DREW SHARP: Tigers GM Dombrowski must have big offseason

Dave Dombrowski executed one of his better political two-steps Tuesday, taking an hour’s worth of questions but offering exasperatingly few specifics. He artfully danced along that thin line of contradiction. Happy and unhappy in the same breath. Certain that the window of championship opportunity hasn’t fully closed, but nonetheless concerned with obvious personnel gaps in left-handed batting, centerfield and the bullpen.

The Detroit Tigers’ president and general manager maintained an unflappable cool in his first public appearance since the Tigers’ embarrassing three-game exit from the American League Division Series. He conveyed an air of calm amid calamity, projecting assurance through endless noncommittal comments that he clearly sees the holes and will do his very best to fill them this winter.

But Dombrowski must take the hit for this failed season. He was once the King Midas of baseball GMs. Other executives took his trade proposal calls at their own risk because of his reputation for finding gold in a return package under a pyrite exterior. But that touch betrayed Detroit.

Dombrowski choked on the Joakim Soria trade deadline deal. It’s a baseball bromide that you don’t overpay for relief help because of the inherently mercurial nature of the role. And although the rationale behind the Doug Fister trade last winter remains sound today, the lack of immediate input from the principals the Tigers received gives ammunition to those demanding Dombrowski’s head on a platter after four straight division titles but no World Series championship.

But Dombrowski has built more than enough equity raising an organization out of the ashes of public apathy to retain the benefit of the doubt after one bad year.

This offseason will be much different from the previous three. The window might not be fully closed, but there’s little light peering through that opening. The Tigers are no longer the AL Central darlings. Kansas City wears that sash now. The Royals are younger, more athletic and more aggressive. Regardless of how their inspired playoff run concludes, the Royals will be the 2015 division favorites. Making the Tigers the stalker rather than the stalked.

“Kansas City will have its issues at the end of the year, too, just like any club does,” Dombrowski said. “It’ll be a situation where they’ve got a couple of guys who will be free agents. They’ll have guys who have pitched longer than any time they have in the past. And they’ll have more focus and attention on them. There are a lot of different things that take place.”

Dombrowski wouldn’t comment on the 2015 payroll. But he grew defensive when pressed about his description of Mike Ilitch’s willingness to push payroll as “generous.”

Doesn’t that mean ownership is still willing to do whatever is fiscally necessary?

“You’re using that description,” Dombrowski said. “I’m just saying he’s very generous.”

But Ilitch’s superstar approach hasn’t brought Detroit that elusive World Series championship. And it’s increasingly unlikely. The Tigers are fiscally trapped. They can pass on Max Scherzer. But they can’t pass on Victor Martinez even if it annually costs north of $15 million because the Tigers need him to protect Miguel Cabrera professionally and emotionally.

“When you’re paying your superstars,” Dombrowski said, “they’ve got to rise to the occasion. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t. More often, they do. We’ve had some success with that.”

Dombrowski added that explosive payrolls aren’t a feasible option here.

“We’re very generous,” he said. “It’s a situation where we’re in a spot that if you’re going to have four starters being paid and you’re going to have a couple of superstars in the middle of your lineup, maybe that means there’s not as much availability to do some other things. You have to determine what you’re going to do.”

Dombrowski didn’t say much Tuesday, but that doesn’t diminish the need for him to do more than usual this offseason to push that quickly closing window open a little more.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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