The Detroit Tigers ended their 2009 season with a devastating extra innings loss to the Minnesota Twins. Some writers are dubbing the collapse the worst in baseball history, but let’s reflect on the past season.
In 2008, the Tigers finished in the cellar, looking up to the rest of the A.L. Central with no lock on first place entering the ’09 season. Despite their woes last season, Detroit preserved and maintained the top position for the majority of the year.
Flashback to spring training, the bats were going to carry the team with questions marks up and down the pitching staff. Could Justin Verlander return to form? Who will close games? Which five pitchers are in the rotation?
As we all know, Verlander is in Cy Young consideration, Edwin Jackson pitched like everyone expected in 2003, and Fernando Rodney blew only one save the entire year.
There were plenty of disappointments, like Magglio Ordonez’s horrific first half, Carlos Guillen, Jeremy Bonderman, Dontrelle Willis, Nate Robertson, etc.
A finger can be pointed in just about every direction, for one reason or another.
And while the season ended poorly, it seems unlikely the Tigers would make an extended playoff run, and which team is easier to reconstruct: a team that buckled at the finish line or a playoff team?
Obviously, the team unable to make the playoffs, and Detroit’s roster is loaded with overpaid veterans and pending free agents over the next two years.
Bonderman, Willis and Robertson will account for more than $30 million in salaries next year (the final years of their contracts). Maybe general manager Dave Dombrowski can swing a salary dump for any, or all, of them to a team willing to take a short-term gamble on reviving their careers.
That would free up an abundance of cash to sign Verlander and Jackson to long-term deals. Relievers Brandon Lyon and Rodney will also be looking for paydays this winter after exceptional seasons.
Another pending free agent, Placido Polanco, ended the season in typical fashion, but with talented youngster Scott Sizemore lurking in the shadows to replace him, Polanco’s age may preclude him from ending his career with Detroit.
Dombrowski may not have an open checkbook this offseason with the financial difficulties surrounding the city of Detroit, but it seems likely he will be able to improve the team, as he did at the trade deadline with the additions of Aubrey Huff and Jarrod Washburn. While these moves didn’t pan out, it does show that owner Mike Illitch is willing to extend the payroll to improve the team during the recession.
Detroit has some key pieces in the current roster with Miguel Cabrera, Curtis Granderson, and Brandon Inge cementing their places at their respective positions and the pitching staff should include Velander, Jackson and possible Rookie of the Year Rick Porcello.
That is a very solid backbone to surround with more talent, and youngsters Alex Avila, Wilkin Ramirez, and Sizemore will be battling for opening day roster spots.
While this season ended in disappointment, the future looks bright, and with a few moves to improve the team, the playoffs and hopefully a World Series championship should be headed to Detroit.