Dombrowski discusses task of building Tigers
Team president looks to win now while keeping eye on future
MLB.com: There's a popular opinion that this team, the way it's set up now, is better suited to be able to win in the postseason, in part because of the offense -- speed, manufacturing runs. How much difference is there in your mind between what it takes to win over 162 games in the regular season and what it takes to win over three series in the postseason?
Dombrowski: Well, that's a hard question. When you play in the postseason, you know you are going to play good clubs and you're also going to face good pitching. So you normally need hitters that can handle good pitching, and you need to execute doing little things, because normally you're playing close games against good teams. You don't have a five-versus-one matchup very often in the postseason as far as a fifth starter vs. a No. 1 starter. During the middle of the season, maybe there are certain times where, if you have a slugging club, you might really feast on bottom-of-the-rotation starters. It's hard for anyone to feast on the top-of-the-rotation starters. That's why good pitching shuts down good hitting. It's been said forever.
MLB.com: For so many years, we've been talking about a win-now urgency. How do you balance that win-now idea with trying to build a team that can contend long term? And how often do those philosophies kind of oppose themselves?
Dombrowski: Well, we've been trying to win now because we have that type of team to win now. I mean, that's what we're trying to do. We have an owner that's very supportive, that's tremendous, that would like to see us win. I don't think we would make a deal that would say, OK, all of a sudden we're not going to have any chance to win, that's going to make us a lot worse. But I think what ends up happening is that, ideally, you can be good for a lot of years with a chance to win. Ideally, you don't want to wake up where one year you're saying, "Gee, our team's 38 at every position we play." And that's an extreme example, but all of a sudden everybody's signed for long term and you don't have a chance to win.
So you're trying to mesh young players in at the same time that you're trying to also win. Now, I have always happened to think that the best clubs mesh young players in, too. Now, you have to pick the right young players, because you just don't say, "OK, we're going to put a young player here," and then they can't play. That doesn't do you any good. But I think you also have to realize that we have superstars on this team. We have some of the best players in the game. But when you also do that, you pay those players a lot of money. And they're deserving of it within the structure of the game. But you can't have -- as I've said before, the Big Red Machine doesn't work anymore in today's game.
I mean, we have a tremendous payroll, but I don't know how you could afford a $20 million a year player at every position. I don't think you could do it. And that's basically, if you start going through [the Big Red Machine] and you've got [Johnny] Bench, you've got [Tony] Perez, you've got [Joe] Morgan, you've got [Dave] Concepcion, you've got [Pete] Rose, you've got [George] Foster, you've got [Ken] Griffey, you've got [Cesar] Geronimo. They're all $15-$20 million a year players [by today's standards]. So you have to go about it in different ways at times, and you try to always work those things together. You try to win and you're also projecting so you don't get caught short. And I work with Mr. I [owner Mike Ilitch] on those things every year. We talk about those things, and we go ahead to try to win and also make the best decisions we possibly can. I don't know there's any magic formula on it. It's just one of those things that we're trying to win now, that's what we're trying to do.
MLB.com: You had very good teams in Montreal and Florida, a world champion in Florida, that had to be broken up for external circumstances. Is this is a different feeling for you, to try to extend a window long term for a team that has a chance to contend?
Dombrowski: Well, yeah, that's what you're trying to do as an organization. That's what's fun. That's what you're trying to accomplish.
We're in a good spot as an organization. We have a great owner, great fan base, tremendous support, lot of good players. And so, yeah, it's different. Now, I think we would have achieved that -- in fact, I know we would have achieved that -- when we were in Florida. We had that team that was set up to do that for a long time, but it was so happened that that was a decision that took place. And actually, we were set to do it in Montreal, too, at the time. When we left [for Florida in 1991], that club that was so good in '94 was basically mostly in the foundation at the time, but never got a chance to carry it forward just due to circumstances.
So yeah, it's enjoyable. You look forward to doing that year in and year out. And sometimes you have to make yourself aware, because -- for example, we have a good scouting staff, they do a great job for us. And someone might say, "You know, we might want a Rule 5 [pick] on that guy." And we'll say, "OK, we like him, but what chance does he have of making our club and help us win?" Well, yeah, when you think about it, it really doesn't make sense for us. If you were a building organization, it would be a whole different mode, and you might do some different things at times. But we're just in a different place.
MLB.com: How do you feel about the state of the bullpen at this point?
Dombrowski: Great. Nobody's scored a run against us so far, so it's been great. But, no, I'm happy with what we have. It's interesting because I read a lot of things. When you have a good club, you always have a part that can be improved. So if we improved X, I talked about this before, then the next question is, "What about Y?" That's just how it works. But I read recently that people had this misperception. The Tigers bullpen was 15th in Major League Baseball in earned run average last year and efficiency. At certain times it didn't respond. At postseason time we gave up some big hits and I understand. But I think in this situation we have a premium closer in Joe Nathan. Bruce Rondon's a very important part of our team. I like what I see from Bruce Rondon as far as his attitude, his conditioning, his health. It all looks good if you can put him in a spot where he can pitch the eighth inning. It's hard for me to analyze Joba Chamberlain because he's just come on board, but he's in good shape, his arm is healthy. We know he has a good arm. [Phil] Coke's in good shape, he's throwing well, and [Ian] Krol. But we're a couple days into Spring Training. But we also have a lot of good arms out there.
We were just talking about it, the number of guys -- when you start talking about having a Krol, having a [Justin] Miller, having a [Luke] Putkonen, having a [Jose] Ortega, and if you have Nathan and you have Rondon and you have Chamberlain and [Al] Alburquerque responds as we think he will, and Coke and Krol, you're not looking at a lot of guys to respond. Now, they have to do their jobs, but I look at it that we have a chance to have a good bullpen.
MLB.com: Is there an added importance with guys like Chamberlain and Coke, with the other guys being young?
Dombrowski: Well, it's nice to have a stabilizer out there, but it doesn't mean that it can't be done the other way, either, where it's just a bunch of young guys. I think the most important [thing is], if you can fill the ninth and you can fill the eighth, then I think you can mix and match a lot before that. So if Rondon -- and I'm not saying that he's anointed as the eighth-inning guy because that has to be earned and Brad [Ausmus, manager] has to make that decision -- but if we can find a guy to pitch the eighth and it is Rondon, and you have a guy to pitch the ninth, then you can kind of mix and match a lot of other different situations. I do like having a veteran bullpen guy out there. It would be nice. Hopefully they'll do the job for us and we think they will.