Dombrowski unafraid to pull trigger on big trades
Tigers' boss doesn't hesitate to deal young talent to acquire Sanchez, Infante
CLEVELAND -- Dave Dombrowski turns to his briefcase and pulls out the yellow legal pad with the blank first page.Perhaps that page is blank on purpose, a guise hiding the secrets contained within. Or perhaps Dombrowski, the Tigers' president and general manager, simply likes to work from the middle of the pad. We all have our quirks, after all. Whatever the case, the pad had been Dombrowski's close companion in the days and weeks leading up to Monday's blockbuster trade with the Marlins, another all-in move by a Tigers team that filled two Major League holes -- a rotation slot that now belongs to Anibal Sanchez and a second-base position now filled by Omar Infante -- for the short term while parting with three youngsters, including top pitching prospect Jacob Turner. Dombrowski turns to the page in the middle of the pad, where he had scribbled the names of all starting pitchers and second basemen known, from his talks with rival GMs, to be available, alongside lists of every other club's needs. It's a refreshingly old-school approach in an era of spreadsheets and finely tuned computer databases. And sure, Dombrowski leans on those more recent resources, too. But there's just something about putting pen to paper that fires up his imagination. "I can carry this with me everywhere, all the time, looking at it," he says. "Some people are visual, some are audible. For me, writing it down, it's indelible in my mind. When I write something down, I'm not going to forget it." Perhaps it is this somewhat simplistic solution that has allowed Dombrowski to earn his reputation as one of the game's more quick-trigger traders. The Tigers satisfied both of their holes in one fell swap -- a week ahead of Tuesday's non-waiver Trade Deadline, no less -- before an already crowded marketplace could get more chaotic and problematic. Whether or not the result plays out as planned, you have to appreciate the aggression -- especially given the heightened expectations surrounding this Tigers team. "Dave pulled the trigger, to his credit," manager Jim Leyland says. "He's not afraid. I really respect that about him. ... He's not afraid to make a decision." The hesitancy to part with prospects -- particularly those of Turner's caliber -- has inspired inaction out of many a GM, particularly in recent years. And given the player price tags in arbitration and free agency, that hesitance is understandable. But one also must consider cases like the Miguel Cabrera trade, in which Dombrowski gave up a package highlighted by the highly touted Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller to Florida. Or the Doug Fister deal, in which the Tigers sent Casper Wells, Francisco Martinez and Charlie Furbush to Seattle. In both of those cases, any concern about what the Tigers were giving up was quickly overtaken by the production received. As long as you trust that your player-development people can keep restocking the reserves, as Dombrowski's have, there is something to be said for that kind of fearless wheeling and dealing. "You reach the point where you can't be scared to give up talent," Dombrowski says. "I think a lot of times people are so hesitant about it. There's this mistaken thought process that you're going to acquire good players without giving something up in return. Well, it doesn't work that way. If you try to pull a steal, maybe it will work once in a while, but it doesn't happen very often." Very rarely has Dombrowski had a young player he deemed entirely untradeable. Justin Verlander was a rare exception. "Miami, I give them credit," he says. "They were still Florida at the time, and they had pecking order on Josh Beckett. [Marlins GM Larry Beinfest] said, 'Dave, you're my first phone call. Justin Verlander for Josh Beckett.' There was more than that in the deal, but that was the framework. I said, 'We're just not going to trade Verlander.'" With Turner, the demands of 2012 outweighed, in Dombrowski's mind, the promise of what he could offer in 2013 or beyond. Tigers owner Mike Ilitch has made no secret his mission to win now, at whatever cost, and by the time he and Dombrowski sat down a week before the trade with the Marlins, Dombrowski had already determined that he could part with a guy like Turner in the right deal. "You have to understand what your responsibility is," Dombrowski says, "and sometimes you have to make tough decisions." The decisions of the mind often stem from the feel of the gut, and Dombrowski's gut feeling all along has been that this Tigers team, even throughout its first-half troubles, is a playoff-caliber club. But he also knew that a playoff-caliber club could not afford a thin rotation or substandard offensive production from second base. And once the needs are identified, the reality is that anything that's still needed after July 31 is all the more difficult to address. So you'd better strike quick. Especially if a workable deal presents itself. "I learned this from Rolan Hemond," Dombrowski says, referring to the longtime executive and mentor. "Let's say you and I are talking, and you offer me something, and I accept it. We've got a deal. But if I don't accept it and say, 'Give me a day to think about it,' you may talk to somebody else and find a better deal. If I'm satisfied with the deal, why wait? Some people will go through and go through and go through and go through. But this is how we like to operate." To grade the trade the Tigers made this week is premature. But in an environment made all the more costly and competitive by the second Wild Card slots, they acted swiftly to plug their holes and put themselves in a better competitive situation for an all-in season. And that was the end goal every time Dombrowski scribbled notes in that pad.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.