  addresses a question about the moves the Tigers have made so far?


The Winter Meetings are almost over. Were you happy with what the Tigers accomplished – or couldn’t?


HOLLY

I did not expect the Tigers to do as much as they did – and as soon as they did. I thought the presumed bargain-bin shopping would happen in January as more players were signed, making others more amenable to making a deal.

The Jordy Mercer signing was a surprise simply for the amount of money spent which may mean that the Tigers were so intent on getting a SS because they didn’t realistically see anyone in the farm system coming up at all this year.

I also didn’t expect Al Avila to trade Nicholas Castellanos – yet. He’s not going to be a top choice for teams and much more likely to be traded as the Hot Stove season winds down, the top players are moved and GMs who haven’t checked off their entire shopping list are now a little more desperate to fill their needs.

The most telling events of the Winter Meetings didn’t involve players. In an interview, Al Avila said the team’s top 2 goals were to collect prospects and to cut payroll, which means he’ll be pushed by ownership to trade more players like Castellanos, Greene and Hardy – the remaining highest paid players.

But most disturbing is that I’ve seen or heard more reports about how busy Jim Leyland has been than I have Avila. Broadcasters laughing about how often they see him, describing how he’s running from meeting to meeting and the report that he was instrumental in the selection of Mercer, overruling Ron Gardenhire’s preference.

In this case, the visible moves may be taking a backseat to what is happening behind the scenes.


KURT

I am befuddled by the moves that have been made, and it has nothing to do with the names or the faces or the spots they have filled, but how they arrived at the decisions.

Since we cannot trust the decision makers, it is hard to draw conclusions, to support or to argue. I understand the overall goal behind the transactions; the one-year low-dollar signings, the stopgaps, the place holders brought aboard to hold down the fort until the young guys arrive next season.

But to comment on Jordy Mercer, endorsed by Jim Leyland but not his manager; that’s just typical Tigers right now. Did they consider Troy Tulowitzki or did they enquire only to receive no returned interest?

The signings of the 2 veteran pitchers who will compete for starting spots seem fine but how thorough were the Tigers in their search and consideration? We have to question them. We can’t trust them, so any move they make will immediately be met with skepticism, at least on my end of the blog.

You may ask what it will take for us to trust what is a flawed leadership team. Well, maybe something even the slightest bit innovative instead of just ordering off a menu and settling for the soup of the day.

Have they at all considered under-the-radar major league talent out there, who may blossom in a new environment; not for future trades but to potentially be a part of the future?


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TWICE AS NICE

By:  Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning

As the Tigers have settled into a downturn and subsequent rebuild, fans can surely share in the agony after watching the window close on 10 years of failed opportunities and rosters full of great talent.

But what if you could go back and make a change or 2? What would you have done differently?

As always, Holly and Kurt have not shared their responses to the topic below in the interests of offering a wide range of perspectives. So what will readers get today as Totally Tigers addresses a question about past Tiger decisions?


Let’s play Back to the Future! If you could go back in time and change one thing about one year – that would impact the course of history for the Tigers – what would it be?


KURT

It was all lined up for the Tigers. After a gem of a pitching performance by Anibal Sanchez and a 1-0 victory to kick off the 2013 American League Championship against the Red Sox, the Tiger were cruising again in Game 2. They took a 5-1 lead into the 8th inning after Max Scherzer had stymied the Sox over 7 innings that included 13 strikeouts.

All the talk as the Tigers headed towards the late innings was how impossible things would become for the Red Sox should they go down 2-0 heading back to Detroit, where Boston would face Justin Verlander.

With 2 outs in the 8th inning of Game 2, Boston loaded the bases with 2 outs with David Ortiz coming to the plate; and a  decision was looming. In his career to that point, Ortiz had gone 2 for 18 versus Phil Coke, who was warming in the pen along with Joaquin Benoit. But Leyland chose Benoit and the rest was indeed history.

The Ortiz grand slam still turns the stomachs of Tiger fans to this day, and what is remembered most as time has faded, was how close Torii Hunter came to catching that ball. But what should be remembered most is the decision to bring in Benoit instead of a more favorable matchup versus Ortiz.

We don’t know if the results would have been different, but a win in Game 2 more than likely would have propelled the Tigers to a World Series they would have been favored to win. And one decision by Jim Leyland, one he normally would make based on matchups, could have changed the course of baseball history in Detroit – World Championship history.


HOLLY

The dials in my DeLorean are toggling back and forth between October of 2008 and September of 2013 with only 1 thing in common. The need for the Tigers to change managers while the window for winning it all was still open and the talent was at such a high level.

As I’ve often written, Jim Leyland was the best choice to manage back in 2006 because the clubhouse was an uncontrollable mess but when your team has evolved, you need a different voice to take you all the way there.

JL told Dave Dombrowski in early September 2013 that he was retiring and the Tigers had the chance to go after Leyland’s close friend, Ron Gardenhire, whose contract was expiring with the full expectation he would be cut loose from the Twins. Granted, Gardy may not have been the best choice, but he had playoff experience while never having the talent that the Tigers contained – and his contract was not renewed by the Twins until after the season had ended.

Leyland, after the surprise year in 2006 was allowed to coast for the next 2 – coming in 2nd place in 2007 and dead last in 2008. He would end up having a 4-year drought in-between playoffs which is inexcusable given the remarkable level of talent contained within this team that included Miggy, Max, JV and so many others.

After hitting the instrument panel in the DeLorean, it finally settled on October 2008 because that was the year some of the best managerial talent was available. Many new skippers were hired by other teams, including AJ Hinch, Clint Hurdle, John Gibbons, Dusty Baker and Joe Girardi.

Hiring one of these guys would have gotten the Tigers into the playoffs more consistently and the changes made to history would most probably have prevented the team’s knee-jerk reaction from moving from one of baseball’s oldest managers (in age and strategy) to hiring one with zero experience.


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TWICE AS NICE

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

After a long drought in Detroit, it took a trip to Boston for Dave Dombrowski to win another championship. And our writers would like to put in their 2 cents.

As always, Holly and Kurt have not shared their responses to the topic below in the interests of offering a wide range of perspective. So what will readers get today as Totally Tigers addresses a question about the former Tiger GM?


Dave Dombrowski just won his second Executive of the Year Award with the Red Sox to join the one he received with the Marlins. What are our two bloggers’ thoughts?


HOLLY

Sometimes it is much easier to work with an organization that gives you an unlimited budget with which to work as is the case with Dave and his tenure with the Marlins, Tigers and now Red Sox. And it’s also an advantage to come into an organization with a fully loaded farm system and a roster of emerging stars as he did in Boston.

But Dombrowski is indisputably talented as evidenced by this second award and recognition as only 1 of 4 GMs to win in both leagues – joining Gillick, Schuerholz and Epstein. Unlike his tenure in Detroit, he was described as being highly adaptive to the changes in the game and for the ability to analyze Front Office talent and maximize their ability to produce.

Which now begs the question as to why he did not win this award with Detroit. Was it due to his bad decisions involving the bullpen, lack of analytics and hiring of a rookie manager? Or were his ideas and goals thwarted by Mr. I and other employees? Did Dave take his experience with the Tigers and hard-learned lessons to Boston where he changed his approach and strategies dramatically?

The only thing we do know is that Dave took absolutely zero Tigers employees with him when he got the job in Boston, keeping the entire Boston Front Office intact.
Lots of factors are probably involved but it never looks good when your GM leaves and earns everything your previous employer wanted but never got including that infamous ring and industry-wide accolades.


KURT

Fourteen years come to mind when contemplating Dombrowski’s successful capture of a World Championship in Boston. They represent the time he spent in Detroit trying so desperately to attain what he achieved in just a few years with the Red Sox.

The list of similarities is short. In Detroit, the money to build was limitless under the guidance of ownership, just as it is in Boston. The star power in both cities rivaled each other, even with some of the same players playing for both franchises.

But there is one big difference – Mike Ilitch was involved when he shouldn’t have been and wasn’t when he needed to be. At times you wondered who was responsible when the Tigers made outlandish deals for talent that maybe DD wouldn’t have made on his own.

In Boston, ownership pulled back the reins on Dombrowski when the talent in the farm began to thin due to deals for veterans. In Detroit, he never had a leash and Ilitch never stepped in until the very end when DD revealed he was all out of bargaining chips – i.e. farm system talent and depth.

In the end, there is no doubting Dave’s skills as one of the game’s best general managers and he deserves everything he gets for delivering that prize to Boston, but the Red Sox ownership and deep farm talent helped him navigate the ship, keeping him from veering off course.


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