By: Jamie Samuelsen
Jim Leyland is getting a lot of heat. Most of it is deserved.
This team is walking dead right now and when that happens to a team with a lot of expectations; the manager is normally the first to go. Sometimes a move like that works and the team responds to the change in culture. Sometimes a move like that backfires, and the team just checks out since they’re no longer playing for the manager they wanted in the first place.
Defending Leyland is fruitless at this point, so I won’t even try. I tend to think the fault for this lies more with the players than the manager. But like I said before, you can’t fire the players (other than Brandon Inge obviously).
So fire away at Leyland. But as long as we’re spreading blame around, make sure you save a bunch of it for General Manager Dave Dombrowski. He’s the one who built this team (with the help of Mike Ilitch’s checkbook). He’s the one who felt that Delmon Young would be an everyday leftfielder/designated hitter. He’s the one who didn’t fully address the second base position in the offseason. And until Victor Martinez was hurt and Prince Fielder was signed, Dombrowski planned on Inge and Don Kelly sharing the job at third base.
But it’s worse than that. Look at this roster and tell me what Dombrowski gets credit for in terms of putting together the good parts.
Let’s start with the position players. Of the everyday players, only Alex Avila, Andy Dirks and Brennan Boesch were drafted by Dombrowski. The three have one All-Star appearance between them (Avila last season) and they don’t appear to have MVP seasons in their future. Austin Jackson, Miguel Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta and Young were acquired via trade. And granted, you have to have the assets available to make those trades. But what spurred those deals? It’s a celebrated story that Ilitch told Dombrowski to go out and get Cabrera when they found out he was available. The Jackson trade had less to do with Jackson and more to do with the fact that the organization felt that Curtis Granderson was making too much money (a feeling that now seems laughable given his seasons in the Bronx). And the Fielder move was a panic move that was caused by Martinez’s knee injury.
Granderson still holds the title of “best position player drafted by Dombrowski” and it’s really not even close. Who else is on that list? Avila? Matt Joyce? Cameron Maybin? They’re all nice players but only Granderson begins to enter the conversation of being a superstar. Granted, it’s hard to identify talent through the draft, but you’d think that ten years of picks would have more to show for it than that.
Dombrowski defenders say that his philosophy is to draft power arms, build a pitching-rich organization, and add bats through free agency and trade. Fine. I’ll accept that if you can show me the power arms that have either made an impact with the Tigers or are prepared to do so. Justin Verlander is one. Rick Porcello is another. I’ll give him Drew Smyly because he’s had a nice start. But after that – who is there? The entire back end of the bullpen (Jose Valverde, Joaquin Benoit and Octavio Dotel) was acquired through free agency because the Dombrowski picks either broke down (Joel Zumaya) or didn’t pan out (Ryan Perry).
Dombrowski is highly regarded in baseball circles and would certainly be snapped up if the Tigers let him go. And he clearly has the backing of Mike Ilitch. But as long as Leyland is feeling the heat, just remember that he’s only playing with the cards that Dombrowski dealt him. And other than some Aces and Kings (Verlander, Cabrera, Fielder), there are a lot of low suits mixed in there as well. That’s not on Leyland. That’s squarely on Dombrowski.