It probably would not have become a distraction, bit clearly Mike Ilitch wasn’t interested in taking that chance.
So the Tigers owner authorized the announcement that president/CEO/general manager Dave Dombrowski has agreed to a contract extension through the 2015 season, and Jim Leyland has agreed to manage the team through the 2012 seasons.
Both were working under contracts that expired at the end of this season.
It was a minor issue during spring training, but both declined to make anything of it. The potential problem went away as both Dombrowski, 55, and Leyland, 66, focused on doing their jobs (their mode of operation anyway).
As the season wore on, though, it could have come into play — especially with Detroit in first place in the AL Central.
As the playoffs potentially came into view, people would have started writing and talking about what a fine job both had done this season and what a shame it was neither knew where he was going to be working next year.
Leyland and Dombrowski might have been able to shrug that off, too, but in a world where as little as one game can make a difference, why take a chance on having that issue take away from the team’s concentration on the task at hand?
The fact Dombrowski is tied to the club longer than Leyland has to be strictly related to the manager re-evaluating his desire to continue on an annual basis. Leyland knows he can get a job somewhere else if Detroit suddenly decides to dump him.
The announcement was timed for Monday because Detroit did not play. The Tigers open a three-game series at second-place Cleveland on Tuesday holding a four-game lead on the Indians.
Dombrowski was named president and CEO of the Tigers on Nov. 5, 2001, and he fired Randy Smith to take over as GM on April 8, 2002. He hired Leyland, who had worked for him in Florida, for the 2006 season, and Detroit went to the World Series that year.
There have been suggestions Ilitch, 82, was getting impatient for a winner and might have discarded Dombrowski and Leyland had Detroit not played well this season. That will never be known because the Tigers, after starting slowly, have been a division contender nearly all season.
Leyland gets heat for resting his regulars (using his bench), but nearly all managers operate that way. He’s been hampered by injuries in his bullpen and a short rotation but has always been thought of as a good manager for pitchers.
“The bottom line is, if you do a good job, they want you back, and if you don’t, they probably won’t,” Leyland said. “But I’m really looking forward to it (the remainder of 2011 plus 2012).”
At this stage of his life, Leyland says he really doesn’t need to think of long-term contracts.
“I’m 60-some years old,” he said. “I don’t really need that type of security. But, hopefully, if we do good next year, and I’ve got my health, hopefully they’ll want me to do it another year.”
Dombrowski has moved quickly, as he generally does, to address roster shortcomings through minor league call-ups and via the trade route.
Adding Doug Fister, who pitches for the second time for Detroit on Tuesday, to the rotation and David Pauley to the bullpen in a deal with Seattle for prospects was seen as a possibly expensive long-term move but a good decision for the present.
Dombrowski has kept Detroit competitive the last few seasons while shedding some bad contracts he agreed to and now is trying to keep the franchise viable for the long term by melding young players such as Austin Jackson, Alex Avila, Rick Porcello and Brennan Boesch into a core of veterans.
Plus he has the two top players, Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, signed to long-term deals.
Leyland is 485-442 in his sixth season as the manager of the Tigers, and he should become the fifth manager to win 500 games with Detroit before the leaves turn color. The 20-year veteran earned his 1,500th career win April 15.
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