The 1993 Detroit Tigers-Sparky Anderson’s Last Great Team Part 1

The 1993 Detroit Tigers had power, could draw walks and could hit. However, the lack of a bullpen, farm system depth and a bad free agent signing cost Sparky Anderson’s chance to possibly upend the Toronto Blue Jays one last time in the AL East. This is the first part of a two-part series.

If you grew up as a baseball fan in the 1980s in Detroit, you were able to see the Detroit Tigers rise as a baseball power with a World Series championship in 1984 and an AL East title in 1987. They even almost pull off another division title in 1988 as they were in the AL East lead until September 5th when a 10-game stretch from August 24th till September 4th in which they went 2-8, cost them the lead and Boston took over and never looked back.

The Tigers needed to address their biggest need for the 1993 season. Pitching. Detroit’s team ERA of 4.60 in 1992 put them in dead last in the American League. Their 693 strikeouts were last in the AL. The next closest? The Milwaukee Brewers at 793. 

Newly promoted GM Jerry Walker, who was the Tigers scouting director, had his work cut out for him. He had to address the current staff ace, Bill Gullikson. The Tigers signed Gullickson to replace Jack Morris after he left in 1990. Gullickson won 20 games in 1991 but his numbers took a dive in 1992, going 1-4 in September and pitched poorly, even if the Tigers gave him run support. He was just 7-6 with an ERA of 4.36 when Detroit scored 3 to 5 runs a game. He was heading into free agency and wanted a long term deal. Walker had to weight out his options a bit.

He lost Scott Aldred and Kevin Ritz to the Colorado Rockies in the expansion draft. Those were two young starters the Tigers could have used to build the rotation. Jerry Walker made the decision not to bring back Frank Tanana and let him sign with the New York Mets.  So he brought back Gullickson for two more years. So what could the farm system provide for arms?

The top 10 Tigers prospects according to Baseball America heading into 1993 were not heavy on pitching as the current crop is. Greg Gohr, Justin Thompson, and first baseman Rico Brogna were on Baseball America’s Top 100 list. Thompson was a few years away and Gohr was the Tigers number one prospect. Farmhand David Haas was thrown into the rotation in 1992 and showed promise. The free-agent market that season included Jimmy Key and David Cone, who were a bit too expensive for Detroit. It is worth mentioning that Jamie Moyer was in Toledo the entire 1992 season, posting an ERA of 2.86 but was never brought up by Detroit and would sign with Baltimore instead that winter.

Instead, the Tigers would go with maximum value. They were seeking lefty starter help and got it with a pair of veteran left-handers Tom Bolton for one year and Bill Krueger for two years at $2.4 million dollars. Those two lefties could do the same job as Tanana with Bolton and Krueger projected to be the swingmen out of the pen. As staff writer Sebastian Oslund points out, the Tigers were one of the last teams to go to a five-man rotation so a four-man rotation was still the way Detroit went with guys out of the pen making spot starts.

But the prize was Oakland A’s right-hander Mike Moore. He received a three-year, $10 million dollar contract. He was a workhorse, starting at least over 30 games in nine straight seasons. Never mind the 22 wild pitches he threw or the 20 home runs he gave up in 1992 if you forgive my Captain Hindsight comment, some of the numbers did not seem to be too good but this was an era that starting pitching was a premium and a different game back then, where pitchers would throw to contact.

There were some bats the Tigers needed to re-sign. One of the veteran bats that we all know and love would almost end his career in Atlanta. We look at the bats and how the season played out in part 2 that will drop tomorrow.