October 9, 2006


Tigers Used Own System to Piece Together Club (Barry Svrluga, 10/09/06, Washington Post)

[I]f anyone figures the Tigers merely received more money to buy a playoff berth, look at the roster. They have what amounts to four key free agents, players who established themselves elsewhere and signed with Detroit. Catcher Ivan Rodriguez came aboard in 2004. Right fielder Magglio Ordoñez, who homered in Game 4 against the Yankees, signed on for five years and $75 million in 2005. And lefty Kenny Rogers, the veteran journeyman, came aboard for two years and $16 million, what Manager Jim Leyland termed "a bargain," even for a 41-year-old.

Throw in closer Todd Jones, a Tiger during the lean years of the late 1990s who re-signed as a 38-year-old free agent this year, and that's the extent of the splash the Tigers have made in the free agent market. Only Ordoñez could even come close to being considered a marquee signing -- Rodriguez, Rogers and Jones were considered on the downside of their careers -- and there were questions about the knees of the former Chicago White Sox' slugger.

The philosophy, then, was built from within, even if it was painful, and it began almost as soon as Dombrowski took over as team president in 2002 and accelerated when he assumed the general manager's duties the following season.

Detroit picked up key pieces in obscure places. Jeremy Bonderman, the right-hander who locked up the Yankees in Game 4, came as the player to be named in a three-team trade that sent pitcher Jeff Weaver to the Yankees in the summer of 2002. Bonderman, at the time, hadn't even logged a full season of professional baseball, yet he was thrown into the majors in 2003 -- where he went 6-19, and would have lost 20 games had the Tigers not taken measures to prevent it.

"You learn from things like that," Bonderman said last week. "You don't ever forget it."

That June of 2002, they drafted a 17-year-old high school kid from Chula Vista, Calif., named Joel Zumaya, a right-hander taken in the 11th round. Now, he's 21, occasionally hits 103 mph on the radar gun, and might be the best reliever in baseball. In the winter before the 2003 season, they made a minor trade with Florida to acquire another right-hander no one had ever heard of, Nate Robertson. This season, he was good enough to be entrusted with starting Game 1 of the division series against the Yankees.

And in 2004, when they had the second overall pick in the draft, they snapped up a right-hander from Old Dominion University, Justin Verlander. The result, this season: a 17-9 record, a 3.63 ERA and, in all likelihood, the AL rookie of the year award.

"We had the best winning percentage in our minor league system" in 2005, Dombrowski said, indicating that winning at those levels reflects talent. "And we've got more on the way." In 2006, Dombrowski said, the Tigers' minor league affiliates finished second in winning percentage.

"And that's with all the players who have graduated and helped us here," he said.

They'll really be fun about two years from now, when Ledezma, Miller & Sanchez have joined Verlander & Bonderman in the rotation and Cameron Maybin joins Granderson in the outfield.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 9, 2006 8:23 AM

The way the Tigers pieced together this team is not unlike the way Gerry Hunsicker pieced together competitive teams for the Astros year after year, until Drayton McLane's ego decided that Hunsicker was getting too much credit and they parted ways.

Posted by: kevin whited at October 9, 2006 11:32 AM

You can probably see Ledezma, Miller, Sanchez, and Maybin in next year's AAA All-Star game held in....


Posted by: Bartman at October 10, 2006 10:51 AM