SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — The Detroit Tigers’ last World Series championship was in 1984.
That’s one of the longer championship droughts, and in recent years Tigers management has been trying to patch together a team that could win one more for owner Mike Ilitch.
They did have a decent, if brief, run from 2011-14, losing the ALCS twice but winning the A.L. pennant in 2012, when they lost the World Series to the Giants.
Ilitch died in February 2017, and the Tigers, who hung around as close to first place as five games out on July 19 (despite being seven games under .500!), decided to rip it all down and start over.
They traded J.D. Martinez to the Diamondbacks and Alex Avila and Justin Wilson to the Cubs at the non-waiver deadline. Then Justin Upton and Justin Verlander, who both cleared waivers, were shipped out at the last possible moment to make them eligible for the postseason with their new teams, August 31.
It worked out really well for Verlander, once the face of the Tigers franchise. He threw two great games in the ALCS to help the Astros beat the Yankees, and then was a key part of their World Series win over the Dodgers.
Then Ian Kinsler was traded to the Angels this offseason, so that’s five significant players from previous Tigers teams gone.
I confess I personally do not know much about the prospects the Tigers got in all these deals, but the consensus from those who do is that they did pretty well.
The Tigers are not completely left without decent players. Nick Castellanos had a fine 2017 and looks like he’ll be a good player for several seasons. Jose Iglesias is a fine defender, though he didn’t hit much in 2017. Former Cubs prospect Jeimer Candelario hit really well after being included in the Avila/Wilson swap: .330/.406/.468 (31-for-94). He suffered a minor injury in a spring training game a week ago, but it turned out to be just a bruise, so he should be ready to go on Opening Day. Candelario was blocked with the Cubs and this is a great opportunity for him to play. I wish him well.
Despite the loss of Verlander, the Tigers rotation is still decent. Michael Fulmer has a chance to become the new ace of the staff, and Detroit has to hope that Jordan Zimmermann is better than he was last year (I’ll spare you the details, but he was awful).
Detroit’s bullpen was one of the biggest reasons for their postseason failures, but they might have found a decent closer in Shane Greene. After the Wilson trade Greene posted a 2.48 ERA and 1.292 WHIP, with 23 strikeouts in 21⅔ innings and eight saves in nine opportunities. Behind him, though... a number of miscellaneous setup guys.
The Tigers went 17-41 after the July 31 deadline deals and lost 98 games, their worst showing since the awful 2003 team lost 119. They might not do much better this year, but they are going about their business the way the Cubs and Astros did. They have the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft and if GM Al Avila and his staff do their homework properly, perhaps they can return to contention in three years or so.
The Cubs will face the Tigers at Wrigley Field July 4-5 and will travel to Comerica Park August 21-22.