By Ashley Dunkak
CBS DETROIT – As some fans wonder what 2015 holds for the Detroit Tigers, general manager Dave Dombrowski projects calm and confidence about what the club, with numerous big-time players returning from injury, can do in the upcoming season. On 97.1 The Ticket on Saturday, the general manager addressed various issues, including the departure of starting pitcher Max Scherzer, the health of superstar first baseman Miguel Cabrera, the trade for Yoenis Cespedes, and the team’s continuing quest to win a World Series.READ MORE: Science of Weather: Sea Life Michigan Turtles
Known as one of the most freely spending teams in baseball, the Tigers passed on Scherzer, who ended up with a seven-year, $210 million deal from the Washington Nationals, and they have downplayed reports of interest in another high-quality starter, James Shields. Dombrowski acknowledged that while the organization feels good about the team it has constructed, money is definitely a factor in what kind of moves the club will make.
“Even though we have the most generous owner in professional sports, finances do become involved because a lot of times people say, ‘Sign this guy, sign that guy, sign that guy,’ and it’s not fantasy baseball,” Dombrowski said Saturday on 97.1 The Ticket. “And so I think that tendency – and I’ve asked other general managers about that, I said, ‘How come do you think it’s changed?’ – and they say, ‘You know what, fantasy baseball.’”
After Scherzer turned down Detroit’s offer of six years and $144 million following the 2013 season, the Tigers decided not to pursue him diligently during free agency.
“They called us about Max’s situation as time went on, and he made it clear that – and it probably started around the winter meetings – that he’d be open-minded to playing here again, but we never had any negotiations at that point because we thought we had made a strong effort to try to sign him, and it was clear he was looking for the numbers he received now – or maybe even a little bit more – and just in passing in conversations that was given to us, and we just didn’t feel comfortable going there, so we never got into any additional negotiations,” Dombrowski said. “When they talk about a mystery club, if there was a mystery club involved, and I’m not sure if there was or was not, it was not us. We were not in any type of negotiations whatsoever.”
The Tigers have not made splashy free agent moves this offseason, but they did make a significant trade, giving up starting pitcher Rick Porcello in exchange for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. An All-Star from Cuba, Cespedes had been a target of Detroit before he first came into the league as a free agent in 2012.
“We thought he would be an All-Star, a perennial type All-Star guy,” assistant general manager Al Avila said on 97.1 The Ticket. “He’s one of the best in baseball. He’s thrown out a lot of guys, but then also, he’s also a run producer. He’s the full package, and we felt that back then. One of the reasons we couldn’t commit to him at that point was he hadn’t played in almost a year since he defected.
“We felt he was going to be good, but we didn’t know how quickly, and I think if you talk to the Oakland A’s, who ended up signing him – and I have – they were surprised, too, how quickly he adapted and produced,” Avila added.READ MORE: Motown Museum Set To Reopen This Weekend With Expansion Project Near Completion
The addition of Cespedes should help the outfield defense tremendously and will offset the loss of Torii Hunter’s offensive production, but the club has question marks in several other places because of the number of players returning from injury. Shortstop Jose Iglesias missed all of the 2014 season, as did reliever Bruce Rondon. Coming off core muscle repair surgery, both starting pitcher Justin Verlander and first baseman Miguel Cabrera struggled to match their usual production in 2014, and both dealt with other injuries as well. Reliever Joakim Soria missed games with injury, and so did starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez. The sheer number of big-name players who will be coming back from partial or subpar seasons has many fans concerned.
While Dombrowski understands the trepidation, he does not share it.
“They’re not really question marks to us,” Dombrowski said. “It’s not like they can’t play. It’s just that they’re unknowns … I feel very comfortable with our ballclub.”
A two-time MVP and Triple Crown winner, Cabrera played 159 games in 2014 despite bone spurs in his ankle and a stress fracture in his foot, and he turned in a batting average of .313 and smacked 25 home runs. The numbers were a noticeable departure from Cabrera’s incredible 2013 season, but Dombrowski said it would not surprise him if Cabrera’s numbers bounce back up to superstar level in 2015.
“When people say, ‘Oh, Miguel, he’s on a downswing,’ I couldn’t disagree more because for Miguel’s situation, it’s amazing he could play last year with what he had,” Dombrowski said. “The doctor can’t even believe that he could go out there, and he was player of the month in the month of September in the pennant race. I think Miguel’s going to come back, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he put up those huge numbers that he has in the past.”
The Tigers have been gunning for a World Series during Dombrowski’s reign as general manager, and Dombrowski admits there is an empty feeling – despite four straight division titles – because Detroit has not been able to corral that ultimate prize. Still, he said, winning the World Series is not as easy as people imagine it to be.
“I don’t think there’s a magic formula, and every year people look at the clubs that win, and then that’s the way to do it, but how could you ever predict in your wildest dreams that a club would have one starting pitcher pitch well in the postseason and win the world championship?” Dombrowski said. “I’ve been doing this 37 years – never seen it happen before, so Madison Bumgarner what he did last year was unparalleled, and they rode his back – let’s face it – to a world championship. They’ve got a lot of good players and other things, but if you took Madison Bumgarner out of the equation last year, you’re not even past the first round.MORE NEWS: Senate GOP Facing Criticism Following Insulin Cap Vote
“You have to have things happen your way at the right times,” Dombrowski added. “First you have to get there, hopefully you’re healthy, and then you have to play well at certain times, and a key hit here, a key hit there, and all of a sudden things change, and that’s what you have to have happen. I like our ball club, and if we can get there, I like our chances.”