If there was anything the Tigers could count on for 2004, it was that they couldn't possibly go anywhere but up. A horrific 43-119 season meant that the Tigers could only get better.

But how?

President/GM Dave Dombrowski's goal in the off-season was to acquire legitimate big league talent. He started by signing two free agents on December 19: 2B Fernando Vina from the St. Louis Cardinals and OF Rondell White from Minnesota.

But Dombrowski wasn't finished. Coming off a year in which he led the Florida Marlins to the 2003 World Series title, catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez was a free agent. The multiple All-Star and future Hall of Famer was 32 years old but was in excellent physical condition.

In February, Dombrowski inked Rodriguez to a multi-year contract, which some observers felt was ill-advised, given Rodriguez's age and the position he played. Pudge's manager in Florida, Jack McKeon expressed regret that his old catcher was leaving Florida to "waste" his talents for a team as bad as the Tigers.

A month before signing Rodriguez, Dombrowski traded IF Ramon Santiago to Seattle for SS Carlos Guillen, a switch-hitter who was entering the prime of his career at age 27.

Finally, manager Alan Trammell had some genuine big leaguers on his squad.

To help Trammell's pitching staff, Dombrowski spent more money, signing starting RHP Jason Johnson away from Baltimore.

The Tigers were no longer a joke. In fact, they started 4-0 and hovered near .500 until late-May. Then in June, Rodriguez caught fire. For the month, Pudge batted an even .500 (43-for-86), lifting his average to .381. The Tigers went 14-12 for the month.

In 2003, the Tigers finished with 43 victories. In 2004, they gained win no. 43 on July 16. The team rather faded in August and September, finishing the season 72-90---but it was still a 29-game improvement.

Rodriguez ended the year with a .335 average in 134 games. 1B Carlos Pena (27 homers) and Guillen (20) were the two Tigers with 20+ home runs, while Rodriguez, 3B Eric Munson and White all had 19 each.

But Vina got hurt and his season was over after just 29 games.

LHP Nate Robertson  led the staff with 12 wins, and RHP Jeremy Bonderman led with 168 strikeouts. But free agent signee Johnson won just eight games with an ERA of over 5.00. A team ERA of nearly 5.00 torpedoed the Tigers' chances of seriously contending, despite their much-improved offense.

Still, the Tigers were no longer mocked nationally. They were back on the radar, and not for feats of losing.

By GregEno

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Alan Trammell, Carlos Guillen, Dave Dombrowski, Detroit Tigers, Eric Munson, Fernando Vina, Ivan Rodriguez, Jason Johnson, Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson, Ramon Santiago, Rondell White


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