By Jamie Samuelsen
Judging the job a general manager is doing during the off-season is a little like judging a meal while the ingredients are still on the counter. You may think you know what you’re getting, but you really won’t know until the food is on the table.
It’s the same thing in sports. The Lions, Red Wings and Pistons all look like they’ve improved themselves this season. But until we see the parts and how they fit together, any rash predictions are foolhardy. Remember the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles? The supposed “Dream Team.” They slapped together Nnamdi Asomugha, Vince Young, Jason Babin and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and proceeded to go 8-8 and miss the playoffs. So as we salivate over the thoughts of Reggie Bush, Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings and Daniel Alfredsson plying their trades in Detroit over the next season, let’s tap the brakes just a bit on parade planning.
But all four of the local GMs have had rather productive years over the past 12 months. And all four have their teams positioned for, at the very least, a massive step forward from last year.
Here are the rankings of the four men as of today.
1) Dave Dombrowski – Tigers
He’s the only man on the list who doesn’t have to worry about a salary cap. In addition, he has an owner in Mike Ilitch who is desperate to win a title, which gives Dombrowski nearly unlimited funds to draw from in order to build a winner. As a result, he’s given Prince Fielder a $214 million contract and Justin Verlander a $180 million contract in the last 19 months. But he’s also made shrewd moves to shore up the team. The Torii Hunter signing might have been obvious, but he’s been a perfect addition at number two. The Jose Veras trade was exactly what the Tigers needed to solidify the bullpen. And he handled the Jhonny Peralta suspension perfectly by acquiring Jose Iglesias from the Red Sox giving the Tigers their everyday shortstop for perhaps the next five years or more. He’s got looming contracts to hand out to Max Scherzer, Austin Jackson and, of course, Miguel Cabrera. Knowing Dombrowski and knowing Ilitch, they’ll probably get all those moves done.
2) Ken Holland – Red Wings
The man has three Cups as the Wings GM and successfully retooled the roster after the season-long lockout in 2004-2005. He remains as good as any executive in any sport. But it wasn’t until this spring in the playoffs that we started to see some of his recent draft picks start to pay off. Guys like Gustav Nyquist, Jakub Kindl and Justin Abdelkader weren’t just spare parts. They were key playoff performers. He smartly inked Jimmy Howard to a long-term contract for very reasonable money prior to the postseason. And Howard justified the deal by being the Wings best player in their near upset of the eventual Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. This summer, Holland scooped up Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss on the first day of free agency. And some are already calling the Wings the favorites in the Eastern Conference. Not a bad rebuilding job.
3) Joe Dumars – Pistons
Many of you think Dumars should be fired. I felt the same way after he was allowed to fire Lawrence Frank and hire yet another head coach in Maurice Cheeks. But give credit to Dumars for two things. First of all, he did win that title in 2004 which remains one of the most unique championships in NBA history in that none of the players on the roster will likely make the Hall of Fame. Secondly, he just capped off a rather remarkable month of July. He picked up Josh Smith and Chauncey Billups through free agency. And he just pulled off the sign-and-trade for Brandon Jennings. The Pistons all of a sudden are a playoff contender in the East and should be very interesting to watch. And there are still rumors that Jennings is just bait to go after Boston’s Rajon Rondo. The Pistons were a non-factor among Detroit sports fans as recently as a month ago. Now, they are a very interesting little team – all thanks to Dumars.
4) Martin Mayhew – Lions
Mayhew has done a lot of good things since he got here. And he spent the first few years cleaning up Matt Millen’s mess. The team made the playoffs in 2011 and should be a contender once again this year. But much of the Lions success is thanks to stars like Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh – drafted first, second and second in their respective drafts. The best NFL GMs also find stars, or at least starters, in the later rounds and Mayhew has struggled to do that so far. We’ll see if the 2013 draft class is any different. Still Mayhew deserves credit for righting the Lions ship. And if they get back to the playoffs this season, he might climb move up on this list.
It’s a good list and a challenging list. The top GM in town has yet to win a title with his current team (he did win with Florida in 1997). The next two have won four between them and came painfully close two other times. The just shows the level of expectations that the fans demand, the owners ask for and the sports call for.
What do you think? Who is the best GM in town? Who’s the worst?