When the Tigers’ announced that they were releasing president and general manager Dave Dombrowski from his contract, it forced many of the struggling teams in baseball to reassess their front office structure and wonder if hiring the longtime executive might be beneficial.
The biggest free agent for the 2016 season is already available to teams before the 2015 season has even finished.
On Aug. 4, when the Tigers announced that they were releasing president and general manager Dave Dombrowski from his contract, it forced many of the struggling teams in baseball to reassess their front-office structure and wonder if hiring the longtime executive might be beneficial.
It was a surprising ending between Dombrowski and the Tigers after a 14-year run that saw him take a franchise that lost 119 games in 2003 to winning the last four American League Central titles. But reports of a fraying relationship with owner Mike Ilitch and the Tigers’ failures in 2015 led to a parting of ways.
So now Dombrowski is out on the open market and available — a free agent for hire. His value to a team might be more than that of any player — and probably cheaper.
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Money is a factor in this too. With the Tigers, Dombrowski was making $3 million per year — a pittance compared to the players he was drafting, developing, signing and trading for.
Besides his success with the Tigers, he was also the general manager and architect of the free-agent heavy 1997 World Series team in Florida and prior to that he was a successful director of player development and general manager with the Montreal Expos. If his resume isn’t impeccable, it’s as good or better than almost anyone in baseball.
Yahoo’s Jeff Passan called Dombrowski a “proto-executive,” writing: “He carries himself with the air of an owner, the baseball knowledge of a great scout and the humility of a low-level operations person.”
So where will he end up?
There are plenty of possibilities that have been mentioned often in the last five days.
The most feasible and early frontrunner seems to be the Blue Jays. With president Paul Beeston out after the season, Dombrowski’s hiring would be an easy transition. The Blue Jays have a stable group of core players at the big-league level and are poised for a postseason run this season and beyond.
General manager Alex Anthopolous is one of the more genial executives in baseball, and there is a belief the two men could co-exist.
The Blue Jays’ parent owners — Rogers Communications — could handle a higher salary for Dombrowski. Another important factor is Dombrowski’s understanding of baseball in Canada from his experience in Montreal.
Another team often mentioned is the Red Sox, who recently fired team president Larry Lucchino.
Dombrowski worked for Boston owner John Henry in Miami, but how would that affect current general manager Ben Cherington, who has been a favorite of ownership? The politics of putting someone of Dombrowski’s stature in a position above Cherington, who would suddenly have to start reporting to Dombrowski, would be awkward.
Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston has reported that the organization has no interest in hiring Dombrowski, but that could always change, particularly if the Red Sox continue to struggle the remainder of the season and they decide to fire Cherington.
The Angels have been listed as a candidate after Mike Scioscia prevailed in the power struggle with general manager Jerry DiPoto earlier this season. Owner Arte Moreno sided with Scioscia in the battle that has been going on for the last few seasons, with DiPoto resigning in frustration.
Working for someone as unpredictable and bombastic as Moreno can’t be appealing to someone as pragmatic and reserved as Dombrowski. The Scioscia factor is something of concern, though Dombrowski’s reputation of success gives him credibility with even someone like Scioscia.
The Orioles, Phillies and Brewers have also been listed as candidates.
And that brings us to the Mariners.
Seattle has a president in Kevin Mather, who took over for Chuck Armstrong last year. Seattle has a general manager in Jack Zduriencik, who was given an unspecified extension by Mather last season.
Yet in all of the Dombrowski speculation, the Mariners are almost always listed as candidate.
Well Zduriencik’s tenure could be labeled as tenuous with just two winning seasons in his seven years on the job. The 2015 season has been a massive disappointment after ownership spent more than $130 million on payroll for a perceived playoff run. Instead, the Mariners are battling it out with the A’s to avoid last place in the AL West and hoping to reach .500 before the end of the season.
Beyond the big club, the farm system is also down, lacking in talent and depth with so many of the Mariners’ top prospects being forced into big-league action sooner than expected.
With the window of optimal big-league success probably the next two to three seasons, CEO Howard Lincoln might want to make a change to maximize on that potential. The structure of the front office would have to change.
Dombrowski would likely want the title of president. The Mariners could split the presidency into business operations for Mather and baseball operations for Dombrowski.
But would Dombrowski get the same autonomy and ownership trust and bankroll in Seattle that he had in Detroit?
Would Lincoln assuage that kind of control to someone else?
It’s something that Dombrowski would demand.
Toronto seems like the favorite for now. But like with a free-agent player, another team could emerge with the best offer.
One thing is for certain — some team is going to be getting a pretty good executive for next season.