MLB.com Columnist

Hal Bodley

Dombrowski looks reality in the eye

Tigers president/GM starts dealing with vision of near-future

Dombrowski looks reality in the eye

ST. PETERSBURG -- It's foolish to fault Dave Dombrowski's track record with the Detroit Tigers -- four consecutive American League Central titles, two World Series appearances and more superb deals than I can count.

So when the triple-titled Tigers executive essentially hoisted the white flag for 2015 on Wednesday, he deserved the benefit of the doubt. With hours before Friday's 4 p.m. ET non-waiver Trade Deadline, Dombrowski said he was willing to trade the team's pending free agents for the right deal.

The "For Sale" sign is up. High.

And it didn't take very long. Less than 24 hours after declaring Tigers free agents were available, former AL Cy Young Award winner David Price was headed to Toronto for three young left-handed pitchers.

Tigers move quick, get three pitchers for Price

Dombrowski's pronouncement on Wednesday came right after Justin Verlander pitched his best game in two years and the Tigers stunned the Rays, 2-1, in a Tropicana Field matinee that folks in Detroit's clubhouse said was a must-win.

Dombrowski calls his plan "rebooting." In this computer age, "rebuilding" is outdated.

"We're only going to make a trade we think makes sense for us," Dombrowski said. "But it's a situation where it gives us a chance to maybe restock our club, get some people who'll help us reboot, and take it from there."

Even with that, Dombrowski's decision leaves a somewhat empty feeling to this season.

With Price gone, Yoenis Cespedes, Joakim Soria, Rajai Davis and Alex Avila are on the block. Like Price, they can be free agents after the season.

It was this time last year when Dombrowski turned a Deadline deal with Tampa Bay that brought Price to Detroit to join Verlander and Max Scherzer in a vaunted rotation.

Scherzer, of course, left after the season for Washington and $210 million -- a number that Price, as a free agent, will seek, and the overriding reason the Tigers decided not to keep the 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner. The Blue Jays have the best offense in the AL, and the addition of Price makes them a strong contender to unseat the Yankees as AL East leaders.

The Tigers, who jetted off to Baltimore for four games with a 49-52 record, are better than that record. They were favored to repeat as AL Central champs, but injuries and inconsistency have left them with a disappointing season.

They began the Baltimore series mired in fourth place, 12 1/2 games behind Kansas City, but only 3 1/2 back in the AL Wild Card race.

With Verlander returning to form -- he allowed just four hits and struck out 10 over eight innings -- the opposing thought was that with Price aboard, the Tigers could be poised for a strong finish in their remaining 61 games.

Now that won't happen.

"This is a tough decision for ownership and Dave," Verlander said as he dressed to the hilt -- tailored suit, white shirt and tie -- to meet girlfriend Kate Upton outside the Trop on Wednesday afternoon. "I think me pitching well two starts in a row goes a long way, but they've made up their mind on whether they're buying or selling.

"If you look at this team, we haven't been healthy one day this year. Not one day. You start the season with me out for two months. Victor [Martinez] is out. Then, we come back. Victor is swinging the bat well and I'm starting to pitch well, but then we lost the best hitter [Miguel Cabrera] -- one of the best hitters in baseball. I think it's really difficult to evaluate this team based on those facts."

Ask Verlander, who underwent core muscle surgery in January and didn't pitch until June 13 because of a strained triceps, and had lost his first three decisions before Wednesday. He pitched well in a no-decision start against Boston before beating the Rays.

Verlander was asked how good the Tigers are, or how good they can be.

"I think we're a talented ballclub, and this is a World Series-caliber team," he answered. "But we haven't been that on the field. It's really tough to evaluate because of those facts [injuries, etc.]. "

Manager Brad Ausmus said: "The Trade Deadline for whatever reason has become the watermark for whether you've had a good or bad season. Organizations make decisions on the final third of season based on where they are after two-thirds.

"It's not an easy thing to decide, but it's also a dangerous thing to decide -- when you have a third of the season left deciding whether you're going to throw in the towel or not."

Dombrowski, who wears the CEO, president and GM hats, said the Tigers aren't giving up, "not in the sense you try to win every day. But in our position, we look at us more as rebooting going into next year."

It was obvious the decision to shop the potential free agents was days in the making and not reached until Wednesday. Dombrowski was surrounded by his advisors during the game, a vastly experienced group that included Jim Leyland, Scott Reid, Frank Wren and Al Avila.

"I've had numerous phone calls from people to see what we are going to do," Dombrowski said. "We've not done anything as far as telling them anything until after today's game. So I haven't had any active discussions other than to let people know that's where we are."

Given their situation, the Tigers are a longshot at best to make the postseason. The Royals are even stronger with their recent acquisitions, so winning the division title is out.

Previous trades have left Detroit's farm system in poor shape. As difficult as it is to accept, Dombrowski is looking to the future. Too many teams hold on and it becomes too late to pull the trigger.

With Thursday's deal, Dombrowski has already landed three premier prospects. Reality has prompted the decision, not to mention the fast-approaching Deadline.

"You watch your club play and you give yourself as much time," Dombrowski said. "We played well today and we have played well in the past for a game or two, and we just haven't been able to continually go forward.

"It's not easy for us to do that, because we've really been trying to win on a yearly basis. And again, stranger things have happened, but really, that's the focus at this point."

Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. Follow him @halbodley on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.