The hottest free agent in baseball right now is not a guy who throws in the mid-90s or hits towering home runs. Rather, it’s a guy who specializes in building winners.

His name is Dave Dombrowski, and he needs a job.

Of course, Dombrowski had a good job coming into the day as president and general manager of the Detroit Tigers. But that’s over, as the Tigers announced Tuesday that Dombrowski had been released from his contract, with Al Avila taking over as executive vice president of baseball operations and general manager.

One’s first impulse is to assume Dombrowski was fired, presumably due to the Tigers’ disappointing showing in recent months, which forced him to sell David Price, Yoenis Cespedes and Joakim Soria at the trade deadline.

But Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported Dombrowski’s exit from Detroit was a mutual decision reached by him and Tigers owner Mike Ilitch. And per’s Jason Beck, Ilitch’s own statement supports this:

As odd as it seems that the Tigers have so suddenly parted ways with the guy who built four straight American League Central champions from 2011 to 2014 and also took the team to the World Series in 2006 and 2012, the timing actually makes sense. Dombrowski’s contract was due to expire at the end of 2015, and this season’s disappointment could have been his cue that change was needed.

Whatever the case, that Dombrowski is now a free agent should have front offices in a frenzy. It’s not every day executives as accomplished as he are suddenly looking for work.

After all, Dombrowski did pretty well for himself even before he came to the Tigers in 2001 and turned them into a winning franchise. His time with the then-Florida Marlins (1991-2001) featured a World Series title in 1997. Before that, he spent four years (1988-1991) in Montreal helping to lay the foundation for the 1994 Expos, the greatest team that never was.

Dombrowski has proved himself capable of building strong farm systems in this nearly 30-year span, but maybe his most notable talent is his ability to make trades. Grantland’s Rany Jazayerli found in 2014 that Dombrowski’s trades between 2001 and 2012 produced 188.9 wins above replacement while sending only 84.5 wins above replacement out the door. Among those deals was his trade for Miguel Cabrera in 2007, which deserves a spot as one of the biggest robberies of all time.

So, now that he’s free, where could such an accomplished executive end up next? Let’s take a look at four possibilities.


Los Angeles Angels

If there’s a readily available opportunity for Dombrowski to run a team, it resides in Anaheim.

It’s been only a month since Jerry Dipoto resigned his post as the Angels’ general manager in early July. Bill Stoneman is only the club’s GM on an interim basis. He could be more than happy to either cede that chair to Dombrowski or start working under him, as Craig Calcaterra of HardballTalk noted:

As for what else could attract Dombrowski to Anaheim: The Angels have a core that could keep producing winning teams. Mike Trout leads the way, and he’s backed by a strong supporting cast that includes Albert Pujols, Kole Calhoun, Garrett Richards, Hector Santiago and Andrew Heaney.

Dombrowski, however, would be stepping into a situation that’s less than perfect.

The Angels have a good major league roster, but their farm system has been picked clean. And though they have a ton of money with which to work, they don’t have the payroll flexibility to make the most of it, thanks in part to the contracts of Trout and Pujols and annual payments to the Texas Rangers for Josh Hamilton.

It’s also fair to question how much freedom Dombrowski would have in Anaheim. Team owner Arte Moreno has a reputation for acting on impulse when it comes to baseball decisions, and skipper Mike Scioscia has a long-term contract (though he can opt out after this season) and deep roots in the organization that seemingly nobody wants to mess with.

So while the Angels are a possibility, they may not be a likelihood. 


Boston Red Sox

It wasn’t all that long ago that the Red Sox were celebrating a World Series championship in 2013, but right now the focus is on what’s happened on either side of that year.

The Red Sox finished last in the AL East in 2012 and 2014 and are on track to do so again in 2015. This has some, such as Christopher L. Gasper of the Boston Globe, wondering if Ben Cherington is the right man for Boston’s GM job. The Red Sox will also have an opening in the CEO’s chair with Larry Lucchino stepping down after the season.

In other news, guess who used to work for Red Sox owner John Henry? As Beck noted, it was none other than Dombrowski:

If Henry wants to work with Dombrowski again, he has the goods to draw him to Boston. As lousy as the Red Sox’s record may be, the club is hardly a lost cause with plenty of young talent at its disposal and a strong revenue base with which to play.

What could keep Dombrowski away, however, is that Boston is weighed down by bad contracts belonging to Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez and Rick Porcello. And though Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald reported that the Red Sox are interested in Dombrowski, he also noted that Dombrowski’s “philosophy of team-building may not jibe with the Red Sox’s philosophy, the latter of which has more of an analytical bent.”

So, like the Angels, the Red Sox are a possibility, but maybe not a likelihood.


Seattle Mariners

After winning 87 games and just missing the postseason in 2014, the Mariners were picked by many to represent the AL in the World Series in 2015.

This isn’t going to happen unless Seattle goes on a torrid run in the final months of the season, as its 49-58 record is closer to last place in the AL West than first place. This, certainly, is not a good look for GM Jack Zduriencik, who may not get another shot to end Seattle’s 13-year playoff drought.

As such, it’s no wonder Dombrowski has been mentioned as a possibility for the Mariners by Nightengale, ESPN’s Jim Bowden and CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman. It’s not hard to imagine Seattle being enthusiastic about replacing Zduriencik with someone as renowned as Dombrowski, nor is it hard to imagine his being open to the idea.

Despite their lousy showing in 2015, the Mariners do have a strong base of veterans in Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager. In Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Mike Montgomery and Mike Zunino, they also have a strong collection of young talent. And thanks to a $2 billion TV deal, there’s money in the bank in Seattle.

But much like with the Angels and Red Sox, Dombrowski could be scared off by the fact that a lot of the Mariners’ money is tied up in a select few players. On top of that, the club’s farm system has been largely drained of talent in recent years, as it entered the year ranked 25th in MLB by Baseball America.

Mind you, Seattle could sway Dombrowski by promising more control than he would probably get in places like Anaheim and Boston. But as far as potential suitors go, there’s one that seems to have the Mariners beat.


Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays recently got everyone’s attention by bringing in Troy Tulowitzki and David Price ahead of the trade deadline. Might Dombrowski be their next major acquisition?

Per’s Jayson Stark, the wind may be blowing in that direction:

There could be something to this. Taking a job in Toronto’s front office wouldn’t be Dombrowski’s first foray north of the border, and it would mean a chance to join an organization that has a little something going on.

The Blue Jays went from middling to legit contender with those deals for Tulowitzki and Price, and at least Tulowitzki will be back after 2015. Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson will also be back, and Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion (club options) are all but locks to return.

And looking a little further on down the line, the bursting of Toronto’s bubble may not be imminent.

The only two long-term contracts on the Blue Jays’ hands belong to Tulowitzki and Martin, but Toronto has enough money to add to the pile. And though the farm system isn’t as deep as it was a couple of days ago, the Blue Jays have a solid young core in Devon Travis, Dalton Pompey and a host of pitchers.

So consider this your fair warning: Don’t be surprised if Toronto is indeed where Dombrowski ends up.

Of course, one thing is certain, no matter where he lands: Dombrowski may have become a free agent unexpectedly, but he won’t be a free agent for long. When one of the best baseball executives in recent history is available, interested parties are going to act fast.


Stats courtesy of and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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