10/11/2013 1:57 P.M. ET
Dombrowski built Tigers with eye on the prize
Tigers president brought in Scherzer, Cabrera, Fielder, among other shrewd moves
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
BOSTON -- This being a bottom-line business and all, Detroit Tigers president Dave Dombrowski understands he needs a championship to truly validate all his good work in Detroit.
He's also a baseball lifer and knows better than almost anyone that these things are complicated. In other words, life sometimes isn't fair. That's the thing people from the world of business almost always have trouble grasping about sports.
Championships are elusive, a byproduct of smart decisions and hard work, but usually the result of just a bit of luck as well. General managers can do a long list of things right and still not get their teams over the hump.
So the Tigers are back in the American League Championship Series for a third straight year, this time against the Boston Red Sox. Game 1 is at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on FOX.
Is this the year?
Dombrowski has constructed the Tigers the old-fashioned way with big trades, franchise-changing trades, trades that get people talking. Maybe that's part of the deal, too.
His mentor was Roland Hemond, a legendary baseball executive who, while general manager of the White Sox, once set up a table in the lobby of the Winter Meetings and posted an "Open for Business" sign.
From Hemond, Dombrowski learned not to be afraid to shuffle the cards, and then, if necessary, to shuffle them again and again. His core belief seems to be that if he gets the player he wants, it doesn't matter all that much what he has to surrender.
He frets about the amount of young talent he has given up through the years, but has also learned that prospects such as Andrew Miller, Jacob Turner, Rob Brantly and Avisail Garcia are valuable organizational currency regardless of how they're used.
Through the years, Dombrowski acquired a guy who would win a Triple Crown in Miguel Cabrera and another who appears to be a slam dunk to win the 2013 AL Cy Young Award in Max Scherzer. Last summer, he got the pitcher who'll start Game 1 against the Red Sox -- Anibal Sanchez. There are others, from Omar Infante to Austin Jackson to Doug Fister.
When rumors swirled this season that Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta would be suspended as a result of the Biogenesis investigation, almost everyone in the game knew Dombrowski was working furiously to fill a hole that hadn't even opened up yet. He did it, too, getting Jose Iglesias in a three-team trade with the Red Sox and White Sox.
Don't mention the player he gave up to the White Sox -- outfielder Garcia. His name still makes Dombrowski wince. In the end, though, he understands that's the price of doing business. With owner Mike Ilitch spending freely, getting, among others, first baseman Prince Fielder for $214 million over nine years, the Tigers are in a win-now mode.
Dombrowski is still looking for that first championship for the Tigers. They lost the ALCS in six games to the Rangers two years ago and were swept in the World Series by the Giants last season.
When that one ended, Dombrowski went right back to work, signing free-agent outfielder Torii Hunter. He also got designated hitter Victor Martinez back from a knee injury that had sidelined him in 2012.
So with a full season of Sanchez, Cabrera as good as ever and Hunter and Martinez added to the mix, the Tigers were one of the teams virtually everyone expected to be in the playoffs.
They won 93 games and were second in the Majors in runs (796) and third in the AL in ERA (3.61). Their starting rotation led the AL in ERA, strikeouts, innings and victories.
Now they're back again playing for a trophy. If they finally get over the top, it would be another crowning achievement for their general manager. Once upon a time, he was the youngest in the game, just 31 when the Montreal Expos hired him in 1988.
He's 57 now, having long since cemented his reputation as a smart, shrewd, tough executive. He transformed the Marlins from an expansion team into a model organization and a World Series champion in 1997.
And then he arrived in Detroit in 2002. His official title is president, CEO and general manager, and so these Tigers are his Tigers. Last year, his peers honored him with the John Schuerholz Award in recognition of his 25 years as a general manager.
Now, the Tigers are trying again to reward all those fans who care so much and all the players who've gotten them this far. And if they do win, it would be a pretty sweet day for the architect of it all.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.