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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Tigers won't win now, but future might lead to greatness

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Last week, the Tigers were a flawed team that still had a chance in a forgiving division.

This week, they're just a flawed team.

Things might be bleak now for skipper Jim Leyland, but Detroit's fortune can quickly get better. (Getty Images)  
Things might be bleak now for skipper Jim Leyland, but Detroit's fortune can quickly get better. (Getty Images)  
Their lineup, minus Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen and Brandon Inge, isn't close to being good enough. Their rotation, beyond ace Justin Verlander, isn't close to being consistent enough. Their bullpen, after losing Bobby Seay and Zach Miner this spring and Joel Zumaya at midseason, isn't close to being deep enough and experienced enough to make up for the other problems.

Yes, it's true, the Tigers are still just three games out of first place. But it's also true that Matt Garza's Monday night no-hitter tells you a lot more about where the Tigers are right now than the standings do.

And that's why, after being one of the more active teams in the weeks leading up to this Saturday's non-waiver deadline, the Tigers could end up being one of the quieter teams at the deadline itself. That's why, if the Tigers make a move at all -- and sources said they're still looking hard -- it will almost definitely be made with at least one eye on 2011.

That's why, despite being a team that always likes to go for it right now, the Tigers of this July should be a team that's all about next year.

The rest of this year could be painful to watch, but the payoff in 2011 could make up for it. The Tigers already figured to be one of teams with the most money to spend this winter, and now that Ordonez's $15 million vesting option won't kick in, they'll have even more.

With Miguel Cabrera in the middle of their lineup, Verlander atop their rotation, Jose Valverde at the end of the bullpen and perhaps $60 million to fill out the roster, the Tigers could turn themselves into a division favorite -- or more than that -- by next spring.

The players they don't trade away this week could be the ones who help them win next year. Or, they could be the trading chips needed next July, when the right move really could help.

Remember, the Tigers were always focused on 2011 and beyond, because so many bad contracts come off their books after 2010. They went into this year thinking that they'd have a chance if everything fell just right, but that they'd also have set themselves up to be a potential powerhouse team next year.

So for three months, enough went right that the Tigers stayed in the race. For three months, they looked good enough to think that maybe a July trade could make the difference -- this year.

The Tigers looked at starting pitchers like Dan Haren. They looked at relievers like Scott Downs. They looked at hitters like Adam Dunn and Mike Lowell.

They were everywhere, and they seemed to be in (at least to some extent) on everyone.

And that was fine, as long as not much more went wrong.

Well, you know what, more did go wrong. Ordonez broke his leg, and Guillen was hurt, too. A lineup that was already weak now looks like Cabrera and a bunch of kids and fringe players.

Would the Tigers have won, even with a healthy Ordonez, and even with a helpful trade at the deadline?

We'll never know, but it's pretty clear that they won't win now, and that general manager Dave Dombrowski couldn't make enough moves to fill all the holes, even if he wanted to.

It could be that the Ordonez injury helps the Tigers long-term. It could be what keeps them from dealing for a rental player who may or may not have helped, while at the same time giving them more money to spend for when they'll have a much better chance of winning.

The Tigers like Ordonez, and they may well try to re-sign him. But it won't be for anything close to $15 million, because 37-year-old outfielders who hit 12 home runs in 84 games (as Ordonez has this year) command less than half that in today's market.

In any case, that decision will come later. The decision to be made this week is much simpler.

If the Tigers can make a move that helps them in 2011, go ahead and do it. If they can't, forget it.

And if it means there are more nights in the coming weeks where the Tigers look as bad as they did against Garza on Monday, so be it.

There's a real chance that the coming years will make up for it.

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