Bodley: Trade difficult for Tigers
Dombrowski, Leyland acknowledge realities of times
INDIANAPOLIS -- Dave Dombrowski sat on the dais under bright lights Wednesday at baseball's Winter Meetings and talked about what it's like to trade enormously popular players.
A few feet away, in the audience of mostly reporters and TV cameras, Tigers manager Jim Leyland listened and watched as his boss related how difficult a telephone call it was to tell center fielder Curtis Granderson he'd been traded to the New York Yankees.
"I said it was one of the most difficult phone calls I've made in my career," Dombrowski, Detroit's CEO, president and general manager related. You could see the sadness in his eyes and hear it in his voice.
The Tigers, Yankees and D-backs put the finishing touches on their blockbuster trade with the announcement. It was the headline event of these meetings which close up shop Thursday with the celebrated Rule 5 Draft of unprotected players.
In a perfect world, Granderson, talented player and solid citizen, would maybe never leave the Motor City.
But baseball's world is far from perfect when it comes to the business of the game causing difficult and unpopular decisions.
New York is elated to get the talented Granderson, Arizona has strengthened its starting pitching and Detroit is receiving premier young players to build around.
In the long run, the Tigers might be true winners in this three-way deal, but that's tomorrow's story.
As Dombrowski spoke, I remembered years ago when he was completely dismantling the Florida Marlins. They'd just won the World Series, and as fire sales go, that one was an inferno. And not so coincidentally, Leyland was Dombrowski's skipper.
But the then young Dombrowski made shrewd moves, demanding blue-chip prospects in return -- many of whom matured and helped the Marlins win the 2003 World Series over the Yankees.
The economic meltdown has been more severe in Detroit than most cities. Attendance in 2009 took a hit at Comerica Park, and when the Tigers blew the AL Central title in their playoff game against Minnesota, changes were in order.
"We are making some adjustments and it's a business decision," sighed Dombrowski, who probably uttered those same words after his '97 Marlins won. "Hopefully, we are bringing in people that people [fans] will fall in love with."
He said Granderson "is an individual that's meant a lot to our franchise, a lot to the city, to the state, and he's been a Tiger, so it's very tough, very difficult. I know he's well-loved, and [the public concern] is deserved."
Not only are the Tigers saying goodbye to their center fielder, but Gold Glove second baseman Placido Polanco has left to sign a free-agent contract with the Phillies, while relievers Fernando Rodney (37 saves) and Brandon Lyon are testing the free-agent waters and may not return. Edwin Jackson, a 13-game winner and relative newcomer to the Tigers, was involved in Wednesday's trade.
Several hours before the announcement which made the three-team deal official, Leyland sat at a table and chatted with the media.
Not-so-surprisingly, he talked more about players who're leaving than those he hope will carry him to another division title.
"Certainly, we wanted Polanco back," Leyland said. "We're talking about a guy who had almost 600 hits in three years. Now, we're going to play a rookie at second base. If you think that you're going to get Scott Sizemore to beat Polanco in his first season, that's not going to happen."
Leyland's eyes were red when he said, "I think, in my opinion, Curtis Granderson is one of the things that's good about baseball in today's baseball world."
The superlatives continued, Leyland's message loud and clear.
You have to wonder. Before Detroit watched a commanding lead in its division dwindle, causing the one-game playoff with Minnesota, it's possible Dombrowski could have kept the team intact.
But the Twins were 20-4 down the stretch and won Game 163, a 12-inning, 6-5 masterpiece that took 4 1/2 tense hours to complete in the Metrodome.
"I think there's no question, in a lot of ways we blew it," said Leyland. "But at the same time, I think that everybody has forgotten to give Minnesota credit. If Minnesota goes 19-5 down the stretch, we win. Yet we beat them three out of the four games. It was one of the greatest games I've ever seen."
So now the Tigers are regrouping and reducing payroll, a necessary move that's causing them to watch some of their best and most popular players leave.
"We haven't done this very much since I've been in Detroit, but this has been done a lot in my career," said Dombrowski. "It's amazing. You can make good decisions on young players and their abilities; you can shape the franchise and help it very well for the future."
Swallowing hard, he added: "But you have to be willing to take the criticisms and the pains that are attached to the media."
Dombrowski kept coming back to Granderson: "You have to make those decisions and be prepared for [criticism]."
He added something again about these types of moves never being popular with fans. Unless your team is on the receiving end.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.