October 23, 2012

MLB: Building Tigers a process

BY NOAH TRISTER AP Baseball Writer

DETROIT When Dave Dombrowski took over as Detroit's team president for the 2002 season, the Tigers immediately lost 106 games. The following year was an even bigger disappointment: a 43-119 mark among the worst in baseball history.

click image to enlarge

THE EYES HAVE IT: Acquiring slugger Miguel Cabrera after the 2006 season was one of the many moves the Tigers made to improve from a team that lost 119 games in 2003, to a title contender.

AP photo

A decade after Dombrowski was hired, pretty much everything has changed at Comerica Park. The Tigers are headed to the World Series for the second time in seven seasons -- a glamour team in the heart of blue-collar Detroit. You could make an argument that the Tigers now have the best pitcher in baseball and the best hitter.

How did this franchise's fortunes change so drastically? It didn't happen overnight. Here's a look at how the Tigers acquired each player on their postseason roster:

2004

After 225 losses in two years, the Tigers picked second in the draft in 2004. San Diego selected Matt Bush at No. 1, and Detroit took Justin Verlander.

"Greg Smith was our scouting director, and we had some guys that were cross-checkers there that were very adamant that he was the best pitcher, best player in the country," Dombrowski said. "There were a lot of good players that year -- Jered Weaver was there, Stephen Drew was there, Jeff Niemann was there."

The draft is an inexact science, but the Tigers landed exactly the type of player they needed -- a franchise pitcher who would become a foundation for everything the team is accomplishing now.

2005

With nowhere to go but up, the Tigers won 72 games in 2004 and 71 the following season. Then Dombrowski brought in Jim Leyland to replace Alan Trammell as manager. Detroit also signed Ramon Santiago as a minor league free agent that offseason, bringing the infielder back for a second tour of duty with the Tigers. The team was clearly making strides, but not many could have foreseen how big a step the Tigers were about to take.

2006

In Leyland's first season, Detroit won 95 games and took the AL pennant before losing in the World Series to St. Louis. Although Verlander was a major contributor on that team, the rest of the roster was built around veterans like Ivan Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez. There was a buzz surrounding baseball again in Detroit -- the only question was how long it would last.

"You're at different phases in what you're doing," Dombrowski said. "At that time, you were trying to add talent to get you over the hump and keep you that way."

2007

The Tigers slipped to 88 wins, but for the franchise's long-term prospects, it was another productive year. Detroit drafted Rick Porcello in the first round and also landed Danny Worth in the second. Porcello has been in the starting rotation since 2009, and Worth is a backup infielder.

Detroit also signed outfielder Avisail Garcia as an undrafted free agent, and he made it to the big leagues late this season.

But those moves paled in comparison to the deal Dombrowski pulled off in December '07, when he sent Burke Badenhop, Eulogio De La Cruz, Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, Mike Rabelo and Dallas Trahern to Florida for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis.

"I'm actually surprised that a couple of the guys we gave up didn't end up to be star-type players. They're playing in the big leagues, but they're not the All-Star capabilities, because that's what we thought we were giving up at the time," Dombrowski said. "But we also knew we were getting somebody that was an All-Star player, young, and still had his prime ahead of him."

Did he ever. This year Cabrera became baseball's first Triple Crown winner in 45 years.

(Continued on page 2)

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