The Tigers went to the World Series in 2006, led the division halfway through the 2007 season, and then collapsed. Many baseball observers felt that the team grossly underachieved and wondered if changes were in store for 2008.
In December, that question was answered---big time.
GM Dave Dombrowski made a blockbuster trade with his old employer, the Florida Marlins. Dombrowski shipped two of the Tigers' hottest prospects---OF Cameron Maybin and LHP Andrew Miller---to Florida for slugging 3B Miguel Cabrera and LHP Dontrelle Willis.
Cabrera was only 24 but had already won a World Series, with the 2003 Marlins. He'd already played five seasons and had clubbed 138 home runs. His potential was through the roof.
Willis had been a 22-game winner with the '05 Marlins and was only 25 years old. The trade, which had not been rumored, rocked the baseball world.
The Tigers immediately became the pre-season favorite of dozens of writers to win the AL Central Division, at the very least.
Dombrowski also acquired SS Edgar Renteria, who was a member of the 1997 Marlins team that Jim Leyland led to the world championship.
The Tigers lineup looked frightening, on paper. Some "experts" predicted that the Tigers would score upwards of 1,000 runs in 2008, with their firepower.
On the mound, the Tigers had emerging star Justin Verlander, Willis, veteran Kenny Rogers, Nate Robertson and Jeremy Bonderman slated for the rotation. If not overwhelming, it appeared to be a competent quintet. Todd Jones was still the closer, 40 years old but still effective.
Cabrera started the year at 3B but before long was switched to 1B, with Carlos Guillen moving to third base. Cabrera started slow, but so did the whole team.
The 2008 Tigers, everyone's pre-season lock to win the Central Division, didn't even win a game until their eighth game, on the way to a 2-10 start.
They chipped away at .500 until finally surpassing it on June 30 thanks to an 18-4 run. As late as July 30, the Tigers were 55-52 and only 5.5 games behind. Still underachieving but not out of the race.
Then the Tigers went off the track entirely. A 9-17 funk pretty much finished them off.
Willis never got untracked at all. He displayed wildness in spring training and it continued into the regular season. Willis made seven starts and walked 35 batters in 24 innings.
Even Verlander regressed, falling to 11-17 with a 4.84 ERA. Rogers was 9-13 with a 5.70 ERA as the Tigers posted a team ERA of 4.90, which was their downfall.
The supposedly 21st century "Murderer's Row" offense was average, scoring 821 runs and batting .271.
The 2008 season ended with the Tigers 74-88, thanks to a 19-36 finish. It made the disappointment of 2007 look like nothing.
Cabrera led the league in homers with 37, and three other Tigers hit 20+ home runs. But veteran Gary Sheffield, age 39, slumped to a .225 BA.
The Tigers were now two years removed from their World Series appearance of 2006. The blockbuster trades for Gary Sheffield and Miguel Cabrera since then didn't do anything to lift the Tigers to the next level.
- Andrew Miller, Cameron Maybin, Dave Dombrowski, Detroit Tigers, Dontrelle Willis, Edgar Renteria, Gary Sheffield, Ivan Rodriguez, Jeremy Bonderman, Jim Leyland, Justin Verlander, Kenny Rogers, Kyle Farnsworth, Miguel Cabrera, Nate Robertson