All-Decade team heavy on '06 stars
American League champions well-represented
DETROIT -- What would a Tigers all-decade team look like? Not surprisingly, it would resemble a lot of the team the Tigers trotted out in the 2006 World Series, the only year in the decade Detroit reached the postseason.
But even that success has its limits.
Determining the best Tigers of the past decade is a little tougher than it would seem. While the 2006 club had the greatest success of any Tigers team in the past quarter-century, let alone the past 10 years, individual success came from other players in other years, too.
Not only did Bobby Higginson miss out on the 2006 World Series, he never played on a team with a winning record in Detroit, even though he was the most recent Tigers player to hit 30 homers with 15 steals in the same season until Curtis Granderson did it last year. The same losing ways followed Jeff Weaver, who went 39-51 with the Tigers. Mike Maroth lost 21 games and made history wearing the old English D, yet his work in the infamous 2003 season might've been the toughest test of character any Tigers player faced in the past 10 years.
Does that lack of winning make them any less valuable over the course of the decade? Inevitably, that was the question that faced the panel of judges who decided Detroit's all-decade team, including broadcasters Dan Dickerson and Mario Impemba, Tigers baseball media relations director Brian Britten, Tigers baseball media relations manager Rick Thompson, and myself.
Most of the selections were unanimous. And not surprisingly, most of those selections were Tigers who were around for the World Series run in 2006, including Ivan Rodriguez, Placido Polanco, Carlos Guillen, Brandon Inge, Magglio Ordonez and Curtis Granderson. The entire 2006 postseason rotation -- Justin Verlander, Kenny Rogers, Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson -- made the squad, as did two-tenure Tigers closer Todd Jones and manager Jim Leyland.
Had Sean Casey made the club, it would've been a clean sweep for the American League champion infield. But as big of an impact as Casey made in that home stretch, that wasn't going to top the past two seasons from Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera was the unanimous choice at first base, the only unanimous pick who wasn't around in 2006.
Tigers All-Decade team
From there, the debates really picked up. And the pick in left field probably set the tone for the rest of the selections, debating whether Craig Monroe's importance in 2006 rivaled Higginson's pure stats over the first few years of the decade.
Neither of their Tigers tenures ended well, and that wasn't forgotten. Even those who voted for Higginson couldn't ignore his final few years in Detroit, including a 2005 season in which he played just 10 games and spent the rest of the year on the disabled list. Monroe provided one clutch home run after another in '06 -- his go-ahead shot in Yankee Stadium might never be forgotten -- but he was traded the following August amidst a miserable hitting slump.
If it was going to come down to which left fielder had the better career year, though, Higginson was going to win. His 2000 season was stronger statistically in virtually every category. Take into account more complete standards such as OPS, less traditional stats such as runs created, or more recent ones such as weighted on-base average, and Higginson's follow-up season in '01 was stronger than Monroe's '06 numbers, too.
Three out of four panelists decided Higginson's 30-homer season was better, despite Monroe's knack for clutch homers. Dickerson's vote for Monroe came down to big plays counting for something, a factor that played into another decision.
While left field was a two-man race, deciding an all-decade DH was wide open. The decade began with the ageless Luis Polonia there, and ended with a slew of options sharing time in 2009. In between came Dmitri Young as one of Detroit's few offensive forces for a couple of lean years, Marcus Thames' sudden emergence as a home run threat, and Gary Sheffield's two injury-shortened years in Detroit.
Again, Thames earned votes based in part on his clutch home runs. Still, the majority went with Young. His time in Detroit didn't end well, either, but before that, he might've been the one Major League hitter in the '03 lineup. With truly no offensive support, he hit a career-high 29 home runs to go with 85 RBIs. As much as clutch performances, his essentially one-man show earned bonus points with me.
Dickerson went with Thames, but among other points, he gave a tongue-in-cheek honorable mention without a position to Shane Halter, who played all nine positions in a game in 2000.
On the pitching side, one could've had a debate for Robertson, whose past two seasons have been mere shadows of the success he had in 2004 and '06. But different voters had different arguments for the left-hander.
Some pointed to his postseason run in 2006, when he started the openers for both the Division Series and ALCS. Others pointed to the fact that he spent more time than anyone else in the Tigers' rotation this decade. And on a team that includes five starters, he had to be on it.
"Most innings [by a Tiger this decade] has to get you something," Dickerson said.
The more intriguing argument was for the fifth and final rotation spot. Three votes for Weaver pointed to his workhorse status as a true No. 1 starter for Detroit, something they lacked after he was traded until Verlander emerged years later.
The dissenting vote went to Maroth, who was a top starter by default in a bad 2003 rotation, but who took the ball every time out. He ended up making 143 starts with the Tigers, more than anyone else in a Detroit uniform except Robertson over the past 10 years. That vote from media relations came down to innings, of which he had a surprisingly high number in his time in Detroit.
Setup man came down to which young reliever had the better season behind Todd Jones over the past few years. While Joel Zumaya hasn't done much since, his 2006 season was too much to ignore for most.
"One healthy year," Dickerson said, "but what a year."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.