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Tigers' rebuild begins in earnest in 2017

One last run at division title derailed by rash of injuries
October 2, 2017

DETROIT -- The 2017 Tigers might well be remembered as the end of an era for Detroit baseball, a decade of win-now baseball culminating in a team that couldn't win anymore. The season could also go down as the summer the Tigers planted the seeds for their next run of

DETROIT -- The 2017 Tigers might well be remembered as the end of an era for Detroit baseball, a decade of win-now baseball culminating in a team that couldn't win anymore. The season could also go down as the summer the Tigers planted the seeds for their next run of contention.
Either way, it was a summer for one of the biggest transitions the Tigers have faced in 15 years. A business model built around spending big to bring in proven stars shifted to a developmental mode built around procuring and growing prospects into talent for sustainable success.
• Phase one of rebuild won't be pretty
"We had a great run here for close to 10 years building this organization, and we've had some good winning years," general manager Al Avila said. "But basically, like most things, it comes to an end. It's a hard thing, but it's a necessary thing to be able to win in the future."
Still, some of Detroit's favorite stars made their mark on their way out, from a few more Justin Verlander no-hit bids to midsummer tears from J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton. And at the end, Matthew Boyd made a bid for his own history, and provided a reminder that even in tough times, the Tigers could have their moments.

1. Injuries take toll
The Tigers held off their rebuilding effort to make one more try at the postseason with the same crew that fell just short in 2016, knowing they needed a lot to go right for them to give the Indians a run for the division or take control of the Wild Card. From Spring Training on, though, the injury bug kept them from taking off.
Martinez was a costly absence when the season began. His attempt at a sliding catch in Spring Training turned into a DL stint with a sprained Lisfranc ligament in his foot. Jose Cabrera was active when the season began, but a groin injury landed him on the DL in April, and a back injury sustained during the World Baseball Classic bothered him all season. Ian Kinsler was bothered by a hamstring strain for most of the first half, going on the DL at the end of May. Rookie center fielder JaCoby Jones went on the DL with a lip laceration. Early-season sensation Jim Adduci had his breakout halted with an oblique injury that cost him two months. An irregular heartbeat interrupted, then ended, Victor Martinez's season.

2. Upton gets off the roller coaster
Upton spent most of his first season in Detroit in 2016 struggling through a summer-long slump before carrying the team into the Wild Card race over the final six weeks. His follow-up season saw him find those hot streaks earlier and make them last longer. After a 2-for-16 opening over his first six games, he batted .340 (18-for-53) with five home runs for the rest of April, skidded through a 40-strikeout May, then batted .305 with 27 RBIs in June.
By the time Upton had finished another 27-RBI performance in August, he was an American League All-Star who had established himself as the most feared hitter in the Tigers' lineup and one of the top run producers in the AL. And he had just turned 30. With that in mind, his ability to opt out of his contract at season's end looked like a safer risk, and the risk of the Tigers losing him with nothing in return looked greater. So the Tigers traded him for a couple of prospects on Aug. 31.

3. Classic Verlander becomes Houston's Verlander
Verlander had a back-and-forth battle between his younger mechanics and his older body for much of the first half of the season after turning 34 just before Spring Training. He entered the All-Star break with some gems on his resume, including three performances of seven innings and one run allowed, but had a 4.73 ERA. Then, much like 2015, his mechanics clicked into place in late July, and he became a dominant starter once again.

Verlander dazzled the Orioles in Baltimore on Aug. 4, then took a no-hit bid into the sixth inning in Pittsburgh six days later. He did it again to the Dodgers on Aug. 20. It was too late to bring the Tigers back into playoff contention, but it was just in time for a few teams seeking to bolster their rotation ahead of a playoff run. A month of speculation if Verlander would be dealt culminated in late-night drama on Aug. 31, with Verlander agreeing to accept a trade to Houston. It was far from the first sign the Tigers were rebuilding, but it was definitely the biggest.
4. Boyd's near no-no
The days of Tigers fans being on the edge of their seats for no-hit bids seemed over once Verlander was traded. Then young lefty Boyd, who had been sent down to Triple-A Toledo at midseason, took a nasty breaking ball and deceptive change of speeds into a seemingly meaningless mid-September Sunday matinee against the White Sox.
By the time Boyd took the mound for the ninth inning, a surprised crowd was on its feet, pulling for what would have been the first no-hitter by a Tigers pitcher since Verlander did it in 2011 in Toronto, and the first no-hitter at Comerica Park in a decade. But one out away, Tim Anderson lofted an opposite-field double over Nicholas Castellanos' head in right field. 

5. Tigers retool
The warning signs had been lingering for three years that Detroit's decade-long run of success was nearing a breaking point, and the team would eventually have to rebuild. Avila was ready to do it last offseason, but couldn't find the prospect packages he wanted to justify tearing down the roster. Once the Tigers headed into July with a postseason berth seemingly out of reach, Avila flipped the switch.
A handful of veteran stars were dealt by the end of August, and a farm system that was nearly empty on impact position players going into the summer was refreshed. Seven of the top 16 prospects in's rankings of the Tigers' system were acquired in deals over the summer. It won't be enough to avoid a painful rebuilding stretch ahead, but it helps provide a foundation for the Tigers to try to contend again in a few years.

Finally, manager Brad Ausmus was informed with a little more than a week left in the season that he would not be brought back. A new-look team would be looking for a new voice, and a team in transition would have a new guide through some of its toughest waters ahead.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.