So the pie isn't perfect? Cut it into wedges, and never panic.---Martha Stewart
It will probably be a while before Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski gets compared to a quote by Martha Stewart again, but his actions in stewarding (Stewarting?) the Tigers through their recent injury flurry is showing that the Tigers are not in "panic mode" right now. They are missing a few ingredients to their roster-pie. They aren't scrapping the whole recipe to fix the problems.
I focus on the word "panic", or words synonymous to it, because I have seen it in a few different places this week in the aftermath of the Alex Gonzalez for Steve Lombardozzi deal that was completed on Monday morning. Chat rooms, twitter, Facebook, and various other forums have all been filled with accusations that the Tigers are in desperation mode for grabbing a fossilizing shortstop well beyond his "Best if used by" date. I don't listen to sports talk radio regarding the Tigers, but I will venture a guess that term has been tossed out in that arena as well. I'm sorry...I don't quite see it that way. Unless being quoted saying "we're in somewhat of a jam" qualifies as outright panic. I don't think it does. It just acknowledges a situation that needs to be addressed.
First off, don't take any of this as propping up the deal, it's about looking into the mindset behind pursuing it. The trade is a little curious, not real sexy, and it certainly doesn't seem likely to go down as a "Dombrowski Master Stroke". Alex Gonzalez is an offensively limited older player who only played a few games at Shortstop the last few seasons. Steve Lombardozzi is a young player who would be under club control for several more seasons. He also had an option left if he wasn't going to make the club.
After the Tigers dealt for Andrew Romine on Friday, not many folks woke up on Monday with the idea the Tigers would make this move. But Gonzalez was having a nice Spring with the Orioles and was noticed by O's Manager Buck Showalter. Gonzalez was likely to make the Opening Day roster given Manny Machado's injury situation. Omar Vizquel's views on Gonzalez performance in Winter Ball matched what Tigers scouts have been seeing of late. Given Lombardozzi's lack of skill at short, the Tigers made the move to get a veteran gloveman.
The "panic" accusations seem to stem from Gonzalez being off the radar of nearly everyone outside of Baltimore and scouting circles. While Stephen Drew, Didi Gregorius, and Nick Franklin were being bandied about, the move was completely out of left-field for many. The trade also brings in the specter of the lingering antipathy for the Doug Fister Trade from many quarters. (It should be noted I was no fan of that particular trade) Lombardozzi was part of the Fister trade return and there were at least some who were hoping that he would provide "scrap, grit, and hustle" and all of those other fun but rather pointless descriptions. Instead it appears to them Dombrowski, despite Robbie Ray being the main talent in the swap, is already punting on the Fister deal by shipping out the utilityman.
But is this all done in "panic"? Again, I don't believe so. When Jose Iglesias was finally determined to be out for the long haul this season there is no question that signing Drew made sense to many. Trading with Mariners for Franklin...rumors of the Tigers inquiring on Chris Owings from Arizona...activating Vizquel! These were all major moves in one form or another.
However, what was the plan before the injury run hit the Tigers in the face this Spring? We can spend plenty of words running it all down, but specifically when it comes to Iglesias it was about improving the defense up the middle. Iglesias' acrobatic feats were going to be a boon to the Tigers pitching staff and run prevention. Few were really expecting an offensive boost from the little infielder. Sure, he hit for a high average in Boston prior to the trade that brought him to Detroit...but that run was well above anything he had ever approached in the minors. His offensive game was ripe for regression. Defense was the name of the game.
So what did Dombrowski do in the short run? He found defense. Romine comes with a very solid defensive reputation from most accounts that have been tossed out since the trade. Gonzalez might as well have been knighted by the Queen or blessed by the Pope once Vizquel pronounced him worthy of playing up the middle for the Tigers.
To make these acquisitions the Tigers paid a very small price. Romine required only having the Tigers ship out Jose Alvarez to the Angels. Alvarez is the very definition of a disposable asset. He had a few decent games as a Tiger, but he wasn't going to be counted on for anything but emergency starts. By the way, say hello to Kyle Lobstein, your new emergency arm.
Lombardozzi was a bench player with a spotty offensive history. He can't really adequately cover shortstop. I don't love the term "throw in" when it comes to trade because all players have some value but Lombardozzi was not the most valuable part of the deal that brought him to Detroit. He's also not a commodity to mourn being lost. He's young and under club control...and he came in the big trade this winter. That makes his leaving very surprising. But "surprising" is not equal to "critical". Utility guys come and they go.
Therefore, in sticking with the plan to rely on solid defense up the middle, the Tigers moved a blah-pitcher and utility guy in order to find possible replacements for Iglesias. That doesn't rise to "panic" in my mind. It actually seems like a low-pulse response to the situation. They moved cheap assets around to get chess pieces they wanted on the board. Big money wasn't spent. Solid prospects weren't shipped off to get solutions. Only the very bottom of the major league roster was touched.
It would seem that real panic would have been more along the lines of being the club that Scott Boras says has a 3-yr/$39M deal on the table for Drew. If the Tigers had capitulated and signed Drew, they would have been getting an above average player but also blowing a hole in their 2014 Rule 4 Draft. If they would have had to commit to a multi-year deal, it would create a logjam when Iglesias presumably comes back in 2015. Signing Drew would have been a major change in direction. We can debate the merits of signing Drew. That's totally legitimate. But if Dombrowski had raced into bring Drew aboard, that's a move pointing more toward "desperate measures" in terms of overall investment over what actually transpired.
The same thoughts would apply if the Tigers had emptied out their rather thin farm system to get any of the young shortstops possibly available on the trade market like Gregorius and Franklin (the latter who may not even handle SS). Trades are always worth investigating...and I'm sure Dombrowski and his minions did...but rushing into a haphazard major deal costing major assets to replace Iglesias also would have a hint of panic to it.
Instead Dombrowski has gone small. He found gloves and stuck closer to his original plan. I can listen to arguments that situation begged for a more aggressive move (heck...I might even be convinced) and that he was wrong to go the route he did. But "wrong" is not the same as "panic". It's a measured response to losing his shortstop. He gave up very little to patch his defense.
Further evidence that the Tigers aren't in full scale desperation would be in their bullpen. Young fireballer Bruce Rondon is lost for the season. There have been no knee-jerk moves to this point. No trades of a legit prospect for a washed up "name" like a Heath Bell-type. No anonymous journeyman have been brought aboard. There is probably a better than even chance some type of move is made prior to Opening Day to prop up the bullpen. But I suspect it will also be move that may inspire more "yawns" or howls of "that's it??!" instead of a being move that quickens the heart-rates of most observers with shouts of "Bravo, that's the guy they need!".
The club that breaks camp will not be the club that sees September. Changes will be made. A high "wow factor" trade might come later down the pike. Dombrowski will likely be churning the roster for much of the season. Promotions from the minors, trolling the waiver wire, and the summer trade season. All of that will come into play. The problems, as they appear now, have plenty of time to be fixed. March 31st isn't any kind of deadline. Gonzalez and Romine were the opening salvos. They were just quiet, reserved salvos. No big guns were fired, financial or talent-wise. The flag is not flying upside down in panic.
Signing Drew would have been the crazed run on a bank during a crisis. The moves made were more like growing your own vegetables in the backyard to weather the tough times. These may not have been the right moves, but they were done in a measured fashion.
It's going to be a very entertaining season watching Dombrowski prop up the second tier of his roster...and, of course, if the top tier plays up to Detroit's expectations, they'll likely be fine.