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The 2008 Tigers: A Cautionary Tale?

After a near-$140 million payroll that resulted in a last-place finish in the AL Central, the 2008 Detroit Tigers have become a cautionary tale for teams looking to climb to a World Series championship with blockbuster trades and a towering pile of cash.

The New York Yankees have now committed to pay more than $240 million within the next seven years to CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. And that payroll might balloon even further, with perhaps Derek Lowe or Mark Teixeira joining the money party. Meanwhile, their cross-town counterparts, the Mets, upgraded their bullpen with a $37 million contract to Francisco Rodriguez and a trade for J.J. Putz.

But the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo, surely playing to his hometown readership, points to the Tigers as proof that such transactions don't guarantee a trip to the World Series. Is that a fair comparison?

"The one difference is that the Yankees are loading up on pitching while the Tigers did get Dontrelle, [but] there were still questions about their bullpen and their starting rotation," said one National League executive. "If the Yankees get another guy [Burnett], re-sign Andy Pettitte on top of Sabathia, I'll take my chance that they might be the best team in the American League."

Of course, it's not like the Red Sox aren't trying to throw big money at big names themselves. What would Cafardo be writing if Burnett had signed with Boston? What if they get Lowe or Teixeira?

Besides, just saying that Detroit's upgraded roster and payroll led to a disappointing season (though Cafardo highlights several underperforming players) is an oversimplification. As the NL exec points out, Dave Dombrowski didn't do a good enough job of patching the holes that existed. The 2008 Tigers were a collection of pieces that didn't fit together well. Players were asked to perform in the wrong roles, put out of position, and forced to learn on the job. Hopes were placed on recoveries that never quite occurred.

One season later, Dombrowski might be learning from those mistakes. We'll see how that worked out in 2009, as well as what big moves and big money result in for the Yankees, Mets, and Red Sox.