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Don't blame Willis for Dombrowski's mistakes

OK, Big picture time.

It doesn't matter.

Trading Nate Robertson does not alter the likely outcome of the 2010 season for the Detroit Tigers.

If Robertson's place in the rotation was so important to the Tigers' winning the division -- let's face it -- they weren't going to win the division anyway.

Dontrelle Willis was named the final member of the rotation. He's set to make his season debut the final game of the season-opening Royals series, and he'll return to Detroit with the rest of the team for the home opener April 9.

And even if he walks four people and gives up five runs -- as he did today -- you should stand up and cheer when his name is announced over the public-address system.

None of this is his fault, and he still deserves your support.

He didn't ask to be traded to the Tigers. He was sent to them because the Florida Marlins did not want to pay his ballooning contract after he saw his control erode over the previous two years and his ERA shoot up.

Willis did not force Detroit to offer him a three-year contract worth $29 million before he threw a pitch in a Tigers uniform.

And he certainly didn't force them to put him in the fifth spot in the rotation this spring, despite showing the same lack of command he has the past four seasons.

No, the very fact Willis and the Tigers are even in this position is due to poor planning and poor decision making by the front office.

How is it a franchise for which the overriding philosophy over the past decade is in drafting, acquiring, and developing pitchers, finds itself in the position of choosing from among three -- or four, if you like -- whose possible outcomes are "might not implode," "might keep his ERA under 5.50," and "might resemble a major league starting pitcher if everything goes well"?

Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski put the team into the position of too many bad contracts and not enough actual major league talent.

Even today in an attempt to alleviate the past mistakes, Dombrowski traded a starting pitcher and $9.6 million for a minor leaguer whose ceiling is that of a relief pitcher.

It's no wonder the Tigers have so little to show for increasing their payroll to an average in the $120 million range.

At best, you can say today's trade was just another in a line of bets placed by Dombrowski. He bet trading every single top player in his farm system in 2007 would result in a long playoff run in 2008. He bet overpaying certain members of the team over a long period of time would pay off in the short term. Instead, the Tigers finished in dead last in the division in 2008 and their future was mortgaged.

Last season, he bet he could trade a young starting pitcher in the minors and another in the majors that an injured Jarrod Washburn would lead Detroit to its first divisional title in 22 years. Instead, Washburn fell apart and so did the Tigers.

And now Dombrowski's bet that Willis won't wash out yet again, despite little evidence he has changed as a pitcher and command every bit as bad as it has always been.

As bets go, the options here were bad and worse.

I've spent a lot of time this past offseason studying the decisions the Tigers have made since Dombrowski joined the team. I've spent a lot of time trying to rationalize why so many of his decisions could turn bad.

At some point, we have to acknowledge the problem lies less with the players on the field as much as it lies with the system of decision making that puts them there.

Hey, maybe the bottom of the rotation will be sorted out fine and the Tigers will be sitting atop the division at the end of the year.

But I wouldn't bet on it.