September 23rd, 2014
“Don’t look back. Something may be gaining on you.” The great Satchel Paige said that among a number of other poignant words of wisdom from the man with the ageless arm. Man, is that quotation true today.
If you are a general manager in the game of baseball, you can’t look back. It would be easy to say, “what if.” What if the Tigers had not traded Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals for Ian Krol, Steve Lombardozzi and Robbie Ray in early December? That was a trade I didn’t understand then and I don’t understand now. Fister was a reliable starter for the Tigers since he came over from the Seattle Mariners. He fit nicely among the rotation of Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez. Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello. As a five-man rotation, they were tough to beat. They pitched their hearts out in last year’s postseason but didn’t get any offensive help. As a result, they were on the outside looking in. Tigers owner Mike Ilitch was born in 1929. He wants to win a championship with his beloved Tigers. He has made resources available and has been a fantastic owner in a city that loves the sports teams Ilitch owns. General manager Dave Dombrowski has a reputation as one of the best in the game. He wants to deliver that championship to Mr. Ilitch.
Pressure. General managers are under pressure to do what it takes to win. The Seattle Mariners thought they were a pitcher away from a title in 2008. I was a scout for the Mariners at the time when general manager Billy Bavasi made a deal with the Baltimore Orioles for starting lefty Erik Bedard. The cost for Bedard? Pitchers Kam Mickolio, George Sherrill and Tony Butler along with a promising prospect outfielder named Adam Jones and a fresh prospect right-handed pitcher named Chris Tillman. Don’t look back. But. Bedard was hurt for most of his tenure in Seattle. Tillman and Jones are helping to lead the Orioles to the postseason as core fixtures of the team’s present and future. Pressure. The Mariners brass felt Bedard could take the team over the top. He didn’t. The rest is history.
In Dombrowski’s trade with Washington, Detroit received two young left-handed pitchers still in development. Krol is only 23. He is pitching out of the Tigers bullpen where he has a 4.96 ERA as I write this. He has yielded six home runs and 13 walks in 32 2/3 innings. Those numbers jump out at me. He carries a 1.66 WHIP. But he’s still very young, has a strong arm and upside remains. But he really isn’t a fully developed pitcher, in my opinion. Not yet, anyway.
Robbie Ray is only 22. He has thrown 27 2/3 innings for Detroit so far this year with a 7.16 ERA and a 1.80 WHIP. He’s scuffled against big league pitching, no doubt about it. He needs more seasoning and like Krol, has work to do on command and control. He, too, has upside.
The Tigers have turned to another lefty, 25-year old Kyle Lobstein to help get them to the postseason as part of their rotation. Maybe that was designed to be a role for Ray when the season began.
Pressure. The Tigers were reeling when Dombrowski made every effort to shore up a leaking late inning bullpen by bringing Joakim Soria over from the Texas Rangers in a deal for pitchers Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel. Both Thompson and Knebel are solid pitchers for the future. However, the key word is future. The Tigers needed to strengthen the bullpen now. Soria, who had an injury filled past couple years, was injured again this year and returned to the club on September 9. He hasn’t provided the magic potion the team was seeking. But time remains and he may yet provide a needed spark for the pen.
Realizing his pitching options were getting thin, Dombrowski struck again. This time he may just have saved his team’s season. He may be able to deliver a Championship trophy to Mr. Illich after all. He made a huge stealth strike to get prized lefty David Price from the Rays. The cost? His starting center fielder Austin Jackson, starting pitcher Drew Smiley and “under the radar” infield prospect Willy Adames.
Dombrowski didn’t look back. Sure, he probably would have loved to have Doug Fister in the rotation somewhere along the line. But Price fills a huge hole. With an injured Sanchez and inconsistent performances from his rotation, Dombrowski can sleep at night knowing that David Price is available to take the ball in the playoffs. The bullpen? Soria has returned and could help.
Dombrowski made a huge move by trading Price Fielder early in the off-season. It was a surprise to most of the baseball world. The Tigers can still hit-even without Fielder. Ian Kinsler has provided some good and not so good moments for the Tigers. Fielder has been hurt all year for the Rangers, the team he was supposed to put on his back and carry to the promised land. But that’s another story. It’ll have to wait. Along with my thoughts on the Oakland Athletics. I’ll be discussing both those teams later this week in my next blog.
For now-if you’re Dave Dombrowski you can’t look back. You did what you had to do to fulfill a dream of everyone associated with the Tigers franchise—the fans, the players, the front office, the working staff, and most of all, the owner.
Thanks for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff and for reading my work on MLBPipeline.com. Much appreciated.
I’ll return later this week with thoughts on the Rangers and A’s. Thanks for your support.
That’s it. I’m Done.