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Dombrowski's bold moves as GM have Tigers two wins away from World Series

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider
Dave Dombrowski, here with owner Mike Ilitch, has served as the Tigers general manager since 2002. (US Presswire)

For 26 of baseball's 30 teams, the winter has already begun. For two more, it may be fast approaching.

Here's some advice for all those general managers who are hard into planning for the winter shopping season:

Be as bold as Dave Dombrowski would be.

Don't worry so much about "winning" a trade. Worry more about building a winning team.

Don't tell me the prices on the trade market are too high. Tell me how you're going to get a deal done.

Don't tell me your prospects are all incredible and untouchable. Tell me you're willing to make a trade that hurts, because if it works out, you'll feel better than ever.

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Be bold, and maybe you'll end up where Dombrowski's Tigers are today, up 2-0 in the Amerian League Championship Series -- two wins away from the World Series.

That's not to say all other general managers are scared. Far from it. Bold moves from Brian Sabean and John Mozeliak have helped put the Giants and Cardinals where they are, and bold moves by Dan Duquette, Mike Rizzo and Billy Beane contributed greatly to the surprise seasons by the Orioles, Nationals and A's.

But is there any general manager in baseball more willing to make a big deal than Dombrowski? Is there any GM more willing to give up his most prized prospects for a chance to win sooner?

And is there any team in the playoffs this year that has benefitted more from bold moves by the GM?

The Tigers are where they are because their postseason rotation has a 0.94 ERA through seven games. That rotation features Justin Verlander (who then-scouting director Greg Smith wisely drafted, when Dombrowski wisely allowed him to make the call). But the other three starters -- Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez -- all arrived in trades.

So did Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.

I'll never forget the Cabrera trade, because I was covering the Tigers at the time for Booth Newspapers. When I first heard about the talks, I had trouble believing that Dombrowski would give up both Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller in one trade, because I knew how much he loved both of them.

It was just after that trade that I first heard Dombrowski say what he repeated just the other day.

"There's this false feeling out there that you're going to acquire talent and not give up talent," Dombrowski said.

How were the Tigers able to get Fister last summer, in the deal that got them into the playoffs and all the way to the ALCS?

They got him because Dombrowski wouldn't take no for an answer from Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik. And they got him, as one Tigers person said, "because eventually we gave them what they wanted."

How were the Tigers able to get Anibal Sanchez this summer?

They got him because as much as Dombrowski valued his top prospects, he valued winning even more.

"It hurt," Dombrowski said. "Rob Brantly is going to be an everyday catcher in the big leagues. Jacob Turner is going to be a good starting pitcher in the big leagues."

He gave both up for Omar Infante, who filled a major weakness at second base (and will be the second baseman again in 2013), and Sanchez, who will be a free agent this winter (one the Tigers still hope to keep).

Dombrowski has benefitted from working for an owner with deep pockets, without doubt. He has resources that other GMs don't have.

When the Tigers found out in January that Victor Martinez would be lost for the year with a knee injury, the front office first planned to fill the void by signing Yoenis Cespedes and Raul Ibanez. It was owner Mike Ilitch who said no, you can spend the big money to sign Prince Fielder instead.

Dombrowski has also benefitted from having one of baseball's best managers, and he made a point Sunday of acknowledging the work that Jim Leyland has done.

That appreciation goes both ways.

"One thing you always appreciate about Dave is he's never afraid to make a trade," Leyland said. "He has no fear."

Part of that is just his personality. Part of it is experience. And part is that he has come to trust his scouts' evaluations.

Some general managers become paralyzed because they ask for too many opinions. Rival scouts laugh at how the Blue Jays sent nine scouts to watch free-agent-to-be Edwin Jackson in his final three starts this year.

Dombrowski is more likely to rely on one or two strong opinions.

It was Scott Bream (who has since moved on to the Padres) who believed that Scherzer could start, when the Diamondbacks people thought he might need to go to the bullpen. It was Jeff Wetherby who believed that Austin Jackson could be an effective big-league center fielder, when the Yankees had their doubts (and it was also Wetherby who recommended Phil Coke, who arrived in the same trade as Scherzer and Jackson, and closed out Sunday's win).

It was Jim Olander who recognized what Fister could do. It was Mike Russell who assured Dombrowski that Sanchez would pitch in the postseason rotation (and also helped move along the Cabrera trade).

And, of course, it was Smith and David Chadd who provided all those prospects for Dombrowski to trade, and Scott Reid who oversaw all that scouting.

Dombrowski is tough on his staff. He's been known to call and yell when something goes wrong.

"There's not a person in this organization who hasn't felt the wrath of Dave," one Dombrowski employee said Monday. "But everyone knows that no one in the organization works harder than he does."

Sure enough, Dombrowski was in the office making phone calls by 8:30 on Monday morning, after the Tigers arrived home late the night before from New York. Last week, when the Tigers flew all night to get back from Oakland after Game 5, Dombrowski was the one who insisted on going to the office.

But plenty of general managers work long hours. Plenty of general managers are prepared.

Too few operate with Dombrowski's boldness. Too few operate with his complete lack of fear that a trade won't work out.

Some haven't. Remember Jair Jurrjens for Edgar Renteria?

Bold moves don't always work. Ask Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto, who traded good prospects for half a year of Zack Greinke, then didn't make the playoffs.

But it's better to try and sometimes fail than to never try and have no chance to win.

You might end up where Dombrowski and the Tigers are today.

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