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Hot stove throwback: Troy Percival's durability disappeared after signing with Tigers

For the Tigers, the perils of signing an aging closer reared their heads a decade before inking Joe Nathan.

Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images

Final in a series looking back at high-profile free agent signings by the Tigers over the years.

After years of being a league laughingstock, the Tigers suddenly had become a trendy free agent destination by the mid-2000s.

It started with the inking of Rondell White and Fernando Vina after the 2003 season, and continued in grand style with the landing of superstar catcher Ivan Rodriguez a couple months later.

On February 7, 2005, longtime White Sox outfielder Magglio Ordonez joined the Tigers.

But about three months prior, the Tigers reached out to an established, aging closer to help solidify their bullpen issues.

Sound familiar?

On November 18, 2004, the Tigers, one year removed from their 43-119 debacle, took the plunge with 35-year-old Troy Percival of the Anaheim Angels.

Percival had just completed a run of nine years in which he saved 313 games for the Halos. But he was expendable because Anaheim wanted to make young sensation Francisco Rodriguez their new closer.

Part of why Percival was expendable was his age. But the Tigers, still in pseudo desperation mode in order to be relevant, looked beyond Percival's 35 years, though the contract length was for just two years and $6 million per year.

Unlike with second baseman Vina, who was a total bust because of health issues of the past that came home to roost, there was nothing in Percival's past that suggested he was damaged goods.

An Angel for his entire big league career up to the point when he signed with Detroit, Percival's annual appearances from 1995-2004 were never lower than 52 games. He was as durable as they come.

Naturally, that changed when he became a Tiger.

Just like that other veteran closer you no doubt were thinking of a few paragraphs earlier, Percival got off to a bad start for his new team.

Percival didn't register his first save as a Tiger until his eighth appearance. By that point, Percival had already surrendered two home runs and his ERA was nearly 5.00. Boos greeted him at Comerica Park.

Sound familiar again?

Things started to settle down, but just when Percival found some rhythm, a forearm injury struck, putting him out of action for about a month starting in early-May.

After Percival returned, he lost it again. His ERA ballooned to over 5.00 and he was giving up homers at an alarming rateseven in 25 innings before the Tigers shut him down in mid-July.

Twenty-five innings. That's what the Tigers got from Troy Percival for their $12 million, because he missed all of 2006 as well because of the forearm, which started hurting on the first day of spring training that year.

In a classy gesture, Percival's Tigers teammates voted him a full playoff share after the team won the American League pennant in 2006, despite his not pitching one inning that season. Grateful, Percival used most of the money to build a suite in Comerica Park for the Tigers wives.

Percival spent 2006 as an advanced scout for the Tigers, and it looked like his big league career was finished.

But shortly after accepting an offer to be a pitching instructor for the Angels in early-2007, Percival felt like his arm was strong enough to pitch again. So he begged out of the coaching contract and signed with the St. Louis Cardinals as an active player.

Percival returned to the big leagues as a player on June 29, 2007, pitching for the Cardinals against the Cincinnati Reds. Percival posted a nifty 1.80 ERA for the Cards in 40 innings in 2007, and he parlayed that into a contract with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008.

Percival saved 28 games for the Rays, who ended up winning the pennant in 2008, but the Rays left him off the playoff roster due to concerns about his arm, which factored into a bad September for the 39-year-old closer. The Rays went with closer-by-committee instead.

Percival's last game in the big leagues was in May, 2009.

Troy Percival's signing by the Tigers was seen as yet another indication that the team was emerging from bottom feeder status and becoming a serious player in the Central Division.

It didn't really work out with Percival individually, but that (and Vina's issues) didn't stunt the Tigers' growth. The 2006 pennant started a run of five playoff appearances (and a Game 163) in nine years for the Tigers.

Today, Percival, a California native, is the head baseball coach at the University of California at Riverside.