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Henning: Tigers must — and will — take care of future

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

St. Petersburg, Fla. — Assume for a few moments you are Dave Dombrowski, which shouldn’t be difficult for Tigers followers who all the time take fanciful turns running Detroit’s baseball team.

You have an obligation to your owner, Mike Ilitch. The mission is to win, at all possible cost. You have a similar mandate from fans who appreciate all the division flags and playoff runs but who along with the owner would trade most of those October assaults for one World Series parade.

Today, that quest, that endeavor, is still mathematically possible.

And so you publicly stick to a rigid script: The Tigers are not selling out on their 2015 season. They are not trading essential players when a wild-card ticket, no matter the long odds, is at least possible.

Now return to reality. Which is what the Tigers are required to do in the next 72 hours.

They must take long-term care of this baseball franchise. And that means they need to quit dreaming about October and pay attention to 2016, ’17, ’18 and beyond. They of course should trade valuable personnel that over the long haul will give the Tigers a greater chance to be competitive in seasons ahead.

Looking to the future

Privately, the belief here is they have come to just such a conclusion, that it was reinforced during long meetings Monday at the hotel where the team is staying during its series against Tampa Bay.

If they have not decided on trading David Price, Yoenis Cespedes, and others for the heavy freight Price and Cespedes would clearly earn, then it’s because Ilitch has told them to stay in this race until math has finally triumphed and turned 2015 into a mini-disaster.

It’s difficult to believe Ilitch, a man who deals in realism, would issue any such edict. It’s just as dubious to think Dombrowski and the smart baseball men who joined him Monday haven’t come to the same conclusion.

So, why was Dombrowski, on the night of his 59th birthday, sitting in the Tigers dugout Monday repeating, “for the 27th time,” he said, that the Tigers are fixated on the playoffs?

Because what else could he say?

He doesn’t need to advertise that the Tigers will listen to offers for the greater good of his team, and that those offers, now supported by Johnny Cueto’s relocation to Kansas City, will earn the Tigers a potentially terrific return.

He doesn’t need to say it to his fans, or to his players. He doesn’t need to disclose anything publicly.

But he will make it known as his fellow general managers call in these final 72 hours before Friday’s trade deadline that he’s at least listening. Dombrowski never has discouraged deals or conversations. He’s unfailingly open-minded.

And he and his owner are almost certainly willing to listen as a team, three games beneath .500 and no more of a playoff club than the 2005 Tigers were playoff-worthy, makes clear it doesn’t have the pitching to compete with anyone in October.

Nor, of course, is there any help on the horizon. And that’s the biggest reason why the Tigers need to get real. They have an opportunity to make ensuing seasons something other than a casualty count if they get busy trading Price, Cespedes, and any others for future help.

Fans on board

Another basis for why hard facts win over delusions: The fans are ready for it.

That’s key. No government leader goes against his constituency’s wishes if the citizenry is ready to accept hard decisions.

The Tigers fan base knows what’s up here. It’s been a good run. It’s been a decade of excellent baseball in Detroit, even if the grand prize got away.

So, rather than confront later a moribund rebuilding effort that will take years to assemble, begin that process now, when the market will at least allow the Tigers a shot at sensible returns.

It is inconceivable that a team’s ownership and management, which for the past decade-plus has made honorable, even noble, efforts to rebuild a franchise’s brand name, would allow stubborn naivete to win over common sense ahead of Friday’s market close.

I don’t think they will. I don’t believe they have. I think they’re open for business. And that, no later than Friday, good judgment will have prevailed.