Can Tigers' highly paid stars do it this season?

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

It takes stars to win a World Series, Tigers owner Mike Ilitch believes, so he hasn't balked at accumulating one of the highest payrolls in baseball.
Ilitch, who turns 84 this year, okayed the paying of $80 million over five seasons to bring back mid-rotation starter Anibal Sanchez so Detroit would have one of the game's deepest staffs.
Ace Justin Verlander is getting $20 million, Max Scherzer avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $6.725 million contract and the Tigers' other two starters entering spring training will pitch for at least $4 million this year.
Fold in high-priced Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez, returning from an injury-idled 2012, and the Tigers will have a payroll around $150.
A good rotation (after Sanchez was added last July 23) helped Detroit play strong down the stretch to snatch the AL Central from the Chicago White Sox, but a limited offense contributed to the team getting swept by San Francisco after it got to the World Series.
Signing Torii Hunter to play right field addressed some of the offensive shortcomings, at least on paper, and having the switch-hitting Martinez, coming off a left knee injury, hitting behind cleanup man Fielder should lengthen the lineup. It may take Martinez some time to get the rust off, but he took time to get going in 2011 and still hit .330.
Alex Avila had a procedure on his left knee the club feels will solve his tendinitis problems, which was blamed for the sharp offensive falloff from his 2011 All-Star season.
And despite all the talk that there would be a new shortstop, a trimmer and thus slightly more mobile Jhonny Peralta will still be patrolling the position -- at least entering spring training.
Much has been made of the club having an extra starter with the re-signing of Sanchez, but GM Dave Dombrowski has a theoretically solid starter in Rick Porcello and won't just give him away. If a trade does happen, second-year man Drew Smyly is ready to step in and give the rotation its only left-handed member.
Manager Jim Leyland will thus have a veteran but not-too-old team to run in the spring. He likes to look at young players in the early exhibition games so they aren't complete strangers if they get called up in midseason. The last 10 days or so are for the regulars.
His biggest question mark will be determining whether hefty rookie Bruce Rondon, who has yet to appear in a major-league game, is ready to assume the closer's role that got away from Jose Valverde during the postseason.
The organization feels Rondon, who throws a triple-digit fastball with a solid slider and good changeup, has the stuff and mentality to handle the job. But it also has Phil Coke, Joaquin Benoit and Octavio Dotel as insurance. Al Alburquerque and Brayan Villarreal have closer stuff, too, although neither has shown the kind of durability the role requires.
Leyland is going to use Rondon in a variety of ways to get a feel for his personality and especially how well he can bounce back from failure.
While there was offseason talk of adding a right-handed-hitting outfielder to platoon in left with Andy Dirks, the reality is that Dirks and holdover Brennan Boesch both hit lefties fairly well. Boesch, whose late-season struggles cost him a postseason roster spot, may be traded at some point, but he has such a big upside that the Tigers want to make sure they don't make a mistake.
Prized rookie outfielders Nick Castellanos and Avisail Garcia, who performed well in September and during the postseason, are both scheduled to open the season with Triple-A Toledo.
Switch-hitting Brayan Pena has replaced Gerald Laird as the backup catcher and Ramon Santiago remains as the primary backup middle infielder. Leyland must sort through Rule 5 pick Jeff Kobernus, Boesch, Quintin Berry and Don Kelly for the final two bench spots.
The club's other Rule 5 pick, lefty Kyle Lobstein, is competing with Darin Downs for a second lefty spot in the bullpen and both may be left out if Porcello remains with the team and Smyly is sent to the bullpen.
The Tigers enter spring training as one of the handful of teams with a solid chance of reaching the postseason, hoping a serious injury doesn't diminish their odds.
Two years ago Detroit was six games shy of Ilitch's dream. Last autumn it was down to four games.

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