It has been nine years since the Detroit Tigers made the Major League Baseball playoffs. Beyond that, it has been almost 40 years since the team last won the World Series. Last year, the end of the Tigers playoff drought appeared to be near, but after a disappointing season, the future remains cloudy.
How the Tigers Playoff Drought Happened
Former general managers Dave Dombrowski and Al Avila built a roster that included two of the most dominant pitchers in Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer. These two were traded when the franchise realized that it needed to rebuild. These two generational talents have gone on to have successful careers with multiple teams and won a World Series. Verlander has since won two World Series in 2017 and 2022 with Scherzer winning one in 2019.
Which closer would use to win you the World Series?
Brad Ausmus was the manager of the Tigers in 2014 when the team lost to the Baltimore Orioles in three games in the American League Division Series. Ausmus took over for Jim Leyland who was hired by the then-general manager Dave Dombrowski.
When Dombrowski’s took over the team in 2002, his mission was to “restore the roar” and bring excitement back to the Tigers’ franchise. At the time, the franchise had not been relevant since the managerial tenure of George “Sparky” Anderson, who led the team to a World Series title over the San Diego Padres in 1984. Instead, the Tigers playoff drought of the 90s and 2000s would last for 18 years.
In the eight seasons that Leyland managed the Tigers, the team had a record of 700-597. The team made it to the World Series twice and lost in the American League Championship Series twice under Leyland. While a World Series seemed elusive, the Tiger roar appeared to be back!
Not Getting the Job Done
The problem for those Tigers teams was that they could not get over the hump. Whether it was their poor play against the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series in 2006 or the go-ahead home run hit by David Ortiz in game two of the American League Championship Series off of Joaquín Benoit, the Tigers have come tantalizing close to winning their first World Series since 1984 but have yet to accomplish this goal.
The issue with the Tigers was that their bullpen never had the talent that the starting rotation did in the time that Leyland was the manager. In 2013, when asked about the closer role, Leyland said “I’m concerned about it, to be honest with you, but it’s certainly not a panic mode. I think we have some people there that can do it.” It is not as if Leyland and the Tigers’ brass were not trying to do everything within their power to fix this issue.
Avila was fired by the Tigers during the 2021-22 season after nearly 22 years with the organization. President and CEO Christopher Ilitch, who took over control of the team when his father Mike Ilitch in 2017, said “I’m looking for us to make progress each and every year and if we do that, ultimately, were going to accomplish our objectives. I felt our progress certainly stalled this season.” Scott Harris, formerly of the San Francisco Giants, was brought in as the new President of Baseball Operations of the Tigers.
Perhaps the most controversial move made by Dombrowski was the contract extension given to first baseman Miguel Cabrera in 2014. The problem with the 10-year, $292 million contract was signed when the Tigers still had Cabrera under control for two more seasons. It could be argued that this contract was a career achievement award after he won the Triple Crown in 2012. Cabrera finished this season with a .330 batting average, 44 home runs, and 139 RBI. The bottom line is that the team has only finished above .500 once since the Cabrera extension was signed.
While the Tigers playoff drought continues, Dombrowski has gone on to win a World Series with the Red Sox in 2018 while leading the Phillies to a World Series appearance this past October.
Harris said that his first priority when rebuilding (even though he never used the word tanking) the Detroit Tigers organization is to “strengthen our pitching and defense while we address our offense. Reshaping our offensive identity will take time. It has to take time to be able to achieve that goal.” It has now been almost 40 years since the Tigers last won the World Series and Harris has a lot of work to do in order to get the team back to its winning ways. This will take time but he has proven that he can.
Do you think the Tigers playoff drought ends this year? Let us know in the comments below!
Main image credit Embed from Getty Images