This is poor timing for a column, since the Tigers and Yankees have both gained a little steam lately, but the Tigers poor start to this year has had me wondering:
After their shocking 2006 success, have the Tigers just decided to Yankee-fy themselves?
Think about it: That 2006 team did have a few big names in Magglio Ordonez and Pudge Rodriguez, but was otherwise made up of young guys and vets who had stunning breakout years.
That World Series never happens if role-playing guys like Brandon Inge, Marcus Thames, and Craig Monroe never step up and become reliable players or even overacheivers.
Heck, they probably wouldn't have even made the playoffs without the incredible start Chris Shelton led them to, before he returned to being the real Chris Shelton.
They also don't make it if consistent semi-stars like Carlos Guillen, Placido Polanco, and Jeremy Bonderman don't have career years.
Throw in a huge surge of key rookies—Justin Verlander, Curtis Granderson, Joel Zumaya—and you had a perfect mix of guys for a shockingly good season.
But after that, Dave Dombrowski, for as much credit as I give him for that team, seemed to over-commit to winning, and got very enthusiastic with his acquisitions and his payroll.
It started small, with the Tigs adding Gary Sheffield, whom most fans approved of since the consensus was that they were one good power bat away from being champions in 2006. It seemed like a good move at the time.
It was, however, the beginning of the Tigers turning into the AL Central's Bronx Bombers. Sheffield was symbolic also, a guy who didn't seem to fit into the Tigers' bench culture, was an accused former steroid user and jerk, and literally just left the Yankees. This guy was a sign.
2007 ended without another playoff run from the Tigers, for various reasons, but the season was less important than what it led to. Dombrowski continued to go all Steinbrenner on us, doing the key things that experts like Buster Olney (and even Yanks GM Brian Cashman) will tell you led to the Yankees downfall.
Dombrowski, like King George of New York before him, started craving big names and sending away young talent to get them.
Detroit sold the farm this past offseason (literally, the farm system) to acquire big names in Edgar Renteria, Miguel Cabrera, and Dontrelle Willis. They sent away future studs like Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, and Jair Jurrjens, and pushed the role players that took them to the World Series onto the bench or out of position.
Crowd favorite Brandon Inge? He's sitting or catching, instead of playing his preferred third base, where he's a defensive revelation. Marcus Thames, he of the mighty power bat? Platooning occasionally in the outfield, where Detroit seemed until recently to prefer another acquisition, Jacque Jones.
And the new guys? Willis is down in A-ball, not even pitching. Renteria is hitting .265 with five home runs. Sheffield is hot coming back from a DL stint, but still hitting .235. And the biggest name, Cabrera, is hitting .273 with 11 home runs.
The Tigers' lineup looks like a new Murderer's Row on paper, but they're still in third place in the AL Central.
Sending away young talent (especially pitching) for big names who consequently struggle? Sounds a lot like the Yankees to me.
However, the observant fan will note that the Tigers (and their Bronx counterparts) are surging as of late, and that the Yankees, though they may be title-less since 2000, have still made the playoffs each year. I hope this is an upside to Detroit's New York makeover, that they'll somehow find a way to, like the Yankees, recover in time for October.
But if the goal is to spend millions more each year just to fail to win it all, then I'd rather have back the lovable pre-2006 Tiger teams, the ones who sucked, but always had good seats available.