Oh boy. How do you replace a double-digit All Star and future Hall of Famer? You trade him away for local villain Kyle Farnsworth. Oops. But more on that in minute.
In 2006 the Tigers were enjoying their second season of Ivan Rodriguez behind the plate. What can I say, he was a stud.
Pudge took a flyer (and big payday) on the the worst team in baseball before the 2004 season and immediately made an impact. His acquisition was the start of the franchise's turnaround and much of the credit goes to Pudge. Not only was he unbelievably productive both offensively and defensively, but he worked with a very young pitching staff and groomed them for success in the league.
Pudge entered the 2006 season after another All Star campaign and did not disappoint. He earned his All Star designation again in 2006 and continued to play at a consistently high level throughout the season. It is safe to say that the Tigers would have had a very hard time making the playoffs in 2006 without Pudge Rodriguez.
Oh, but alas. Just two short years later, Pudge was playing like a shell of his former self.
His power numbers had disappeared, and he was no longer hitting for average. Now, his seeming inability to take walks--a running joke early in his Detroit tenure--was actually hurting the team. Defensively, he was a shell of his former self. He still has a cannon for an arm, but his feet slowed drastically and more and more balls were bouncing past him. Pudge was an average catcher in 2008 at best. So, he was shipped in a trade that can best be described as "nothing for nothing" as both players were released at the end of the season, with no compensatory draft picks earned on either side. His replacement, Brandon Inge, was an equally poor catcher and left the Tigers with a glaring hole to fill.
Which brings us to today. Gerald Laird, was a starter in Texas who split time with major prospects Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden. He was shipped to Detroit to play the position full-time. While there is no way to say that Laird will be better than Pudge from 2006--the catching situation is an unambiguous downgrade from that year--he is almost certainly a major upgrade from 2008.
So that brings us to an interesting breakdown:
Offensive: 2006 Pudge
Defensive: 2006 Pudge
Upgrade: 2009 Laird
Pudge was the better player, hands down. But adding Laird this year will help the Tigers improve over 2008 more than having Pudge in 2006 was. To put it another way, Pudge was not the difference between a last-place 2005 and first-place 2006, he was a constant. Laird's acquisition actually improves the team.
Looking around the infield we find that the 2009 team actually stacks up very well to 2006. The massive upgrade at first base helps make up for the offensive downgrades at Catcher and Shortstop. Defensively, the team may be worse than 2006, but not nearly as bad as they were in 2007 and 2008. In all, I think that the Infield is capable of sustaining a successful team in 2009, not accounting for any major breakouts or drop-offs that may occur.
The verdict: 2006 had a better infield, but 2009 stacks up well and represents a bigger improvement over 2008 than '06 was over '05. In sum, the infield was not the reason for a 2006 World Series run. We'll examine the outfield next.