Top 10 Stories of 2008


It’s the end of the year, so that means it’s time for Top 10 Lists galore. So I thought I’d add to the list of lists with my take on the 2008 Detroit Tigers. Actually, this top-10 list — which I will reveal over the final 10 days of 2008 — is for the calendar year ’08 and, as you’ll see some are recent.

So here we go. My Top 10 Tigers stories of 2008. 

#10 – Tigers trade for Gerald Laird

There are a lot of candidates for the number-10 spot on this list and few of them are what I’d call positive. So, let’s go with this one: On the eve of the Winter Meetings the Tigers acquired catcher Gerald Laird from the Rangers for minor leaguer pitchers Guillermo Moscoso and Carlos Melo.

Looking ahead to 2009, the bullpen and shortstop situations were troubling to Tigers fans, but help in these areas is more abundant than in the catching spot. In fact, most of the help at short and in the bully will be homegrown. And let’s face it, there was no way Dave Dombrowski was going to make Jim Leyland use an untested Dusty Ryan as his everyday catcher.

In addition to a solid reputation as a catch-and-throw guy, Laird is more than serviceable at the plate. Last year, Laird batted .276 for the Rangers with 24 doubles in 344 at-bats to go with six home runs and 41 RBIs. He hit .299 with a .759 OPS away from Texas.

With Laird secured, the Tigers could turn their attention to shortstop (the recently signed Adam Everett) and the bullpen…though we’re still waiting for that.

Though Pudge Rodriguez has moved on, the Tigers will, for the sixth-straight year, start a former Texas Ranger behind the dish on Opening Day.





#9 – Edgar Renteria Can’t Play

Number 9Sure, it hurt when the Tigers sent Jair Jurrjens and Gorkys Hernandez to the Braves for Edgar Renteria. There was some — i.e., a tad — concern about Jurrjens’ durability and, well, to get a player of Renteria’s caliber at such a vital position you have to part with some value.

We know how that worked out.

In 2007, Edgar Renteria hit .332 with 12 homers and a .390 on-base percentage. The most glaring part of the Failed Renteria Experiment was his .977 fielding percentage; but that tells only half the story. His fielding percentage was virtually .000 on balls he should’ve had. He and Miguel Cabrera and then Carlos Guillen helped give the Tigers one of the most ineffective left-sides of the infield in the majors.

If not for a strong second-half of the year, Renteria would’ve finished nearly 80 points below his ’07 average. (He batted .254 before the All Star Game, .296 after.)

Now he’s the Giants problem — maybe for two years. For Tigers fans, it only felt like two years that Renteria played in Detroit.





#8 – The Tigers Trade Pudge

Number8.jpgIt’s hard to believe that it has been nearly five years since Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez signed with the Tigers as a free agent — only a few months after winning the World Series with the Marlins. I tuned in to ESPNEWS on Feb. 6, 2004, to see if they were going to broadcast Pudge’s introductory press conference from Comerica Park. And they did.

My first thoughts were that his body language and tone of voice didn’t align with someone who just signed up for four-plus years in The D. Rather, he looked more like a guy who was thinking “After all I’ve accomplished in my career, this is what I get?” Thankfully, his attitude improved modestly over the seasons that followed (somewhat less, of course, near the end of the Alan Trammell Era).

We’ve read all about the Baseball Renaissance that Pudge fueled in 2004, and it’s all true. I was a huge Pudge fan and marveled at the effect he had on the Tigers. (And his performance during the 2005 Home Run Derby at Comerica Park was remarkable.) Despite the good times, I knew Pudge would leave Detroit and it wouldn’t be a entirely pleasant.

Nevertheless, I was stunned when, on July 30, he was traded to the Yankees — the Yankees! — for Kyle Farnsworth. Talk about déjà vu.

At the same time, I was relieved that a decision had been made on the future of Detroit’s catching spot, specifically that it would not be Rodriguez’s in 2009. Still, it seemed asymmetrical that a future Hall of Famer would arrive with much fanfare and depart at the trade deadline in what amounted to a lose-lose trade for both teams.




#7 – Miguel Cabrera Can’t Field

Number7.jpgJust three weeks into the season — or perhaps sooner — Jim Leyland realized that Miguel Cabrera was no Brandon Inge at third base and, at the same time, knew that Carlos Guillen was not Sean Casey at first.

So what do you do when you have to immovable objects on the corners of your infield? Swap ‘em, of course.

On April 22, Leyland announced the switcheroo (“I’m telling you all now so you won’t be surprised tomorrow. I’m not going to take any questions about it because that’s what we’re doing.”) and it was the first sign that a team with four designated hitters was in deep trouble.

Cabrera was flashing a cast-iron glove at third — five errors in just 14 games; .900 fielding percentage — but proved to be more than serviceable at first base (.992 and 9 errors in 143 games). In fact, I’d go so far as to say he’s going to be a decent first baseman.

He came to Detroit billed as the long-term solution at third and in that regard he was a bust. But, man, can he hit.




#6 – Joel Zumaya Gets Hurt Again

Number6.jpgThe Tigers were likely ecstatic when Joel Zumaya managed a quicker-than-expected return from shoulder reconstruction. A healthy Zumaya (and Fernando Rodney) was to revitalize a rickety bullpen and fill in the sizable reliability gap late in games.

Except they didn’t. Zumaya was cleared to play in late June and appeared in 21 games (23.1 IP).

It all came crashing down again on August 12 against Toronto at Comerica Park:

The Tigers had a two-run lead with two outs in the seventh inning with the middle of the Blue Jays order coming up. All five batters he faced reached base safely, fueling a four-run rally in a 6-4 Detroit loss and fueling the speculation that something is wrong with Zumaya.

“We’re very suspicious that he’s not right,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “I mean, enough’s enough. It’s not his fault. We’re just getting him checked out for precautionary measures.
“I know he’s not right. I don’t know if he’s hurt, but he’s definitely not right. I know that for a fact.”

A month after the disastrous appearance against the Blue Jays, Zumaya was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his right shoulder.

He finished his truncated season 0-2 with a 3.57 ERA. He allowed 24 hits, 22 walks, 22 strikeouts and 13 runs (nine of them earned). And he blew four of five save opportunities.

When the season started, the Tigers weren’t counting on Zumaya for much of a contribution. But Todd Jones began to show his age and the speedy recovery by Zumaya changed everything.
Or so it seemed.




#5 – The Emergence (and Trade) of Matt Joyce

Number 5When I began pulling together this list over the past month or so, it became clear that possibly the only positive story to come out of the Tigers season was the emergence of Matt Joyce. Joyce finished the 2008 season with a .252 average, 12 homers and 33 RBI in 92 games.

At long last, the Tigers appeared to have developed a left-handed power-ish hitter who could take over one of the corner outfield slots perhaps as soon as 2009.
But, when Jim Leyland announced that left field would be Carlos Guillen‘s position next season and when it became more apparent that Magglio Ordonez was going nowhere this offseason, Joyce’s role went from promising to fuzzy — at best.

Nevertheless, Joyce was a sign of progress in the Tigers’ farm system beyond pitching depth and maybe a budding star.
Until he wasn’t…at least in Detroit.

Three weeks ago he was dealt to his hometown of Tampa Bay for pitcher Edwin Jackson. From what we’ve read, the acquisition of Jackson will be a winning one for the Tigers. And in the end maybe it will be.

Still, it would be nice to see a young position player develop into a star — or something close to it — wearing the old English D.




#4 – Jeremy Bonderman’s Injured Shoulder

Number4.jpgThere were plenty of signs early on that 2008 was not going to be a championship season for the Tigers. Yet, an occasional (albeit short) winning streak would buoy the spirits of the faithful only to be smashed to smithereens by the news of, oh, another injury.

Take Jeremy Bonderman for example.

On June 1 in Seattle, he pitched seven innings, allowed 12 hits and three earned runs, walked none and struck out five. The Tigers scored four runs in the ninth and beat the Mariners 7-5. Bonderman didn’t figure in the decision that game and he wouldn’t for the rest of the year.

Bonderman complained to team trainers of a heavy arm on June 6. He underwent a thrombylosis that night at Detroit Medical Center to dissolve a blood clot in the vein and an angioplasty the next day to clear it.

Four weeks later, Bonderman had thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. Thoracic outlet syndrome stems from a pinching of the vein responsible for returning blood from the arm to the heart.

The injury was a serious one — life-threatening, in fact, if not treated immediately. Bonderman’s surgery was successful and he’s on track to return in 2009. (His line for ’08: 3-4 in 12 starts, 4.29 ERA, 40 strikeouts in 71.1 IP.)

In most any season, without a healthy Bonderman, the Tigers are going nowhere. His value to the team certainly was magnified in 2008.




#3 – ¡Viva Armando Galarraga!


I know. There have been few uplifting things to focus on when looking back on the 2008 Detroit Tigers.

But there was one — if only one — story that made Tigers fans hopeful and it came as a result of a under-the-radar trade with the Texas Rangers on Feb. 5. The Tigers acquired Armando Galarraga for nonroster OF Michael Hernandez. Sweet trade.

On April 12, the Tigers put Dontrelle Willis on the DL and three days later they summoned Galarraga from Toledo. He made his Tigers debut on April 16 in Cleveland and threw an absolute gem when the Tigers flat-out needed wins: 6.2 IP, one hit, two runs, no walks and six strikeouts.

At that time, little did the Tigers know how big Galarraga’s impact would be compared to Willis’. In 30 appearances (28 starts), the 6 ft. 4 in. righty posted a 13-7 record with a 3.73 ERA in 178.2 innings pitched — and became the de facto staff ace. For his effort, Galarraga earned the Tigers Rookie of the Year honor and ranked fifth in the American Rookie of the Year voting.

So, though it might’ve felt like it, all was not lost in 2008. Thanks to Armando Galarraga.




#2 – The Pitching. Oh, the Pitching.


If we had to narrow the Tigers’ dismal 2008 to one culprit it would be the pitching. While Detroit’s offense had many fits and starts throughout the season, the pitching was pretty much the same from March 31 to Sept. 28: awful.

Whether it was Dontrelle Willis‘ sudden inability to throw strikes or Justin Verlander‘s season of wild inconsistency or merely the bullpen’s tendency to do just about everything wrong, the pitching was Public Enemy No. 1 at Comerica Park and 13 other American League parks (not to mention parks across the N.L. West).

One final look at the Tigers pitching woes:

  • Team ERA: 4.91 — 12th in A.L.; 27th in MLB
  • Strikeouts: 991 — 11th / 25th
  • Walks: 644 — 13th / 27th
  • Blown Saves: 26

Oh, what the hay, let’s take a quick look at how the rotation fared:

  • Verlander: 11-17, 4.84 ERA, one (and the Tigers’ only) complete game
  • Armando Galarraga: 13-7, 3.73
  • Kenny Rogers: 9-13, 5.70
  • Nate Robertson: 7-11, 6.35
  • Jeremy Bonderman: 3-4, 4.29
  • Willis: 0-2, 9.38

Yep. Ugly.

But thankfully the 2008 season — and soon this list — is over and done with.




#1 – The Tigers Finish in Last Place

Thumbs Down.jpgOne-thousand runs!
Dream Team!

As if we have to remind you, that about sums up the 2008 Detroit Tigers. A team that was constructed to maul American League pitching instead became the prey and became what might be the most disappointing Tigers team in history.

How did it happen? In the interest of time and holiday spirit, we’ll wrap it up in three points:

  1. Poor pitching
  2. Inconsistent hitting
  3. Porous defense

Sure. We could go deeper into each of those — in fact, we did in the previous nine entries of this list — but why bother? We all sat through it once.