Sometimes, amid the pile of losses in the rebuilding effort, the glory days of the star-studded Tigers squads seem like decades ago. Other times, whether it’s a glimpse of a highlight or a glance at a throwback jersey at Comerica Park, those days seem like last week. That’s the kind of decade the Tigers experienced.
The core pieces of a contending team -- Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera -- were already in place when the 2010s began, but the decade saw a cavalcade of talent come through the Motor City, all trying to win a World Series title. They didn’t get there, but with four consecutive division titles, a berth in the Fall Classic, three MVP awards, two Cy Youngs and numerous All-Star selections, they made this a decade to remember for Tigers baseball.
Because so many players came through Comerica Park, and so many made an impact, ranking the top 10 players of the decade isn’t an easy task - especially at the top:
1. Miguel Cabrera
This would’ve been a good debate for your Thanksgiving table. Both Cabrera and Justin Verlander won Triple Crowns -- the former for hitting, the latter for pitching. Their best respective seasons were as dominant as any in the game for the decade. But while Verlander has enjoyed a rejuvenation the past few years, it has largely happened with the Astros. Cabrera enjoyed a seven-year peak during which he won the first batting Triple Crown in 45 years, back-to-back American League MVP Awards, four batting titles and a home-run crown. He posted a 1.004 OPS from 2010-15. And despite his defensive limitations with age, he led the Tigers with a 43.5 bWAR over the decade.
2. Justin Verlander
For much of the first five years of the decade, a Verlander start felt like an event. After his no-hitter in Toronto on May 7, 2011, every other start that summer seemed like a countdown to see if an opposing batter could get a hit before the drama began to build for the late innings. He pulled off the incredible Cy Young-MVP double honor and nearly won two more Cy Young Awards in his Tigers tenure along with three strikeout titles. Verlander's golden right arm virtually carried the Tigers out of the AL Division Series with Game 5 wins in Oakland in '12 and '13. He had stretches of domination even as he worked to rediscover his game in '14 and '17, including the final month before his trade to the Astros. His 40.2 bWAR trailed only Cabrera for the decade.
3. Max Scherzer
It's amazing to think back that the Tigers nearly won three consecutive Cy Young Awards. With help from pitching coach Jeff Jones, Scherzer emerged from Verlander’s shadow to become the best pitcher in the AL, posting a 39-8 record, 3.02 ERA and 492 strikeouts between 2013-14. If not for a contract saga in '14, Detroit could’ve had the most dominant pitching duo in baseball. The lengths to which then-general manager Dave Dombrowski went to try to find a replacement, from trading for David Price to signing Jordan Zimmermann, was a testament to Scherzer’s value.
4. Ian Kinsler
The fact that Kinsler arrived as the Tigers’ window of contention was closing hides just how good he was in a Detroit uniform, worth 20.0 bWAR over just four seasons. Already good when he joined Detroit in the Prince Fielder trade, Kinsler emerged as a catalyst atop the Tigers' batting order and a defensive anchor up the middle, winning his first Gold Glove Award and arguably deserving at least one more. He became a leader in the clubhouse with his hard-nosed play and his no-nonsense attitude. Fittingly, he spent his last game in a Tigers uniform as a manager, chosen by then-skipper Brad Ausmus to call the shots for the 2017 season finale.
5. J.D. Martinez
Martinez will forever be the best-case scenario every time the Tigers take a flyer on a hitter, as well as the best example of a hitter re-inventing himself with help from new voices, hard work and good note-taking. He posted a .300 average, .912 OPS and 99 home runs in 458 games as a Tiger after the Astros released him during Spring Training in 2014, all while playing the outfield corners of Comerica Park with the designated-hitter slot unavailable. His 12.8 bWAR in what was essentially just more than three seasons was an example of how the Tigers built an offense with more than just pricey free agents.
6. Austin Jackson
Rub your eyes all you want to double-check that you really did read Jackson on this list, but he is arguably the most undervalued Tiger of the decade. With a 20.5 bWAR over four-and-a-half seasons, Jackson had a legitimate case to crack the top five. The former Yankees prospect finished second in voting for the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 2010, was a Defensive Runs Saved leader in 2011 and the leadoff catalyst for the 2012 World Series team. Even with all the stars on that squad, only Cabrera had a higher WAR that year than Jackson. He became a journeyman after the Tigers sent him to Seattle as part of the David Price trade in 2014, but Detroit hasn’t seen a center fielder match his value since.
7. Alex Avila
Seasons: 2010-15, '17
Avila posted a 12.4 bWAR over parts of seven seasons behind the plate for the Tigers, obliterating the criticism that he was drafted simply for family ties. His All-Star season in 2011 was the best by WAR (5.1) of any catcher in the Comerica Park era -- even better than Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez. Avila posted an .895 OPS, 19 home runs and 82 RBIs that year to help lead the Tigers back to the postseason. His work behind the plate for Verlander and Scherzer cemented his reputation as a skilled game-caller and solid receiver. Avila might have been a top-five Tiger for the decade if not for injuries, including the series of concussions that sidelined him in ensuing seasons.
8. Victor Martinez Seasons: 2011-18
Martinez spent most of the 2000s as a Tigers nemesis in Cleveland before Dombrowski moved aggressively to sign him as a free agent before the 2011 campaign. The move helped spark Detroit’s run of division dominance; Martinez hit .330 and drove in 103 runs despite just 12 home runs in '11. In '14, he was the AL’s best hitter not named Mike Trout, leading the league with a .974 OPS while drawing 28 intentional walks. His sneaky good '16 season helped put Detroit back in postseason contention.
9. Doug Fister
Though pitching WAR can be tricky as a gauge, Fister’s 9.8 bWAR in just two-and-a-half seasons and 68 starts as a Tiger speaks to his value on a pitching staff with far bigger names. Aside from a rough ALDS in 2011, his postseason work was the best of any Tigers starter not named Verlander, including five starts with two or fewer runs. His trade to Washington for future All-Star Robbie Ray was heavily critiqued and might have come a year early, but he was arguably the best Tigers trade of the decade.
10. José Iglesias
The last spot on this list had plenty of candidates, from Jhonny Peralta to Prince Fielder to Justin Upton to Nicholas Castellanos. But what Iglesias provided the Tigers over parts of five seasons goes beyond his 7.2 bWAR. He not only saved the club from the shock of the Peralta suspension upon his Trade Deadline arrival in 2013, Iglesias became a near-daily highlight reel, a trend that continued for most of his Tigers tenure. Injuries kept him from doing more, and he never made much of an offensive impact, but he defined a very important position in Detroit for much of the decade.