Dombrowski, Leyland team up in playoffs
Tigers GM chats with MLB.com about team, postseason
DETROIT -- Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland are back in the postseason once again, with Game 1 of their American League Division Series against the upstart A's slated for a 6:07 p.m. ET start on TBS on Saturday at Comerica Park.The general manager and manager, who together guided the Marlins to their first World Series victory in 1997 in seven games over the Indians, are heading once again toward the promised land with a Tigers franchise that hasn't won it all since 1984.
Leyland, 67, is finishing his 21st season as a manager, having helmed four big-league clubs. Dombrowski, 56, is also with his fourth organization and in 2006 brought Leyland out of a six-year retirement to manage again. Together they won the American League pennant in 2006 and lost in the AL Championship Series last year to the Rangers."Everybody always thinks that if you have guys who have been to the postseason before you're going to win this time around," Leyland said. "I don't necessarily buy that. I don't think it works that way. Guys who are in it for the first time can do just as well as guys who have been here before." With a $133.5 million payroll, this time the pressure is certainly on, just as it has been all season. As they embark on that long playoff road again, Dombrowski took a little bit of time on Friday to talk with MLB.com about the ballclub and his future with Leyland. MLB.com: How do you feel going into the playoffs this year? Dombrowski: I feel great. [Whether] you've been through it a couple of times, [or are] entering into it, you never know what's going to happen. I mean, it just depends on who's playing well at a particular time. We have as good a chance as anybody. Our club is healthy, we're ready to roll, our rotation is set up the way we want. Anybody you play at this point is a good club. But we feel we have a good club. MLB.com: What kind of problems do you think Oakland presents for you? Dombrowski: They're a good team. We just played them a couple of weeks ago. They're playing as well as anybody in baseball. They have a good starting staff. Their bullpen is deep. They pitch well out there [in Oakland}. They hit the ball out of the ballpark. They hustle. So they have a formidable team. MLB.com: Really an unbelievable season for the Tigers. It's the first time since 1934-35 the team has been back to the postseason in consecutive years and it's the first time since 1967 that any player has won the Triple Crown. It seems that what Miguel Cabrera did went under the radar nationally until the end of the season. Dombrowski: Well, it was a real good season for us. It was not easy, but it's not meant to be easy. I read today that only two of the six division winners in both leagues are repeaters from last year: ourselves and the Yankees. So it just shows how difficult that is to do. Cabrera did go a little bit under the radar. I think part of it was that he wasn't leading down the stretch in all three categories. Usually guys get close and don't actually do it. And then at the end this time, you suddenly realized that Miggy had a chance to do it. It got a lot of publicity at the very end. I know it was very well covered. But it was kind of under the radar. He's a quiet guy. He's not high profile. He's a great player, as we know. Then all of sudden, there it was and you couldn't believe it because it hadn't been done in such a long time. MLB.com: What happened to the Tigers this season? Last year, you made a couple of trades in July, took off and won the division by 15 games. This year, despite the addition of Prince Fielder, it was a struggle until the end. Dombrowski: I think it's probably pretty simple. First of all, the White Sox did play a lot better. So they were able to cut that margin down better than any team last year. There was no other club in our division that finished above .500 last year. This year, the White Sox did. Secondly, from an offensive perspective, the bottom half of our batting order didn't jell on a consistent basis, five to nine. Omar Infante, when he came on board, helped that, but we just didn't get the same consistent production as we did last year from that part of our lineup. So I think that made a difference. When those guys swing the bats then that's when we usually go on a pretty good roll. MLB.com: Joe Torre used to always say that when you add significant parts to even a very good team it takes several months for that team to develop chemistry and its own personality. Fielder was a pretty significant part. Do you subscribe to that theory? Dombrowski: Yes, I do. And it's not a negative comment about anybody. It's just that it takes some time for everybody to get a feel for each other. It was the same thing for us in a sense. But when you see it now, we have great chemistry on the team. We really have jelled. I think that now, all of sudden, all those pieces have come together. MLB.com: What kind of job do you think Leyland did this season? Dombrowski: Tremendous. He's a very good manager, one of the best. He is steadying force. We all know that when he gets in the dugout he can deal with any situation. The guys like playing for him. He brought us through at a time when there was really a lot of pressure on him and everybody else, a lot of expectations. Our club was able to rise to it at the end. MLB.com: Is Leyland under contract for next season? Dombrowski: No, he is not. It's something we'll discuss at the end. We love him and think the world of him. MLB.com: Has he indicated whether he wants to come back? Dombrowski: We really haven't even had that discussion. We're just going to wait. We'll just wait and see what happens. MLB.com: How about your future? Dombrowski: I'm signed for a few years. MLB.com: So is the ballclub well-situated for the long term? Dombrowski: Well, yeah. We have some free agents that we'll have to deal with at the end of the year. Jose Valverde is a free agent. Delmon Young's a free agent. So is Anibal Sanchez. We have options on Octavio Dotel and Jhonny Peralta. We'll have some major decisions we'll have to make. MLB.com: The American League couldn't have been any closer this season. The three divisions were won by a total of five games and both Wild Card spots were still up in the air until the final weekend of the season. Dombrowski: It's a good league. There's a lot of good clubs with a lot of good players. You could see why a lot of teams had the chance to make it. Three very good clubs -- the White Sox, Angels and Rays -- didn't make it. In the end, that's why you're fortunate when you make it. It's really a battle. MLB.com: How do you keep pace with that? The other AL teams keep spending money and every year it seems to get tougher. Dombrowski: That's what you plan for and that's what you do. We've had some meetings and we'll continue to have meetings. We'll be ready to address that more when the season is over.
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.