First off, 4 youngsters were pretty much guaranteed a return to the team in some capacity (3B Eric Munson, 1B Carlos Pena, CF Alex Sanchez and OF Craig Monroe). Pena will be given one more year to turn into the RBI-machine First Baseman the Tigers hope they acquired two seasons ago. Munson would have warranted Rookie of the Year consideration if not for a broken wrist that ended his season in early August. Sanchez developed as the season went on, and while he still needs more patience at the plate to be a respectable leadoff hitter, his speed and bat will give him the chance to develop the skill. Monroe took advantage of openings, and stepped up to hit 23 HR's in full time duty (and ranked a very solid 19th in HR/AB in the AL last year). OF/DH Dmitri Young was the Tigers lone producer last year and would obviously once again be the best hitter on the team, and OF Bobby Higginson would return (but more due to his huge contract and no-trade clause).
So, the Tigers are still left with holes at C, 2B, SS and potentially OF. Dombrowksi knew he'd be fighting an uphill battle with the season his team just had, but remained optimistic none-the-less.
The first addition was 2B Fernando Vina. This signing was viewed from complete opposite angles depending on whom you asked. He was either a solid top-of-the-order 2B with good skills in the field and a great leader in the clubhouse, or he was an over-the-hill 2B with declining skills at the plate and on the field. With his age, the Tigers will be hard pressed to expect him to hit .300 or win another Gold Glove, but if his leadership and positive attitude can help develop some of the youngsters (namely, Pena); his signing was a solid investment. And even more so than what he'll contribute to the team, he was the first player to sign, and he "got the ball rolling", so to speak.
Next, the Tigers looked to add another veteran, but this time a bat that could be placed in the middle of the lineup to give some protection to Young while at the same time relieving some pressure from Pena, Munson, et al. who were expected to fill important roles as inexperienced players for the big league club. To fill this hole, the Tigers looked for a corner Outfielder. The Tigers offered both Reggie Sanders and Rondell White. Sanders wavered, and White jumped at the deal (2 years, $6 million - the contract that seemed to become a standard offer this offseason, and one of the main reasons why there is talk from the Union of collusion). White's injury history is a concern, but is widely revered for his excellent clubhouse demeanor and attitude, and when in the lineup his contribution is hard to argue with as he received his first All Star nomination in 2003.
Now, on to Shortstop. Miguel Tejada was pursued, but was probably only using the Tigers to earn more money from the Orioles (who he later signed with for 6 years, $72 million). Rich Aurilia was the Tigers next option, but he wasn't interested in playing for a team that just lost 119 games and would be holding its Spring Training in Florida. So, with the top free agents unavailable, Dombrowski turned to the trade route and swung a deal for Seattle Shortstop Carlos Guillen. Guillen is solid in the field and at the plate, and should provide another steady contributor.
While these signings would all be considered quality additions, none were real attention grabbers. None are players that made the entire country stand up and say, "Wow". That is, none until the Tigers went out and made their biggest free agent acquisition in their history, signing future Hall-of-Famer Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez to a 4-year deal. Rodriguez brings solid defense behind the plate, as well as a bat that will likely sit at third in the Tiger lineup. Vina and White are solid players that the Tigers needed, but neither brings the aura and attention to the team that Rodriguez does.
There's no question the Tigers have made significant upgrades to their lineup this offseason, and the result should be a much more respectable product in 2004. No one should expect the Tigers to make a run at the postseason for at least another season or two, but there should no longer be worries about entering Comerica Park this summer and wondering what new names will surface that night . . . there will be Major Leaguers this time around.