Few moves needed for Detroit to stay at top of AL

Outfielder Torii Hunter is coming off a career-high .313 batting average and brings Gold Glove-caliber defense to the defending American League champions.
  • The Tigers felt they were capable of more in 2012.
  • DH Victor Martinez returns after missing the entire 2012 season.
  • Detroit%u2019s position players and rotation all will be between the ages of 26 and 30.
  • Even as they won 88 games, eased past the upstart Oakland Athletics and swept through the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series, there was an underlying sensation that the Detroit Tigers were capable of more.

    Heavy favorites to win the AL Central, the Tigers didn’t put away the Chicago White Sox until game No. 160.

    Despite featuring the first Triple Crown winner since 1967 in AL MVP Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers offense was merely middle-of-the-pack in the league in runs.

    But by the end of the season, the Tigers had, through roster moves and cohesion, rounded into an imposing and complete ballclub.

    And the factors that made them a good team in 2012 could make them a juggernaut in 2013.

    That occasionally misfiring offense? It will regain the services of designated hitter Victor Martinez, whose offseason knee injury cost him the 2012 season and prompted the signing of marquee free agent Prince Fielder.

    Now, as envisioned when Fielder signed a nine-year, $214 million contract in January 2012, the middle of the Tigers lineup will be a monster.

    Cabrera, Fielder and Martinez follow a top of the lineup that saw leadoff man Austin Jackson evolve into a borderline-elite all-around player.

    In addition, a rotation that ranked second in the AL will be six-deep and have for a full season the services of Anibal Sanchez, who was acquired at the trade deadline, posted a 3.74 ERA in 12 starts and was retained with a five-year, $80 million contract in free agency.

    He’ll slide in behind ace Justin Verlander, No. 2 man Doug Fister and in front of another power arm, Max Scherzer, to give the Tigers the luxury of deciding between promising lefty Drew Smyly and right-hander Rick Porcello for the No. 5 spot.

    “We think we have the chance to hold our own against anyone,” general manager Dave Dombrowski says. “It’s a solid middle of the lineup. If (Martinez) is anywhere near he was — and we think he will be — it will be a formidable group.

    “No matter how good (your) lineup is, you generally win with pitching. We feel we will throw four established winners out there. The fifth starter, whoever he is, are two guys we feel comfortable with. When you throw them out there, you have a chance to shut down a very good lineup every night.”.

    Explore more:  Karrie Webb, Sei Young Kim share Ladies Scottish Open lead

    Indeed, the Tigers’ enviable combination — a deep, dangerous lineup and a power rotation with depth in reserve — might make them the AL’s most complete team.

    The Los Angeles Angels have a similar power trio in Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols, but their rotation drops off badly after Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson.

    The Tampa Bay Rays have Cy Young Award winner David Price and a similarly deep trove of pitching but a popgun offense.

    The Texas Rangers lost Hamilton and lack a shutdown starter beyond ace Yu Darvish.

    The New York Yankees only got older.

    The Tigers? Save for new right fielder Torii Hunter — who should be a huge defensive upgrade, at the least — Detroit’s position players and rotation all will be between the ages of 26 and 30.

    In other words, virtually every key contributor is smack in the prime of his career.

    That’s not to say the Tigers are invulnerable, of course.

    After his late-season, late-inning meltdowns, the Tigers opted to let Jose Valverde depart as a free agent and hope that 22-year-old Bruce Rondon — who possesses a 100-mph fastball but has yet to make his major league debut — wins the closer’s job in spring training.

    That’s how things unfold on paper. Dombrowski knows the season might prove otherwise, but for now the Tigers are very well-positioned.

    Where the Tigers stand at each position.


    Alex Avila shouldered a huge load in 2011, catching 141 regular-season games and 11 in the playoffs, and the labor seemed to affect him in 2012. Avila’s average dipped from .295 to .243, his on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) from .895 to .736. But the Tigers continue augmenting his backup situation, from Omir Santos to Gerald Laird and now to Brayan Pena, an experienced receiver who should give Avila the rest he needs.

    First base.

    Prince Fielder might never win MVP honors, but he deserves a share of a couple of awards. After providing lineup protection to 2011 National League MVP Ryan Braun with the Milwaukee Brewers, Fielder had immediate tangible and intangible effects with the Tigers. He was as good as advertised, batting .313, smacking 33 home runs and producing a .940 OPS. Miguel Cabrera, batting in front of Fielder all season, produced baseball’s first Triple Crown since 1967.

    Second base.

    Omar Infante solidified a position that was weak at the big-league level and in the farm system. Though he hit .257 with a .668 OPS in 64 games with Detroit, Infante ended the revolving door of Ryan Raburn, Ramon Santiago and Danny Worth at the position. After 2013, Infante can become a free agent.

    Explore more:  Sweet 16: NHL playoffs qualifying round tough to predict

    Third base.

    Cabrera handled the position more capably than many expected, and his offensive numbers — league-leading totals in batting average (.330), homers (44), RBI (139) and OPS (.999) — need no explanation. Signed through 2015, Cabrera turns 30 in April and shows no sign of slowing down. The team’s top prospect, Nick Castellanos, has been moved to outfield for now but is young enough (he’ll turn 21 on March4) to shift back to third now or in coming years should Cabrera leave as a free agent or shift to designated hitter.


    Jhonny Peralta, 30, has epitomized “good enough” in his 21/2 years manning this spot. While his average dipped in 2012 to a career-low .239 and his homers fell from 21 to 13, Peralta still fields the ball adequately. If returns continue to diminish, this figures to be his final season with Detroit.

    Left field.

    This will be the Tigers’ most intriguing position in 2013. Andy Dirks figures to begin the season as the starter but will have a pair of prospects beating down the door from the moment players report to spring training. Avisail Garcia, 21, batted .319 in a 47-game call-up, impressed defensively and started six of the Tigers’ 13 playoff games. While Dirks has hit left-handers adequately (.288 in 114career plate appearances), it wouldn’t be surprising to see him and Garcia share playing time early on. And Castellanos will get every opportunity to win time here as well.

    Center field.

    Perhaps no leap forward in 2012 was as significant as Austin Jackson’s. The 26-year-old emerged as an elite defender and a premier all-around center fielder, batted .300, produced a .856 OPS and essentially solidified the position for years to come as he enters his fourth major league season.

    Right field.

    Torii Hunter is 37 and will be hard-pressed to match his campaign of 2012, when he set career highs in batting average (.313) and on-base percentage (.365). But he’s almost guaranteed to have a nice, immediate return on the club’s two-year, $26million deal merely by playing right field.

    Designated hitter.

    Victor Martinez’s return from reconstructive surgery on his left knee after he was sidelined in 2012 will give the club perhaps the major league’s best DH. In 2011, his first year with the Tigers, he batted .330 with 103RBI.


    Justin Verlander is arguably the game’s most potent starter. Detroit legitimately goes six-deep and has the luxury of holding on to Rick Porcello or entertaining the thought of dealing him. The retention of Anibal Sanchez — who posted a 3.74 ERA in 12 starts after his July arrival from the Miami Marlins — solidified the rotation and took a great deal of heat off the likes of Max Scherzer, young lefty Drew Smyly and Porcello. To acquire Sanchez, the Tigers had to deal Jacob Turner, one of their most promising young starters, so depth on the horizon is somewhat of a concern.

    Explore more:  Simeone losing magic touch in his 10th year at Atlético


    The fascinating three-year run of Jose Valverde as closer has ended, throwing roles wide open and creating depth concerns in the bullpen. Bruce Rondon, Phil Coke, Octavio Dotel and Joaquin Benoit will fill the most crucial relief roles. How they’ll line up is the great unknown. Rondon and Coke — who did mostly yeoman’s work replacing Valverde on the fly in the 2012 postseason — are likeliest to handle the ninth inning.


    The lone question mark for a loaded team. Rondon will be given every chance to win the job, and he certainly wouldn’t be the first 22-year-old major league closer.

    Prospects to watch.

    OF Nick Castellanos: The club’s best hitting prospect, he will be given a chance to win a job out of spring training. While that’s unlikely, Castellanos, 20, does figure to reach Detroit this season. He dominated in 55 games at high-Class A Lakeland (Fla.), Where he hit .405 and produced a 1.014 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. That dipped to .264 and .678 at AA Erie (Pa.), But Castellanos was young for that league. As expected, power will be the last tool to come along for Castellanos, but it’s encouraging that he cut his strikeouts from 130 to 118 while advancing two levels.

    RHP Bruce Rondon: His first major league pitch could come in a save situation. The club will give Rondon first crack at winning the closer’s job after a season that saw him zoom from Lakeland to Class AAA Toledo (Ohio) and nearly become a September call-up. Rondon, 22, notched 66 strikeouts and gave up 32 hits in 53 innings, often dominating with a consistent 100-mph fastball.

    OF Avisail Garcia: Still technically a prospect, Garcia, 21, started six playoff games for the Tigers. He could be described as a five-tool player, though none — save for perhaps his throwing arm — overwhelms. His 14 homers and 23 steals in 122 minor league games last year hint he might develop into a stellar all-around player. Garcia’s numbers surprisingly went up — .312 and an .810 OPS — after a promotion to AAA, and he hit .319 in 47 major league at-bats.

    LHP Jake Thompson: The 31st overall pick in June’s draft, Thompson, 19, could be the next young Tigers pitcher to move quickly through their system. After a full high school season, Thompson was limited to 28 innings at the rookie level, where he struck out 31 and had a 1.91 ERA.

    Related Posts