DETROIT — Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland collaborated on a world title in 1997 and an American League pennant two years ago. When they met Monday morning, though, their Tigers owned the worst record in the league.
Detroit has had inconsistent pitching, fielding and hitting over the season’s first seven weeks, and an apparent need for change has collided with the realities of a rigid roster. The Tigers’ payroll is around $135 million, of which a large portion is tied to long-term contracts.
For all practical purposes, avenues to reshape the team are limited. Leyland, who is in his third season as the club’s manager, is intensely loyal to his coaches and would surely resist any changes to the staff.
The club did not announce any personnel moves Monday, and Dombrowski would not say whether any would be made Tuesday. The simplest solution, of course, is for players to perform better. Detroit is a woeful 3-12 since sweeping New York at Yankee Stadium, and the team looked sluggish in a weekend series against the young, energetic Arizona Diamondbacks.
“We’re all responsible—myself, first and foremost—for the club you put on the field,” said Dombrowski, the team president and general manager.
“We have not played well. We’re better than what we’ve shown. We’re all responsible for that.”
Dombrowski would not reveal the substance of his meeting with Leyland, but some of the team’s most immediate decisions relate to the starting rotation.
Dontrelle Willis (hyperextended right knee) has completed three rehabilitation starts at Triple-A Toledo and could resume pitching in the majors soon. But his replacement, Armando Galarraga, has been the Tigers’ most consistent starter, and Willis did not have good control in his most recent outing.
“I’d imagine that he’s going back into the rotation, but I haven’t heard anything definitive,” said Willis’ agent, Matt Sosnick. “He felt like he threw the ball well and that his body felt good.”
A frequently overlooked weakness this year has been the Tigers’ diminished infield defense, which bears some blame for 22 unearned runs—second-most in the league.
Third baseman Carlos Guillen and first baseman Miguel Cabrera are not as adept in the field as Brandon Inge and Sean Casey, respectively, were last year. Equally important, Edgar Renteria’s range at shortstop is not significantly better than Guillen’s was there in 2007.
A potent offense would effectively erase the team’s other shortcomings, but only one regular, Magglio Ordonez, is hitting over .300. Renteria, who batted third on Sunday, has a .152 batting average and no extra-base hits this month.
Guillen, Gary Sheffield and Curtis Granderson all had strong performances for Detroit last May. So far this month, they are batting .228, .200 and .177.
“These guys are much better players than what they’ve performed so far,” Dombrowski said. “Players normally settle in from a statistical basis, year in and year out, so I would anticipate that we will improve as a ballclub.
“We’re just not swinging the bats at this point. I’m not going to single guys out. We haven’t played well as a club.”
Cabrera has had an uneven start to his Tigers career, as he leads the team in both home runs (seven) and strikeouts (33).
He is batting .182 with runners in scoring position, and scouts from other teams have expressed concern over his weight and mobility. (Dombrowski said he would not discuss a player’s conditioning publicly.)
When asked about Cabrera’s performance, Dombrowski said, “I don’t want to single him out because he’s not the only guy off to a slower start than normal. ... I don’t know if we have any of our everyday players putting up the overall numbers you would anticipate.”