Detroit Tigers clinch No. 1 pick for 2020 MLB draft in a season they knew would be tough

Anthony Fenech
Detroit Free Press

While the Minnesota Twins were waiting to see if they had won the AL Central a clubhouse over, Detroit Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire spoke about a different kind of clinch.

Gardenhire, the last manager to navigate the Twins to a division title, in 2010, was now the manager of the team with the worst record in baseball. The Twins' clinch — then at least a tie of the division crown — was outright, sending players sprinting onto the Comerica Park field wearing goggles.

Of course, for the rebuilding Tigers, having the worst record in baseball has its benefits: The most notable, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 MLB draft; the most tangible, having the biggest draft pick bonus pool with which to sign the picks taken then.

None of this mattered much to Gardenhire, whose Tigers had just lost their 111th game of the season, 5-1. Still, he acknowledged the benefit of what a reporter presumed would be a hitter selected with the top pick next June.

“Every organization can,” Gardenhire said. “But I’m not trying to put ourselves in a position to do that. I know that there’s a race for the first pick in the draft, we don’t really try to do that.

Detroit Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire (left) and head athletic trainer Doug Teter (middle) watch starting pitcher Drew VerHagen (54) warm up after getting hit by a line drive from Minnesota Twins right fielder Eddie Rosario (not pictured) during the fourth inning at Comerica Park on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019.

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“I know some of our fans are thinking this is great, but we’re just trying to go out and play.

“And these guys are, you know, trying to get through this thing; it’s really tough right now, it was a tough loss for us because we had our chances and we got to the second half of the game and it just got away from us.”

The Tigers’ distinction as the worst team in baseball seemed a foregone conclusion heading into the All-Star break, a few weeks before two of their top players — right fielder Nicholas Castellanos and closer Shane Greene — were traded on the day of the trade deadline.

They will become the third team in franchise history to finish with the worst record in the major leagues. This year's iteration ranks second in franchise history in losses, behind the 2003 Tigers (119).

“We knew,” Gardenhire said. “I knew it coming in. Last year, the same thing: We knew it was going to be one of those fighting years and we fought it out pretty good.

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“This year, after all the injuries coming out of spring training, you knew it was going to be a battle and it has been, for our pitching staff, the whole year. We’ve been trying to find able bodies, we’ve used a lot of people.

“And a lot of kids are up in the big leagues right now getting an opportunity, which, that’s what rebuilds are. We’re seeing a lot of young guys, and sometimes, you know, if I had hair, I probably wouldn’t have hair by the end of this season.

“But I’ve never had hair this season, so it’s OK. I’m just rubbing my head, trying to help."

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