Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland and president and general manager Dave Dombrowski have been tied together for year. It was Dombrowski, then as GM of the Flordia Marlins that brought in Leyland to guide his 1997 club to a World Series title and it was Dombrowski who brought Leyland to Detroit in the fall of 2005, just in time to lead the Tigers to the 2006 AL pennant.
For much of the time since then, however, the two have been linked not only by their employment with the Tigers, but also by the unsatisfactory results of the past four seasons. Entering 2011, both Leyland and Dombrowski were on the final years of their respective contracts and the speculation was that Tigers owner Mike Ilitch would part ways with one or both of them should his club fail to reach the post season yet again.
Early this afternoon, however, the future of the franchise became a bit clearer as the club has announced that both Dombrowski and Leyland were awarded with contract extensions. Dombrowski’s new pact will run through 2015, while Leyland gets a one-year deal through 2012.
The timing of the moves isn’t significant to me. It could be that with a four-game lead on the rest of the division, Mr. Ilitch is feeling good about his club’s chances and wanted to lock up his GM. The length of the deals is interesting, however. Giving Dombrowski four more years tells me that Mr. Ilitch was probably never all that interested in parting ways with the man he has placed in charge. Leyland, in turn, was given his deal by Dombrowski, but at only one more year.
Extending Leyland only through 2012 means that his job, not Dombrowski’s, is the one that’s truly on the line this year. While the Tigers could have chosen to wait on his extension, allowing Leyland to ride out the season as a lame-duck, once Dombrowski was given his new deal, they almost had to do the same for Leyland or risk a major distraction. If both the manager and GM are working without a net, then fine. But as soon as Dombrowski was given security beyond this year, a very clear and negative message would have been sent to Leyland had he not also been extended as well.
By giving him only one year, however, the Tigers have allowed themselves to re-visit Leyland’s status at the end of this season. While it’s not ideally what you’d like to do if it can be avoided, clubs routinely will eat a year of a manager’s salary if they feel a change should be made. Extending Leyland through next season satisfies the manager for now, and at the same time keep the club’s options open come October. If the Tigers wind up winning this division, you could see another year tacked on to Leyland’s deal at that point. If not, Leyland could very well still wind up unemployed, just with a much nicer parting gift than he would have gotten before this deal was made.