Tigers took long road to success
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. 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. 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. 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.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. 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. In December `07, Dombrowski sent Burke Badenhop, Eulogio De La Cruz, Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, Mike Rabelo and Dallas Trahern to Florida for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. The Tigers quickly locked Cabrera up with a contract extension through 2015, but his first season with the team was a step back. Detroit went 74-88 in 2008. Then Dombrowski took a bit of a risk by trading fan favorite Curtis Granderson and pitcher Edwin Jackson as part of a three-team deal with the New York Yankees and Arizona. In return, the Tigers acquired Max Scherzer, Austin Jackson, Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth. The trade certainly paid dividends this year. Scherzer was terrific down the stretch in the regular season, finishing second in the majors behind Verlander in strikeouts. Jackson also had an impressive year in center field — Granderson's old position. Coke came through with a couple saves in the AL championship series. The Tigers signed closer Jose Valverde before the 2010 season, and although they didn't make the postseason, they also drafted Drew Smyly, who has split time this year between the rotation and bullpen. Detroit won the AL Central in 2011 by 15 games, thanks in part to another remarkable trade at midseason. The Tigers acquired Doug Fister and David Pauley from Seattle for Charlie Furbush, Francisco Martinez, Casper Wells and Chance Ruffin. Fister went 8-1 after joining the Tigers in 2011 and remains a crucial part of the starting rotation. Detroit also quietly acquired Delmon Young from Minnesota for Cole Nelson and Lester Oliveros. Young, the team's DH, was this year's ALCS MVP. After losing in the 2011 ALCS, the Tigers signed reliever Octavio Dotel and backup catcher Gerald Laird. They also signed minor-league free agent Quintin Berry. What began as a quiet offseason took a turn for the worse when Martinez hurt his knee in January 2012. He hasn't played at all this year, but Detroit didn't stand pat after losing him. The Tigers instead acted boldly, signing slugging first baseman Prince Fielder to a $214 million, nine-year contract. When Detroit was in the thick of a tight division race with the Chicago White Sox, Dombrowski gambled again, sending top pitching prospect Jacob Turner to the Marlins along with Rob Brantley and Brian Flynn for pitcher Anibal Sanchez and second baseman Omar Infante.