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Tigers shift focus, usher in new era in 2017

Verlander trade, Gardenhire hire among top storylines of year
MLB.com @beckjason

DETROIT -- For the Tigers, 2017 will go down as the end of an era. Justin Verlander began the season hoping for one more chance to pitch Detroit into the postseason, and he ended it hoisting the World Series trophy with the Astros. Several other familiar Tigers left along the way, from J.D. Martinez to Alex Avila and later Ian Kinsler. The young team that was left ended the season with Detroit's worst record since its 119-loss season in '03.

The change wasn't just evident on the field. In the front office, the shift in philosophy that had been hinted at for the past couple years took full effect. After years focused on big-contract free agents and a win-now philosophy, the Tigers finally faced their future and turned their focus to player development and young talent.

DETROIT -- For the Tigers, 2017 will go down as the end of an era. Justin Verlander began the season hoping for one more chance to pitch Detroit into the postseason, and he ended it hoisting the World Series trophy with the Astros. Several other familiar Tigers left along the way, from J.D. Martinez to Alex Avila and later Ian Kinsler. The young team that was left ended the season with Detroit's worst record since its 119-loss season in '03.

The change wasn't just evident on the field. In the front office, the shift in philosophy that had been hinted at for the past couple years took full effect. After years focused on big-contract free agents and a win-now philosophy, the Tigers finally faced their future and turned their focus to player development and young talent.

It was a rough year for Tigers fans, and 2018 might bring more tough times. And yet if the Tigers' rebuilding project brings Detroit back to contention, '17 will go down as the starting point.

Here's a handful of the biggest storylines from 2017:

5. Matthew Boyd's near no-no
Lost amid a miserable final month for the Tigers was an amazing Sunday afternoon for young left-hander Boyd, who didn't even have a complete game on his big league resume until he set down one White Sox batter after another. A third-inning walk was the only Chicago baserunner he allowed until the ninth, putting him on the verge of Detroit's first no-hitter since Verlander in 2011. He was one out away when Tim Anderson hit an opposite-field double over Nicholas Castellanos in right field.

Video: Must C Close: Boyd dominates White Sox in near no-no

4. Injuries mar Tigers' start
The Tigers entered 2017 as a team that could see itself contending if everything went right. But from early in Spring Training, the misfortunes began to accumulate, mainly on the injury list. Miguel Cabrera tweaked his back in the World Baseball Classic, which left him limited when he was playing, and a groin injury forced him onto the disabled list in April. Martinez made an ill-fated attempt at a sliding catch in a Grapefruit League game and sustained a right midfoot sprain that cost him just over a month of regular-season play. Kinsler had a nagging left hamstring injury that led to a DL stint at the end of May. JaCoby Jones wasn't the same at the plate after being hit by a pitch off his mouth in April. Daniel Norris' encouraging start unraveled with a nagging groin injury. Jordan Zimmermann's neck issues eventually returned.

Video: DET@MIN: Jones exits game after getting hit in face

3. Verlander traded
Of all the trades Detroit made last summer, none symbolized the changing of eras like Verlander's last-minute deal to Houston, moments before the Sept. 1 deadline for postseason eligibility. Verlander had been a part of the Tigers' rotation for more than a decade and a part of the Detroit organization since the 2004 Draft. But with the Tigers' days of contending over for the near future and Verlander still seeking an elusive World Series ring, the former Cy Young Award winner and Most Valuable Player eventually agreed to waive his no-trade rights for a chance with the Astros. While Verlander became a world champion at last, the Tigers picked up their most regarded prospects of any deal this year.

Video: Trio of prospects headed to Tigers in Verlander trade

2. Garden-hired
Between the Tigers' struggles to contend in 2017 and the change of direction looming, Brad Ausmus' fate as manager was one of the more foregone conclusions in Detroit, which is why general manager Al Avila ended the speculation early and announced Ausmus wouldn't be back. The tougher question was who would replace him and guide the Tigers through a rebuild. Detroit looked at more than 40 candidates before eventually bucking the league trend of first-time managers and going with an old foe. In the process, Ron Gardenhire went from a longtime Tigers nemesis from his days in Minnesota to the leader Avila sought to help Detroit through the process.

Video: Avila discusses hiring Gardenhire as manager

1. Mr. I passes away
Nobody shaped the Tigers' direction over the past couple decades more than their owner. Mike Ilitch spearheaded the team's renaissance 15 years ago in a quest to add a World Series trophy to his Stanley Cup titles, a challenge that propelled Detroit's win-now mentality for more than a decade. That quest became more imperative in recent years as the owner aged, until he passed away shortly before Spring Training at 87. Though the title chase fell short, Ilitch's legacy included bringing an eventual Hall of Famer to Detroit in Ivan Rodriguez, drafting a potential future Hall of Famer in Verlander and acquiring one of the great right-handed hitters in generations in Cabrera, moves that changed the course of a historic franchise. The team honored its longtime leader with a patch on jersey sleeves and a touching tribute on Opening Day.

Video: BOS@DET: Tigers remember Mike Ilitch with Mr. I logo

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

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