Every day in spring training until we're finished with the entire league, Big League Stew takes a brief capsule look at each team we visit in Florida and Arizona. Next up are the Detroit Tigers, who are paying a lot of money for a team that hasn't appeared in October since that magical 2006 season.
'09 RECORD: 86-77, 2nd in AL Central
BIG ACQUISITIONS: Johnny Damon(notes) is playing left field in Motown after getting the cold shoulder from Brian Cashman ... Jose Valverde(notes) signed a two-year deal to be the team's new closer ... The Tigers acquired outfielder Austin Jackson(notes) and pitchers Max Scherzer(notes) and Phil Coke(notes) through the three-way trade that made big waves at the winter meetings.
BIG DEPARTURES: The Tigers gave their fans at least one reason to like the Yankees when they traded Curtis Granderson(notes) to the Bronx ... The team didn't want to pay the price that closer Fernando Rodney(notes) was asking, so he took his act to Anaheim ... Brandon Lyon(notes) chased middle reliever riches to Houston, while infielder Placido Polanco(notes) returned to Philadelphia.
FIVE QUESTIONS TO ASK ABOUT THE TIGERS:
1. Has Miguel Cabrera(notes) put his problems behind him? He says as much and here's hoping he'll continue conquering his drinking demons, even if the Tigers slugger says he's not an alcoholic. Cabrera has so much natural talent that it's scary to think of what he's capable of doing with a clear mind. He hit .324/.396/.547 with 34 home runs and 103 RBIs in 2009 and if he's able to boost those numbers, even by a little, it's not hard to see his first MVP in his future. Can you believe he's still only 26 years old?
2. Why did they trade Granderson? Given that Grandy was one of the most popular players in franchise history and given that Damon will make more money than him in 2010, it's hard not to give credence to the rumor that the Tigers had simply soured on him as a player. Granderson struggled mightily against lefties last season and given some other warning signs, it's not hard to see the Tigers following the theory of selling a year too early rather than a year too late. His center field position will be inherited by Austin Jackson, a rookie prospect who came over from the Yankees farm system in the trade.
3. Is this the year Joel Zumaya(notes) finally puts it back together? Ever since he posted that incredible 2006 season, it's been one disappointment after another for the flamethrowing righty. There have been a lot of glowing stories on him posted in the early spring, but Zumaya has struggled with his command in his first two spring appearances, so don't jump on the bandwagon just yet. The Tigers bullpen will undoubtedly be stronger with Zumaya's 100 MPH heaters, but given that he hasn't made over 30 appearances in any of the last three years, a re-emergence should qualify only as a nice surprise, not an expectation.
4. What's the rotation look like? The White Sox are rightly recognized as having the best 1-5 rotation in the division — and one of the best in the league — but I'm not convinced that the Tigers won't throw their rotation into the conversation. Any roster headed by Cy Young contender Justin Verlander(notes) automatically gets a second look and when you consider the potential of the two guys behind him — Rick Porcello(notes) and Max Scherzer (above) — we start to get talking. Detroit will need to get a really strong rebound performance from Jeremy Bonderman(notes) in the fourth spot to make a real claim and the uncertain fifth spot being chased by guys like Dontrelle Willis(notes) and Armando Galarraga(notes) could be real cause for concern. Not a bad group to start the season with, though, and it certainly has a lot of potential.
5. Will the Tigers contend again this season? Of course they will. The AL Central is one of the most up-for-grab divisions in MLB and it's not like it'll take 90+ wins to take the thing. But considering the Tigers haven't been back to the playoffs since their 2006 World Series run and that Mike Illitch is still spending a lot of money on the roster, the pressure will be on. GM Dave Dombrowski has the luxury of having a lot of bad contracts coming off the books after this season, but there should still be a sense of urgency in Detroit this summer.