DETROIT — The Tigers were not favored to make a postseason run going into the 2006 season. They were, in fact, not expected to go anywhere for the foreseeable future. Now, after several missed attempts to clinch their first World Series Championship in 30 years, there are concerns that the Tigers' window of opportunity on a World Series title is closing, and fast. Tigers president and GM Dave Dombrowski doesn't see it that way.
Since the 2006 season the Tigers have made the autumnal trek six out of their last nine seasons (including 2006), or five if you don't count Game 163 against the Twins in 2009. Two trips have resulted in a World Series appearance, two more to the American League Championship Series, and still another to the American League Division Series.
The Tigers have not relented their grip on their division, retaining four consecutive American Central Division Championship titles (a first in franchise history) including the embattled 2014 season. Despite injuries, bullpen issues, and inconsistent hitting, the Tigers stayed in the fight long enough to keep the division title another year.
It's a small comfort for fans who have gotten used to seeing a deep postseason run with no trophy. But not long ago the Tigers weren't in such a comfortable position to be concerned with a title.
"In 2006 I remember reading from a prominent national writer that the Tigers were never going to win again for the next time period because they were too old of a club and it wasn't going to work," Dombrowski said. "I read a few years ago those same comments being made."
Fans are concerned about a few things, one of them being that the lack of a title in Detroit after several tries means the Tigers are dwindling. Valuable players are set for free agency, the bullpen continues to struggle year after year, players keep getting injured, and age has begun to play a factor with the team. Those concerns were brought up Tuesday in Dombrowski's end-of-the-season press conference.
"I don't buy that, and I think there's a couple of reasons," Dombrowski said. "First of all, we have a good team and we have a good foundation coming back for sure. I don't think there's many clubs in baseball that would take their starting four going into their offseason over our starting four, that we know we have."
The Tigers have a strong foundation in their lineup and their rotation is solid, even if they do lose Max Scherzer to free agency (which is likely). Dombrowski believes that resiliency is a key reason for why the Tigers have remained competitive year-after-year, even through the harder times.
Just as important, however, are the adjustments made every year, as well as a "hefty payroll" afforded the team, and it has helped the Tigers to stay dominant by acquiring important players they might not otherwise have.
That doesn't mean every move will work out. Dombrowski admitted as much, reflecting back to moves made in past seasons, such as the acquisition of Jarrod Washburn in 2009. The starting rotation needs to pitch well, the lineup needs timely hitting, and the bullpen needs to be dominant.
After so many moves are made it's up to the team to get the job done, and sometimes it just doesn't happen. Then again, there have been moments where fans thought the moves had no chance of working out at all, and a team ended up away with the American League pennant.
"We know that we have good core players and I mean, think back to last year, which was a tough — people kind of forget about this, we remade our whole infield last year," Dombrowski said. "We didn't have one guy play the same position from one year to the next. So you can do those things, it happens. I think you just have to make smart decisions, sometimes decisions don't work out as well as you would like. But I think if you make consistent sound decisions they work out for you overall."
The results those decisions produce are relative. What seems like success for the Tigers in some regards still doesn't sit well with fans. Ask a Tigers fan if they'd rather have one World Series title or several years of playoff baseball within a decade's time, and you'll get two different answers.
Ask Royals fans — who are rediscovering the joy of even being in the postseason (let alone the World Series) for the first time in 29 years — and you still might have the same conflict.
The Tigers haven't produced a World Series trophy in Detroit for 30 years. They didn't come close to it in 2014. But that doesn't equate to the team being past its prime, out of date, and its window of opportunity closing. At least, that's not how the Tigers see it, and Dombrowski doesn't buy into that philosophy.