Miserable 2008 Finally Over For Detroit

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DETROIT (AP) -- Boosted by the big deal for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, the Detroit Tigers started the season as a popular pick to contend for a championship.
The Tigers finished the year competing only for the dubious distinction of being baseball's biggest bust. A loss against the Chicago White Sox dropped Detroit (74-88) to a last-place finish in the AL Central.
Team owner Mike Ilitch approved a payroll of about $139 million, getting outspent by only the New York Yankees, trying to get back to the postseason after missing it in 2007.
Instead of repeating their run to the World Series from two years ago, the Tigers limped home in the AL Central.
"We're embarrassed. I'm embarrassed," manager Jim Leyland said. "Mr. Ilitch stepped to the plate. When you get paid big, you're supposed to play big and manage big. That's just the way it is. When it doesn't happen, people have the right to call you on the carpet."
Leyland will be back for at least another season, but pitching and bullpen coaches -- Chuck Hernandez and Jeff Jones -- were fired. The team has decided not to exercise its option to bring back shortstop Edgar Renteria, choosing to give him $3 million instead of $11 million to return.
That move adds shortstop to the list of needs that includes finding a catcher or two and pitching help, particularly in the bullpen.
Leyland said Brandon Inge will be the regular third baseman next season after starting this year as a utility player and Carlos Guillen will be shifted from third to left field.
"We've got a big job in front of us," Ilitch said. "I know in a year, year and a half, I'll be OK. But I'm just concerned about this next year, making sure that we make the right decisions to go forward with who we have, and then we'll go from there."
Ilitch recently said he's not afraid to spend money, but this might not be the offseason to throw millions around like he did last winter.
"I don't know if this year is the year to go after people," Ilitch said.
The Tigers know they have some position players to build around.
They gave Cabrera a $152-plus million contract after acquiring him last winter and the 25-year-old first baseman. He hit an AL-high 37 homers, finished third in the league with 127 RBI and hit nearly .300 while playing almost every game.
"We have one of the most dynamic young players I've ever seen," Leyland said.
Curtis Granderson, a 27-year-old outfielder, became the first Tiger to lead the league in triples since Ty Cobb did it nine decades ago. He hit an AL-high 13 triples and scored 112 runs, trailing only Boston's Dustin Pedroia in the league.
Outfielder Magglio Ordonez followed up his AL batting title with a .317 batting average, finishing fourth in the league. Second baseman Placido Polanco hit .307 and was solid in the field.
Rookie right-hander Armando Galarraga came out of nowhere to be the team's best starter, going 13-7 with a 3.73 ERA.
"There have been some good things," Leyland said. "But not enough."
The bad outweighed the good, no doubt, for the Tigers.
Ace Justin Verlander was 11-17 with a 4.84 ERA after becoming the first pitcher to throw a no-hitter, start a World Series game, be a Rookie of the Year and an All-Star in his first two full seasons.
Willis, acquired along with Cabrera, was 0-2 with a 9.38 ERA and spent much of the season away from the team trying to figure out how to throw strikes.
Pitchers Jeremy Bonderman, Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney had their seasons stunted by injuries. Nate Robertson, Kenny Rogers and Todd Jones simply didn't pitch as well as they had previously for the Tigers.
The Tigers ranked among baseball's best offensively, but among the worst on the mound and in the field.
"If you summed everything up, pitching and defense is the name of the game and we haven't been good at either one," Leyland said.
Tampa Bay pitcher Troy Percival, a former Tiger, said what happened in the Motor City proved baseball games can't be won with dollars and cents.
"You can buy a talented team, but you can't guarantee anything beyond that," Percival said.

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