The Tigers were hoping that their brief run at the 2000 Wild Card meant that they were on the right track, when they gathered in Lakeland in preparation for the 2001 season.
They also hoped that young pitcher Jeff Weaver was ready to take the next big step in his development. They hoped that Bobby Higginson could emerge as an elite outfielder after his breakout 2000 season, which netted him a handsome contract. They hoped that new CF Roger Cedeno could be the spark needed at the top of the batting order. They hoped that the relatively weak AL Central would enable them to contend under manager Phil Garner.
But unfortunately, it was all hope and nothing else.
The 2001 Tigers were a bad baseball team and their direction seemed to be one way---down.
They had gaping holes at catcher, third base (thanks to a neck injury that sidelined Dean Palmer for half the year), right field and in their rotation.
Of course, Juan Gonzalez was gone, having signed with Cleveland after just one year as a Tiger. Gonzalez's departure meant that the Tigers ended up with just RHP Danny Patterson in the big trade of November 1999.
Higginson regressed to 17 HR and 71 RBI and a .277 average. Cedeno was good, batting .293 and stealing 55 bases. But 1B Tony Clark slumped to 16 HR and 2B Damion Easley hit just .250 with 11 HR, far below what the Tigers were expecting from both players.
One bright spot was utility man Shane Halter, who could pretty much play every position for Garner; he also hit .284. In fact, in the 2000 season finale, Halter DID play all nine positions against the Minnesota Twins.
Weaver was perplexing on the mound; he'd have a couple good starts then follow those with some pretty bad ones. Knuckleballer Steve Sparks, 36, led the team in wins with 14. Weaver went 13-16 with a 4.08 ERA.
As for the team's performance, the Tigers began 5-14. They rallied to get to 17-17, but then things went downhill from there. They finished 66-96, just one game out of last place.
Little did the Tigers and their fans know that major changes were in store before long.
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- Bobby Higginson, Damion Easley, Danny Patterson, Dean Palmer, Detroit Tigers, Jeff Weaver, Juan Gonzalez, Phil Garner, Roger Cedeno, Shane Halter, Steve Sparks, Tony Clark