Paul Wezner, Senior Editor
When Spring Training rolled out around, I was optimistic about the team and its chances; not its chances of making a World Series appearance, but rather its chances of actually breaking the .500 barrier for the first time in 13 years. The Tigers well surpassed those expectations, and strolled all the way to the Fall Classic, where they put a up a dud. The Tigers developed Justin Verlander to the point that he emerged as the runaway Rookie of the Year candidate, had fireballer Joel Zumaya and his triple-digit fastball making national headlines, and then closed out the year with a strong start to the offseason, snagging Gary Sheffield, and extending Jeremy Bonderman for the next four years, at a bargain price compared to what was being handed out on the market. While you hate to give anyone an 'A' after their struggles and poor play in the World Series, this team far exceeded all expectations, and have put themselves in good position once again for '07. Congrats Mr. Dombrowski, you get your first 'A' as head man in Motown.
Mark Anderson, Associate Editor, Minor Leagues
It's amazing how dramatically my grade for the Tigers in 2006 has changed from January. Heading into spring training last year, I was down on the Rogers and Jones contracts, not necessarily because they were bad players, but rather because I didn't like the money. Now we go out and see the insanity that has ensued this off-season, and things those two deals look particularly palatable. Coming out of spring training, I thought I was going to be witness to a solid .500 club; then look what happened. I've been pleased with the off-season moves thus far this time around, particularly with the simple fact that the organization has been aggressive in upgrading the team, rather than sitting back and trying to rely on the fact that this crew made it to the World Series. In totality, and with hind sight as my guide, I'd have to give the Tigers a resounding 'A' for the 2006 calendar year. They exceeded expectations, continued to try improving the big club and the farm at once, and seem to be on their way to making baseball relevant in Detroit for many years.
Jason Avery, Associate Editor, Amateur Baseball
I don't see how you can give any grade but an A for the year. The on-field performance should speak for itself. The Tigers were 40 games over the .500 mark at 76-36, and even though the regular season ended on a sour note, the way the team responded by winning seven straight over the Yankees and A's was spectacular. Certainly, the performance in the World Series was putrid, but that shouldn't take away from everything else the team accomplished. Instead, it should serve as motivation to finish the job.
The consistency the pitching staff had throughout the year was unbelievable. When Mike Maroth went down, Zach Miner filled the void nicely. When Miner went south, Wilfredo Ledezma did the job. Heck, who would've figured that the recently let go Alexis Gomez would prove to be a postseason hero with his home run against Oakland?
Not many people expected the Tigers to be a contender, let alone AL champions, and with the acquisition of Gary Sheffield, the Tigers have the big bat they needed. Not to mention, the Tigers still have plenty of time to sift through any other trade, or free agent moves to solidify the roster before the season starts.
I was on record as saying the signings of Kenny Rogers and Todd Jones wouldn't work out, but both were terrific down the stretch and Rogers in particular had a lot of positive influence on the Tigers' younger hurlers. Sean Casey didn't hit well after coming over from Pittsburgh, but had a great postseason with a .432 average. The Tigers also brought him back at a reasonable cost for next year to play first base. The great impact of youngsters Justin Verlander, Joel Zumaya, and Curtis Granderson was fun to watch, and seeing Jeremy Bonderman come of age in the series-clincher against the Yankees was the defining moment of his career.
It's obviously way too early to tell on the draft, but getting Andrew Miller was a coup, and hopefully, several more prospects will step forward to the head of the class.
Even though the Tigers didn't have the ending we fans wanted, this was the most spectacular season the Tigers had in nearly 20 years.
Hopefully the Tigers will be able to build on it and have even more success in the future.
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