Winning teams are not put together overnight. Even teams that suddenly rise up from years of mediocrity to create a dynasty had a foundation of mediocrity to build upon. The New England Patriots were not a good team before they won three Super Bowls in four years, but they weren’t a bad team either–they had gone 43-37 over the previous five seasons.
Three years ago, the Tigers were not simply the worst team in baseball, they had reached the lowest point of any non-expansion franchise in at least half a century. They played badly, they scouted badly, they drafted badly, and they spent badly. Not even the worst expansion teams have had such a bleak outlook: at least expansion teams aren’t saddled with millions of dollars worth of bad contracts, an apathetic fan base, and most importantly, an administration that was incompetent enough to let the Tigers lose 119 games in the first place.
Think about that: 119 losses. … Relative to 100-loss teams, the Tigers were as bad as a 100-loss team is compared to a .500 team.
Three years later, they have the best record in the game.
A month after nabbing their franchise shortstop, the Tigers signed a franchise catcher, Ivan Rodriguez. On the surface, this made all kinds of sense; it’s not often you get the opportunity to sign a surefire Hall of Famer who just turned 32. On the other hand, catchers age quickly, and Rodriguez caught more games (1564) before his 32nd birthday than anyone other than Johnny Bench, who was finished as a catcher by the time he turned 33 and was finished as a ballplayer when he was 35. While Rodriguez’s 4-year, $40 million deal was eminently reasonable, it still represented a gamble in that it was likely the Tigers would never be competitive enough during the life of the contract to make the addition of Rodriguez meaningful.
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