Henning: Former Tigers putting their stamp on Boston's run to World Series
They once were Tigers.
Happily, for five men today, they no longer are tied to baseball in Detroit. They traded in that “D” on their caps or on their paychecks and joined a big-league team in Boston that Tuesday night gives them their first poke at winning a 2018 world championship destined, it seems, to be Red Sox property.
Dave Dombrowski. Rick Porcello. J.D. Martinez. David Price. Ian Kinsler.
Imagine, a few years ago, thinking they would be World Series parading at Copley Plaza rather than on Woodward Avenue.
But they are there, in Back Bay, aching to shower in champagne should they cut down the Dodgers as most expect will happen. And it’s amazing to see the ways in which Detroit’s baseball stamp will have at least left a smudge on that potential Red Sox trophy.
Dombrowski is president of baseball operations and acting architect of this American League-champion Red Sox team that this season won, tsunami-style, 108 games and last week finished demolishing the former world-champ Astros in the ALCS. Dombrowski has been with the Red Sox for 38 mostly blissful months where everything a GM could want was there waiting to be exploited by a skilled GM who in August 2015 was axed by late Tigers owner Mike Ilitch.
Dombrowski hasn’t forgotten. Should the Red Sox make off with this autumn’s World Series flag, Dombrowski will feel as vindicated, as avenged, as Sparky Anderson was when the Tigers won it all in 1984, six years after the Reds had said goodbye to a Hall of Fame skipper.
Ironically, it was Dombrowski who initiated that Detroit-to-Boston shipping channel when he traded Porcello to the Red Sox in a 2014 deal.
Dombrowski was thinking differently then. He was sure that swapping Porcello for Yoenis Cespedes would primarily work in Detroit’s interests. Short-term, anyway.
Four years later and Dombrowski now is benefiting from a pitcher who has flowered at Fenway Park, and who owns a Cy Young Award trophy that could be joined in a couple of weeks by a World Series ring.
Only days before Ilitch was to jettison him, Dombrowski had the same plan, this time as part of a long-term strategy, to make Detroit a better overall team when he dealt David Price to the Blue Jays. Three weeks later, Dombrowski was working in Boston. Three months later Dombrowski signed that same David Price to a long, expensive Red Sox package.
Dombrowski, too, was working out of Comerica Park’s offices when a kid named J.D. Martinez was cut loose by the Astros in 2013 and became, with current GM Al Avila’s endorsement, a Tigers heist. Dombrowski played poker with Martinez last winter and finally won, for the second time, a free-agent hitter who did everything in 2018 but wear a Ted Williams costume to the plate, swinging, of course, a right-handed bat.
That’s how good of a hitter and complete of a wrecking ball Martinez became for Boston during their merry romp to this dogfight with the Dodgers.
Kinsler is gravy — a midseason add-on. He also is testament to Dombrowski’s trade wiles. It was Dombrowski who grabbed Kinsler in 2013 as the Rangers graciously took Prince Fielder from Detroit’s and Dombrowski’s hands.
Kinsler became one of those Tigers cornerstone players, competitively and within the clubhouse, and at second base where he played superbly. Dombrowski knew what Kinsler could do, knew what he could bring to a team heading for October. Dombrowski poached him from the Angels at midseason and no one will be shocked if Kinsler has one at-bat, or one moment, at least, when he will make a difference in any of these four or more World Series duels.
So, here’s the starting lineup for your, uh, Detroit Red Sox:
►Dombrowski: He had the best 2015 of any man in baseball. He was freed by the Tigers, who were about to shift into a decade-long swirl of deconstruction and reconstruction, and head the Red Sox, where former GM Ben Cherington had left him a swath of wonderful pieces that could be turned into, well, the 2018 Red Sox.
Dombrowski had at Boston all the essentials beginning with a framework in place thanks to Cherington. Now came a bonus he had known also in Detroit after Ilitch gave him keys to the kingdom: He would in 2018 oversee baseball’s biggest payroll at $230 million.
He also had a bountiful farm system that could be mined for trade gold, which Dombrowski is only too happy to barter for a chance to win immediately. And he has done just that, with his usual aplomb, getting Chris Sale from the White Sox as his feature trade attraction.
He made another midseason steal this past summer, snatching Nathan Eovaldi. He has added bullpen pieces along the way, not to mention nifty role players in Steve Pearce and Mitch Moreland, as well as Kinsler.
Dombrowski, it should be noted, has added ex-Tigers players at Boston. Former staffers in Detroit? Not a one. Even when he had been with many of his Tigers lieutenants since their days with the Marlins.
Make of it what you will. But the read here has always been firm: Following the bitter insult of being let go by Ilitch, Dombrowski was done with Detroit, while his former allies were done with Dombrowski.
It ranks now as scrapbook, archival stuff, all because Dombrowski has had three years in Boston to fixate on the one thing he absolutely wants as badly as he ever wanted it for Ilitch and for Detroit. After winning a World Series in Miami, he wants a second world championship, in another league, which almost certainly will put him into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
That day he stepped from Comerica Park’s offices following a farewell call from Ilitch? When his son, who was at the ballpark, joined him, in tears, for a final ride home from the ballpark? Long ago. Far away. There’s a Boston-favored World Series to be played.
►Porcello: Remember how he used to drive so many Tigers fans wacky with his in-and-out ways that weren’t as “out” as his bleacher brimming with critics would insist?
The saw-and-scalpel gang never quite wanted to allow for Porcello’s age. He was 25 and already six seasons into his Tigers life when Dombrowski dealt him to Boston. Two years later Porcello won some Cy Young jewelry. He is older and a better pitcher, which was predictable: 4.30 ERA and 1.36 WHIP with the Tigers; 4.19 and 1.23 WHIP with the Red Sox.
►Price: He has had his cuts and bruises in Boston. But he also has had plenty of stretches when he has been Price, another past holder of Cy Young gold, who this season, at age 33, put together this beauty: 3.3 WAR, 16-7 record, 3.58 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and a nasty hit-job on the Astros last week, when Price supposedly specialized in postseason dive-bombs.
Dombrowski twice has targeted Price knowing how he can bedevil the best teams and hitters in either league. Look for some dedicated mutual celebration from these two if all goes as scheduled for Boston.
►Martinez: Thank you, baseball front offices, from the depths of Dombrowski’s heart, for acting like dingoes last autumn when Martinez was sitting there in the chill and cold of baseball’s free-agent market.
Dombrowski was interested. But when your payroll already is north of $200 million, you’ve got to at least wait out the other bidders, or bidder, which, from all indications, amounted only to the Diamondbacks, who weren’t going to do anything rash — like add a potential Triple Crown winner for five years and $110 million.
Dombrowski wasn’t going to snort at this bargain even if every other contender seemed not to understand that Martinez sat there like a garaged ’57 Chevy with 900 miles on the odometer.
Score one for the GM. And for Martinez, who got shut down by a nonsensical baseball marketplace and very much deserves this World Series stage on which he can unleash some of the game’s richest-ever hitting skills.
►Kinsler: He earned this, also. Kinsler never let the demolition project at Comerica Park keep him from playing his customary pristine game. He was a wondrous professional here, as he has been everywhere, and now with Boston in what might turn into a 36-year-old second baseman’s long-awaited slurp of World Series champagne.
Good for Kinsler. The man’s a professional.
Then again, so are all of the Tigers-gone-East.
It didn’t work out for them during long and savage near-misses in Detroit.
But it has worked, in extraordinary fashion, at Fenway Park, which isn’t far from Copley Plaza, and from that seemingly imminent line of floats, smiles, and merriment awaiting the Detroit, er, Boston Red Sox.