Preller’s Blueprint: The Detroit Tigers?

This might get rather boring and dragged down with numbers, but stick with me for a minute. There’s something brewing in San Diego and it could end up with a World Series appearance or two if the Padres’ “Rockstar GM” plays his cards right. Lucky for him, the blueprint was already set back in 2004.

Here’s a glance at how many games the Detroit Tigers won each season between 1994 and 2003: 53, 60, 53, 79, 65, 69, 79, 66, 55, 43

Whew, things were bad. Despite that history of losing, the Tigers managed to get a beautiful new ballpark built in downtown Detroit and were eventually chosen as the site of the 2005 All-Star Game. This is when they decided to turn their team around, to make sure they had All-Star caliber players by time the All-Star Game came to town.

Sound familiar? Hold on, it’s going to get weirder.

To improve their team in 2004, the Tigers went on a spending/trading spree. After trading for starting Short Stop Carlos Guillen, the team signed future Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez to be their anchor behind the plate, as well as the heart and soul of the team. They also signed former All-Stars Rondell White and Ugueth Urbina.

After signing “Pudge” Rodriguez, former starting catcher Brandon Inge was converted into a utility infielder, mostly playing third base. In one offseason, the team found themselves with an upgraded bullpen, as well as upgrades at SS, 3B, LF and catcher. It wasn’t enough to make them a contender, as they went 72-90 in 2004, but a +29 win differential year-over-year was a big step in the right direction.

The 2005 Tigers didn’t improve, with a record of 71-91, but they showed that the 2004 team wasn’t a fluke. This team was knocking on the door of being a winning ballclub for the first time since 1993, and they were still adding pieces. They traded for Placido Polanco at the trade deadline after signed big-hitting RF Magglio Ordonez away from the rival White Sox in the offseason. Despite their efforts, the team only had 1 All-Star, Rodriguez, in the game hosted by Comerica Park.

At the end of the 2005 season, the Tigers fired manager Alan Trammell. In to replace him was longtime MLB manager Jim Leyland, who had success previously as the manager of the Miami Marlins. The team needed a new leader.

What happened next was baseball magic. Free agent veteran pick-ups like Kenny Rogers and Todd Jones had career years. Young prospects like Curtis Granderson, Chris Shelton, and Joel Zumaya blossomed at the same time at the professional level. Ivan Rodriguez, Carlos Guillen, Placido Polando, Magglio Ordonez, Brandon Inge…..the core that GM Dave Dombrowski had built over the last few years was in tact, and Jim Leyland was exactly the type of manager that the team needed, leading them to the World Series and building what has been a winning franchise ever since.

Now, back the Padres. A.J. Preller moved in hyperspeed when he was hired as the team’s GM this offseason, flying right past the 2004 Tigers and into the 2005 Tigers territory. He spent the offseason picking up players that other teams were ready to move on from, but guys that still had something left in the tank. It’s been a great start.

The next few steps are going to be crucial. History tells us that this year’s Padres team likely won’t end up as League Champions, as the 2006 Tigers were. What is more likely is that the team is faced with difficult decisions this offseason about their manager and the price tag attached to players like Justin Upton and Wil Venable. The Tigers opened their wallet whenever faced with that decision, and they didn’t hesitate to move on from Trammell. Would the Padres do the same?

The hope here is that it never gets to that point. That, somehow, Black and this year’s team is able to put it all together and turn itself into a postseason powerhouse with contributions from guys like Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow. The hope is that A.J. Preller makes a big move or two at the trade deadline that secures the short stop role on the team, and that Will Middlebrooks keeps slugging like….well, like Brandon Inge. What would be excellent is if the Padres could actually go from perennial losers to perennial contenders in a single offseason and have it be sustainable.

Maybe this isn’t the same kind of team. Maybe history doesn’t repeat itself, at least not in the same way. However, it looks like Preller has at least the building blocks to match what the Tigers did to go from laughing stock to perennial World Series contender. Can he get them all the way there?



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