Last week, Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski reportedly told Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports that the Tigers "intend" for Drew Smyly to be in the rotation in 2014. He definitely told Lynn Henning of the Detroit News that "if we started the season right now, he'd be in the bullpen." At first these sound like statements that oppose each other -- you're either in the rotation or you're in the bullpen -- but of course both thoughts can live simultaneously while pushing opposing headlines and feeding opposing conclusions. That is the genius of Dombrowski: to constantly manipulate the board, to change the past midway through a speech, to distract like a street magician, to bluff and to conceal his strategy like a poker champion.
Last week he had us certain that a trade would be in the works. This week he's pushing the headlines to read that Smyly is "slated" for the bullpen. Could the Tigers "intend" for Smyly to be in the rotation next spring? Of course. Smyly's a good young pitcher, who wouldn't want to find a spot for him in the rotation? But if the season started today, do they already have five starting pitchers and no place to stick Smyly? You bet. Both statements should be seen as accurate no matter what happens with the rotation before April.
Longtime Tigers followers are not surprised by the linguistic labyrinths that Dombrowski lays. Years ago I wrote about Dombrowski as a poker player. That's a metaphor I still appreciate and use routinely. But he's not just a poker player. He's the dealer who only shows you the cards he wants you to see while holding back the rest of the deck until it suits him to bring it to the table. He's keeping your attention with his hand on the right while simultaneously lifting your watch with his left hand while you cheer. A statement by Dombrowski can mean two things: 1) Nothing; 2) Something. Where there is smoke there usually isn't fire, except on the rare occasion that the move has been telegraphed for a week but no one believes it's going to happen because he is, in fact, Dave Dombrowski.
All of which is to say, trying to ascertain the Tigers' upcoming roster moves by what Dombrowski says or reportedly says or by the rumors given to Jon Heyman or Ken Rosenthal or Jon Morosi or anyone else is a lesson in humility. You're not going find much of a pattern. You're not going to be able to predict an upcoming move with any accuracy. You're going to be wrong -- a lot -- and look like a fool if you overcommit to any one scenario.
The best you can hope to do is to study Dombrowski's past transactions, to make some sense of the players he likes to bring to his rosters and figure out which free agents might be a good fit or which players currently in the organization don't seem to fit. And even doing that is no sure method. In short: If Dave Dombrowski tries to sell you something, don't buy it, or your new Stingray might just require a large swimming pool.
Drew Smyly's a reliever until he's a starter. That's just the way it is.
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