The Tigers felt they needed a second baseman. Talented laden Omar Infante had not lived up to expectations and Jason Smith was not a starting caliber infielder. At the same time, the team dealt with troubled reliever Ugueth Urbina. The pitcher proved a distraction that hurt the team more than he helped. Luckily, the Tigers found a willing trade partner with the Philadelphia Phillies. Detroit shipped Urbina and infielder Ramon Martinez to Philadelphia for Placido Polanco. The deal became one of the great steals in Tiger history. Polanco made All Star teams, won Gold Gloves, set fielding records, and helped Detroit to the pennant while Urbina landed in prison for attempted murder.
The Tigers pinned their second base hopes on Omar Infante. Despite his talent, the youngster did not seem to deal well with the pressure. Infante performed respectably in 2004 with a .264 average, 16 home runs, 55 RBI, and .766 OPS. His production dropped dramatically in 2005 and Detroit gave up. In 121 games, Infante batted .222 with 9 home runs and 43 RBI. The team began to search for a replacement. Eventually, Infante shifted to a utility role before moving to Atlanta.
As the team began to scour rosters for a second baseman, their closer displayed disturbing behavior. Ugueth Urbina signed a two-year deal with Detroit in March 2004. He saved 21 games in 2004 and pitched well in 2005. However, rumors swirled about a midair incident in which Urbina attempted to open the airplane door resulting in some sort of altercation. Shortly after the reports surfaced, Detroit traded Urbina and infielder Ramon Martinez to Philadelphia for Placido Polanco. Polanco blocked Chase Utley's elevation in Philadelphia, so the Phillies willingly parted with him in return for a solid reliever and reserve infielder.
Polanco solidified Detroit's infield and proved a godsend. The second baseman played five seasons with the Tigers. Over that period, Polanco hit .338, .295, .341, .307, and .285. Along the way, Polanco accumulated two Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger, and appeared in the 2007 All Star Game. Additionally, he won the 2006 ALCS MVP with a .529 average and 1.167 OPS. On top of this, Polanco set the Major League record for 149 errorless games at second, most consecutive chances without an error, and became the first second baseman in history to play an entire season without committing an error.
While Polanco became Detroit's breakout star, Urbina unknowingly played out his career with the 2005 Phillies. The pitcher appeared in 56 games for Philadelphia, compiled a 4-3 record with 1 save and 1.146 WHIP. He made his final big league appearance on October 2, 2005. Off season legal issues soon intervened with the pitcher's career.
Urbina expected to continue with his career in 2006, but a bizarre incident intervened. On November 7, 2005, Venezuelan police arrested the pitcher for attempted murder. Apparently, Urbina charged five farm workers with a machete and tried to dump gasoline upon them. A court convicted the former pitcher of attempted murder and sentenced him to nearly 15 years in prison. Urbina was released on Christmas Eve 2012 after serving nearly six years. Philadelphia's other acquisition, Ramon Martinez, played only 33 games for the Phllies and then moved onto the Dodgers and Mets. As a result, the Phillies managed to clear space for Utley, but got next to nothing in return for a record setting second baseman.
The Detroit Tigers stole Placido Polanco from the Phillies. In fairness, few would have foreseen Polanco's success with Detroit. Even fewer would have predicted Ugueth Urbina's meltdown and incarceration. The Tigers acquired an All Star Gold Glove second baseman that helped win a pennant. The Phillies got 56 games from a relief pitcher and 33 games from a backup infielder.