Wojo: Dombrowski under pressure to get reboot right

Bob Wojnowski
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Tigers had plenty of chances and plenty of time to alter their fate, and they couldn’t do it. Now they get what they earned — rare uncertainty and lots of wild trade rumors.

Dave Dombrowski essentially pulled the plug on the season, or at least admitted there wasn’t much juice coming out of the socket. He called it a “rebooting” in announcing Wednesday the Tigers would entertain offers for their pending free agents, highlighted by David Price and Yoenis Cespedes.

Whether it’s a reboot, a reload or a regurgitation, it was unavoidable. It’s still too bad, not because the Tigers are some slumbering power, but because the AL wild-card berths will be grabbed by equally-flawed teams. It had to pain Mike Ilitch to concede, with the Tigers 31/2 games behind the Twins in the wild-card race, but it’s difficult to argue against it.

In some ways, the pressure is off, with the Tigers no longer expected to contend for anything this season. And in major ways, the pressure is squarely on Dombrowski, now charged with doing something he rarely has done in Detroit — sell off big assets. It wasn’t prudent for the staggering Tigers (49-52) to double down on their playoff chances, so they doubled down on Double-D — Dombrowski.

Dombrowski is in the final year of his contract, and while it’s not unprecedented to be unsigned this late in a season, it’s a bit curious. I’d certainly keep him, knowing he’d find another top baseball job in about 15 seconds. But maybe the Ilitches want to see the reboot before they commit to renewing their operating system.

And you can bet if Dombrowski is under scrutiny, so is Brad Ausmus. The second-year manager can’t be in charge of a total collapse and expect to keep his job, no matter how many pieces get dealt away.

Dombrowski’s magic

Dombrowski has made some brilliant trades in his 14 years here, and almost every winner involved the acquisition of a veteran for a batch of prospects. You have to go back to 2008 to find the last trade-deadline sell-off, when Dombrowski dealt Pudge Rodriguez to the Yankees for Kyle Farnsworth.

In fact, these are the key pieces the Tigers have acquired around the deadline the past six years: Jarrod Washburn, Aubrey Huff, Jhonny Peralta, Doug Fister, Delmon Young, Anibal Sanchez, Jose Veras, Jose Iglesias, Joakim Soria, Price.

These are the key pieces the Tigers have sent away around the deadline the past six years: No one.

Counting on prospects is a dangerous game, but Tigers fans will buckle up and enjoy the craziness heading toward Friday at 4 p.m. They’d better, because they probably won’t enjoy the final two months of the season if Price, Cespedes and perhaps Soria are gone.

The Tigers are in this spot because Dombrowski made some poor choices, from acquiring starters Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon, to trusting guys like Joba Chamberlain and Tom Gorzelanny in a ramshackle bullpen. They’re here because Justin Verlander found his legs a bit too late, dominant against the Rays in his first victory of the season Wednesday. He’s pitched very well three of his past four outings, and with Miguel Cabrera closer to a return, there were faint glimmers of hope.

In a different situation, it might’ve been enough to keep plugging. But the Tigers have two prizes in Price and Cespedes that will hit the market, and the days of expecting to retain pricey free agents are nearing an end. Price will command something comparable to the $30 million per season that Max Scherzer landed. Cespedes could be brought back, but there’s nothing wrong with getting something for him now.

Play it smart

And let me reiterate — Dombrowski has to make smart deals, not desperate ones. There’s a glut of starting pitchers available, although Price’s value went up with the Phillies’ reported trade of Cole Hamels to the Rangers. None are as good as Price, so maybe Dombrowski can push it to the deadline and get, say, rivals such as the Dodgers and Giants to bid away. Hey, just a suggestion.

It was only a year ago that Oakland bolstered by landing Jon Lester just before the deadline and the Tigers countered by adding Price. Right now, that fantastic flurry qualifies as nostalgia, although restocking doesn’t have to be a long process. The Tigers have a good mix of young and experienced talent, outside of that whole “pitching” issue.

It’s funny, but on the day the Tigers decided to reboot, Microsoft released Windows 10. Perfect, because the Tigers are trying to open their own new window, and Dombrowski has the mighty, risky challenge of pulling it off.