Spring Snapshot: Tigers rely on pitching, Cabrera to reclaim glory

Every day in spring training until we finish the entire league, Big League Stew takes a brief capsule look at each team we visit in the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues. Next stop is Joker Marchant Field in Lakeland, where Magglio Ordoñez and the Tigers want to maximize their top-tier payroll and get out of the middle of the road.

DETROIT TIGERS

2010 RECORD: 81-81, third in AL Central

BIGGEST ACQUISITIONS: Victor Martinez(notes) is an elite hitter, especially if he's in the lineup as a catcher. The Tigers getting him instead of, say, the White Sox getting him might tip the balance in the AL Central. ... Joaquin Benoit(notes) was a cheap reclamation project for the Rays in 2010 — and he might have been the best relief pitcher in the AL — but Detroit is paying him $16.5 million over the next three years.

BIGGEST DEPARTURES: Johnny Damon(notes) was OK in his one-year stint, but Martinez is a huge upgrade in the lineup. ... Right-hander Armando Galarraga(notes) will try to be almost perfect with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

FIVE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE TIGERS

1. How is Miguel Cabrera(notes) looking? He's a little heavier, which might affect his defense and how he runs the bases. His DUI arrest dominated the news in the earlier part of camp, and some have criticized how the Tigers are handling his problems with alcohol, but there's no question he's in the middle of his prime as a slugger. There's no more dangerous hitter in the AL. Could win MVP this season, the next and the one after.

2. Does Cabrera have enough support to make for a strong offense? They'll be OK, but the Tigers aren't going to overwhelm anybody. Austin Jackson(notes) overcame the league lead in strikeouts to be a slightly above-average hitter as a rookie. Victor Martinez was a great addition and Ryan Raburn(notes) had a nice breakthrough season at 29 (though he's an adventure on defense). And Ordoñez, now 36, looks sharp so far after playing only 84 games in 2010. But Carlos Guillen(notes) has slipped and isn't going to get less injury prone as he ages. Aside from Cabrera, that gives the Tigers below-average hitters all over the infield (if Alex Avila(notes) is catching — which he is expected to often). That's too many holes.

3. Do they have enough starting pitching beyond Justin Verlander(notes) and Max Scherzer(notes)? Grabbing Scherzer from the D-backs will prove to be one of GM Dave Dombrowski's shrewder moves. Coupled with Verlander, they could have the best 1-2 punch in the division because of it. Allowing for him being just 22 years old, Rick Porcello(notes) has been OK, at best, in 58 big league starts. He's thrown strikes, but he gets hit too much and he doesn't get enough strikeouts. Results say he should have been in the minors the past two seasons. Phil Coke(notes) pitched well in the minors as a starter in the Yankees organization, but he's got one major league start in his career. The fifth guy is Brad Penny(notes), who makes for a good fifth starter as long as he's not in the training room.

4. Isn't the bullpen weakened without Coke? That's the downside of converting him back into a starter. The pen overall should be a strength because of Benoit and closer Jose Valverde(notes), but it's iffy from the left side because Coke's in the rotation and Daniel Schlereth(notes) is untested. Leyland brought in Coke pretty much every other day the past two seasons.

5. Can they count on Joel Zumaya(notes)? Of course they can't. The Tigers have learned not to, considering that injuries have prevented him from pitching any more than 38 innings since he was a Guitar Hero-playing rookie. At 26, he can still bring it, but his elbow just won't let him do it consistently.

Follow Dave throughout spring training on Twitter — @AnswerDave — and check out the Stew on Facebook for more coverage.

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