Conversation with Tigers president/GM Dombrowski
Longtime executive talks Leyland, Selig, club's chances this postseason
OAKLAND -- Dave Dombrowski is finishing his 12th season as Tigers president and general manager, and during that period, the Tigers have been to the World Series twice and the playoffs four times, including the last three years in a row.
All those postseason appearances have come since Dombrowski hired Jim Leyland as manager in 2006, reuniting the pair that won the World Series together with the Marlins in 1997. The Tigers were swept by the Giants in last October's Fall Classic.
According to Dombrowski, the odd couple of the staid, pulled back president and the gruff manager won't be breaking up any time soon. Recently, Leyland has been working on a year-to-year contract and Dombrowski said just like the past offseason, he will have a discussion with Leyland again about the immediate future.
"This is a very demanding game as far as the travel is concerned, as far as the time frame is concerned," Dombrowski told MLB.com this week before the Tigers began their American League Division Series against the A's at O.co Coliseum. "So let's just play it out. He knows if he wants to manage, he can just keep managing."
Seated in the Tigers dugout, Dombrowski expanded upon Leyland's future, the pending retirement of Commissioner Bud Selig, his club's chances this postseason and the adjustments he has had to make in building a championship-caliber ballclub in this era.
MLB.com: So Jim's coming up on his 69th birthday and since 2010, we've written about the retirements of Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa, and most recently, Davey Johnson. Leyland is just about the last of that generation of managers. How long do you think wants to continue managing?
Dombrowski: Really, we sit down and talk about that after every season. He still has the passion and the drive. I don't think you ever know that answer. Something at the end of that year tells them it's time to go. So you sit down and talk to them about that. But I haven't noticed any change in Jim as far as the passion and the desire and the drive is concerned. As far as I know, he wants to keep going.
MLB.com: Why are you on a year-to-year contract with him?
Dombrowski: We've done that for about the last three or four years or so. We really felt like it was the right thing to take it year by year. Let's go through whole year and so what happens.
MLB.com: So what's your reaction to Bud formally saying he's actually retiring?
Dombrowski: He's made that statement before, but I think this is the strongest I've ever heard him make that statement. Time will tell, but I'm not one to question the Commissioner if he says this is it for him. It seems like in the past he opened the door a little more than he seemed to do at this time. And this time he sounds pretty adamant that this is it.
MLB.com: How do you sum up his 22-year tenure? You're probably one of the few guys who have been around for all of it.
Dombrowski: It's been outstanding. The game has grown by leaps and bounds in popularity, in attendance at the ballparks, in revenue production. There have been a lot of changes in the game that have helped the game to grow and continue to make it interesting to people. He's been an outstanding Commissioner. He's done a tremendous job. When you're in a situation like this, it's hard to imagine anybody doing a better job over what he has done in that time period.
MLB.com: How do you replace him?
Dombrowski: That's a decision the owners have to make. I don't have any input in that decision. It's going to be difficult.
MLB.com: So here you are again in another postseason.
Dombrowski: Well, we're happy to be back. It's exciting. You never want to take it for granted, which we didn't. No matter how people prognosticate about your club, it's hard to get here. And we'd like to take it another step this year.
MLB.com: What do you like about this club as opposed to the last two years, which were obviously very good clubs?
Dombrowski: First of all, we have more experience than the other clubs. I think our lineup is deeper than in the past with the addition of Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez coming back. When you look at our starters, we have four starters going out there that have pitched very well. We had that last year, but now they have the experience and the knowledge of knowing they can be successful in the postseason the way they've performed. The back end of our bullpen is also much stronger this year than it was last year. So I think that combination is a real good one for us.
MLB.com: How do you view this A's team that you're playing this year? Last year they took you to the limit in the first round.
Dombrowski: They are very good. They're a good ballclub. There's no question. One thing, they will not catch anybody by surprise. Not that they would have caught anybody by surprise last year because even then we thought they were good. I don't know if it's good or bad, but we just played them in late August at our ballpark and they beat us and hit us very well. I don't think there's anyone in our front office who would take them for granted. They have good pitching, good starting pitching. They're solid. They produce runs, too. They hit the long ball. They're balanced from the left-hand side and the right-hand side. They are a good test.
MLB.com: You say the back end of your bullpen is stronger now without Jose Valverde, who was a mainstay for you. Why?
Dombrowski: Well, he scuffled for us last year. Not over a long time period, but last year Jose really scuffled in the postseason. He scuffled a little bit down the stretch, but he did not have a good postseason for us. We've been in a position now where Joaquin Benoit has been throwing the ball so well. And then we have the combination of Drew Smyly and Jose Veras. He's a veteran who just joined us from Houston. He's another veteran out there, who has closed games, too, and pitched in close games the whole year. I also think a guy like Rick Porcello can play a key role for us in the bullpen. He did that last year. I think we're more stable at the back end of the bullpen than we were last year.
MLB.com: And you like the way the closer situation is working for you right now?
Dombrowski: Yes. Benoit has done a tremendous job for us. He's really thrown the ball well. He's reacted well to the role. You feel very comfortable with him taking the ball at the point in the game. He looks like an established closer. You'd never guess just watching him that he's only done it for half a season. We have more certainty back there this year. There was more uncertainty last year with the way Valverde was pitching. Guys have to step up just like every club at this time of year. But now we're in a spot where our guys can do it.
MLB.com: In your long experience with Chicago, Montreal, Miami and Detroit, has it become tougher to build a team in this era?
Dombrowski: I guess you just move as the environment changes. Rules change and that can affect you. I think it's tougher in the sense that more clubs are competitive now. With two Wild Cards, clubs aren't as willing to give up players as they have in the past. In turn, you're in a position in which acquiring talent and building clubs are not as easy. In the past, if you had more finances you could probably do that a bit easier. But it's never been easy. It's always a difficult chore. I tip my cap to clubs that do it year in and year out. It's very difficult to win.
MLB.com: As a guy who has been around for so long, how much does your club take advantage of newer metrics?
Dombrowski: We use it. We do use all of that. We have a couple of guys in our organization who do that for us and provide all the information. We've always provided statistical information to Jim Leyland. Even though he's perceived to be the old-time manager, he's always used matchups. But we use it. It complements our scouting staff. I think you would be foolish not to use every bit of information you can put your fingers on that would help assist you in any way. It's up to you to decide what are the most important bits of information you receive. But the more information you receive the better off you are. So we receive and use any and all type of information.
MLB.com: Talking to Leyland about it, he was saying there's no metric that judges a players' guts or heart or will to win.
Dombrowski: That's correct and those are all important parts of a team. Those are all parts of leadership, which is also not measured. Those are all essential elements that you need to have an instinct about, getting a pulse of those things and getting to know your players and other players and your scouts doing the same kind of thing. You may look at a guy on the downside of his career, who has all those qualities, but the statistical analysis doesn't show that. That's why I think you use all the information you can.
MLB.com: How do you measure all those things that can't be quantified?
Dombrowski: Well, throughout the years you just develop instincts about players as you're putting together a club. And you have to use those things. You get as much information together as you possibly can about the makeup of individuals and if you're comfortable with your assessment, then you go ahead and make those decisions.
It doesn't mean that you're always right. Statistically, you can say you're right, but then a guy doesn't perform up to the statistics you used in the evaluation. People don't talk about that, but that happens, too. I've seen that happen a lot. But I do think you never get to know a player as well until he's with you. That's why ideally, if you can grow your own talent you know those players better than anyone else you acquire.
MLB.com: So it's essential to draft well and develop most of your own players.
Dombrowski: There's no replacing that. You can say that about any walk of life. Until you live with somebody you don't know them in the same way. That's how life is and it's the same way for us. You have that person that grew up in your organization. You know them so much better than if they came from somewhere else. You really cannot replace that. You just try to do the best job you can in evaluating the individuals that you bring in. But in today's game, it's tough to grow a whole ballclub and put it together.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.