Editor’s note: Yahoo Sports will rank every team in Major League Baseball from 30th to 1st before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Detroit Tigers.
2013 record: 93-69
Finish: First, AL Central
2013 payroll: $154.7 million (5th of 30)
Estimated 2014 opening day payroll: $170.8 million (5th of 30)
Yahoo Sports offseason ranking: 6
Tigers in six words: OK boys, fumigate the manager’s office!
Bold, bold, bold.
In fact, go back to the trading deadline, when Dave Dombrowski acquired a developing defense-first shortstop (Jose Iglesias) from the Boston Red Sox, mitigating the loss of Jhonny Peralta in the short (drug suspension) and long (free agency) terms.
Following the ALCS disappointment, which featured a severely limited Miguel Cabrera and a .182-hitting Prince Fielder, Dombrowski traded Fielder for Ian Kinsler. With that, he’d allow Cabrera to return to first base, clear future millions in the interest of re-signing AL MVP Cabrera and AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer and create an opening at third base for prospect Nick Castellanos. He’d also upgraded at second base with Kinsler, who is under contract for four more years, and given new manager Brad Ausmus an alternative to Austin Jackson in the leadoff spot.
[Related: No. 7 Rays: The flawed little team that could ]
Dombrowski traded Doug Fister from the best rotation in the AL to Washington, in return getting a rotation candidate (Robbie Ray), a utility piece (Steve Lombardozzi) and a reliever (Ian Krol). Fister was 32-20 with a 3.29 ERA in two-plus seasons in Detroit and had a 2.98 ERA in eight postseason appearances, seven of them starts. Bold.
He also remodeled the bullpen, adding veteran closer Joe Nathan (two years, $20 million), as the ninth inning – until Joaquin Benoit nailed it down – had become a headache in 2013.
A lot of familiar faces are gone, among them Peralta, Benoit, Jose Valverde, Omar Infante and Octavio Dotel, along with Fielder and Fister. And, of course, manager Jim Leyland.
So, the Tigers will look a little different, and play a little different, be led by a different man and then hope the results are different.
The Justin Verlander-Miguel Cabrera era has treated the Tigers well enough. Together, they’ve won the last three MVP awards. Verlander won one Cy Young and finished a close second another time. Last season, Max Scherzer won it, because he pitched a lot like Verlander had the previous two seasons. Cabrera posted one Triple Crown season and one Triple Crown-like season. Or is it Triple Crown-ish?
The end results: Three AL Central titles, two ALCS defeats, one World Series defeat.
Except, well, we’re guessing Mike Ilitch isn’t spending his great-great-great grandchildren’s inheritance for pretty good.
The Tigers arrive at their fourth consecutive season in which they’re as sound a World Series championship bet as anyone. They just missed a chance to send Leyland to his retirement on a parade float. They keep running into better teams, or worse slumps, or catastrophic injuries, or something, and always when they are closest to greatness. Suddenly, Nelson Cruz hits six home runs, or the Tigers hit .159 as a team, or Shane Victorino hits a grand slam. And somebody else in some other town is planning the parade routes.
So, here they are again, easily the favorites in the AL Central and, with a small handful of others, a team you wouldn’t be surprised to see party longest and hardest in late October. In fact, you could argue the Tigers are due.
Their rotation – Scherzer, Verlander (who had core muscle surgery in the offseason but is likely to be ready by opening day), Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly – is the best in the business. More than a little wobbly at times last season, the bullpen is improved.
The Fielder trade could feel squishy at times, because he’ll probably get his game back together in Texas. But the Tigers should produce plenty on their own. Cabrera is recovered from core muscle surgery. As a reminder, he’s still 30 years old. Victor Martinez batted .301 in 2013 and was a beast in October. Torii Hunter may never grow old. Castellanos might not be an expert third baseman, but it seems he can hit.
Now it’s on Ausmus, the rookie manager, to lead them to something better than pretty good.
Justin Verlander: 13-12, 3.46.
In Year One of what quickly became the second-largest pitcher’s contract ever awarded – seven years, $180 million – Verlander was better than average. You know, capable. He made all of his starts, threw 218 innings, had plenty of strikeouts, reported that he was all right physically, just a bit out of whack mechanically. He said he’d get through it.
Then he gave up one run and struck out 31 in 23 postseason innings, continuing a promising September trend. The offseason surgery was unwelcome news in Detroit, but everyone seems optimistic Verlander’s recovery won’t bleed into April, and therefore won’t dampen an important season.
The Tigers will be good no matter what. They can be great if Verlander is, too.
Tigers have questions,
Haunting to their very core …
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