In a shocking announcement on Tuesday afternoon, the Detroit Tigers released president and general manager Dave Dombrowski from his contract. While there were rumors that ownership was not happy with the team's performance this season, Dombrowski's track record of success with the Tigers seemed enough to keep him with the team past his current expiring contract. The recent transactions at the trade deadline suggested the same.
In short, it's a puzzling move for the Tigers.
Dombrowski's 14-year tenure as president was one of the most successful in team history, even though the Tigers did not win a World Series. They are four-time AL Central champions, have been to the American League Championship Series four times, and have competed in two World Series. Heading into the 2015 season, the Tigers had won more games than any other team in baseball since 2011. Star players like Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Prince Fielder, Magglio Ordonez, Max Scherzer, David Price, Ivan Rodriguez, and several others had donned the Olde English D, and a large part of this influx of star power was thanks to Dombrowski's oversight.
There will be plenty of theories about why Dombrowski is no longer with the team, but Bob Nightengale of the USA Today reported that the decision to part ways was mutual between Dombrowski and Ilitch. There were inklings of some discontent between Ilitch and the front office due to the team's lackluster performance this season, but the recent decision to sell off pending free agents at the trade deadline led many to believe that Mr. Ilitch had signed off on the "team reboot."
Dombrowski's contract was set to expire at the end of the 2015 season, but other than the team's recent performance, there was little reason to believe that he would look elsewhere. The most popular openings, with the Angels and Blue Jays, both came with their own red flags, while the Tigers were backed by an owner willing to spend himself blue in order for his team to win. Dombrowski had renewed his contract twice before after it had expired (in 2006 and 2011), and was never rumored to be on the outs in either circumstance.
Now, that theory doesn't seem so far-fetched. Yahoo's Jeff Passan has already speculated that Dombrowski could end up in Toronto, where the Rogers Communications ownership group has begun to loosen up their considerable pursestrings. Current general manager Alex Anthopolous and Dombrowski have a good relationship with one another, and the Jays heavily pursued Baltimore Orioles general manager to become their team president last offseason. Dombrowski also knows the Canadian market from his time with the Montreal Expos, a factor that is weighed heavily by sports teams north of the border.
Dombrowski may also be looking east to Boston, where the Red Sox are on pace for their third last-place finish in four seasons. General manager Ben Cherrington has revamped the farm system after Theo Epstein's post-World-Series spending spree, but the results have not yet translated to the major league level. Bringing in a proven winner would fit their big-market mold, and Dombrowski may have set his eyes on greener pastures.
If the reports of an amicable decision are not accurate and Dombrowski was truly "fired," then we will likely see a search for a new president and general manager take place in the near future. While Al Avila does not have an "interim" tag on his general manager title, it would be odd to see an ill-tempered owner fire his general manager without cleaning house throughout the rest of the front office. Avila and Dombrowski seemed to have a good relationship during their time together, and many believe that Avila was a Dombrowski "protege" of sorts. To change directions suddenly at this time would be a major surprise.