TIGERS PREVIEW: Position-by-position breakdown
Most of their deficiencies have been addressed, most of the potholes paved over, most of the rips mended.
The front office took a roster that had already won two straight division titles, made it to the World Series in 2012, and tweaked it, adding a couple of key pieces to fix some of the weaknesses, and building upon strengths.
Victor Martinez is back at designated hitter. Anibal Sanchez is in the rotation for the full season, while Omar Infante stopped the revolving door at second base. And Torii Hunter (pictured, right) solidifies the outfield, while bringing a big dose of personality to the clubhouse.
“The names on the back of our jerseys are pretty impressive. If we play good, that’s the key. You’re never guaranteed that,” manager Jim Leyland said.
“The names sound good — the pitching staff, the position players — all the names sound good, and now it’s our job to go out and play good. That’s the key. That’s the difference.”
On paper, they seem to be a better team, one more than capable of defending its American League championship.
But are they?
“I don’t know about that. I don’t know about that. I’m saying because at this time last year, we had a bona fide Major League closer. Does Torii Hunter make us better? Absolutely. Having Sanchez for a year, does that make us better? Yes,” Leyland said.
“But you also had a bona fide closer ... last year, that had a pretty good track record, and you guys all thought was pretty good, because he was. You weren’t even asking about a closer last year. ... But a closer’s a pretty important guy.
“I love the team, don’t get me wrong. I love this team. ... The names on the back are pretty impressive. If we all play for the name on the front, we’ll be pretty good.”
Closer might be the one spot where opposing teams sense weakness. After closer-in-waiting Bruce Rondon was unable to harness his big fastball enough to lock down the job in spring training, and was sent to Triple-A Toledo, it left the Tigers having to employ a closer-by-committee scheme.
[UPDATE: Deposed closer Jose Valverde was re-signed to a minor-league contract on April 4, with an out clause if he's not in the majors by May 5. He could factor in to the solution, if he's fixed the problems that led to the disastrous finish to his 2012 season.]
“I guess it’s like a broken record right now. The closer issue is not settled. But other than that, I feel totally comfortable with our team. We’ve got enough left fielders to be fine. We’ve got enough utility guys to be fine. We’ve got enough catchers to be fine. We got enough good arms in the bullpen to be fine,” Leyland said.
“The closer would be the one issue that’s just not settled.”
The Tigers are far more settled in the outfield and at the top of the batting order, though, thanks to the addition of the 17-year veteran, Hunter.
For his part, Hunter has been a big name, a headliner, a marquee player.
Now, he just wants to be a role player on a team that’s filled with plenty of star power.
“I’m not the guy that comes in, wants all the attention, or walks through the clubhouse like he’s all that. I’m just a regular guy that’s having fun that’s going to grind for you, every day,” he said. “Right now, these guys have the chemistry. I’m just a small piece to the puzzle. These guys have already been there, they’ve been to the World Series together, they won together. They went through the little spurt they had in April/May maybe, they struggled a little bit, and then they found their niche, and made it to the World Series. These guys already have chemistry. I’m just a small piece, and I’m the guy — I promise you — won’t destroy the chemistry. I’m going to do nothing but add to it.”
Here’s a look at how the Tigers stack up at each position to start the 2013 season:
(click on the header to take you to the breakdown for that positional group)
In for Opening Day 2013: Drew Smyly, LHP; Darin Downs, LHP; Anibal Sanchez, RHP; Brayan Villarreal, RHP; Al Alburquerque, RHP; Brayan Pena, C; Omar Infante, 2B; Matt Tuiasosopo, IF/OF; Torii Hunter, OF; Victor Martinez, DH/C
Out from 2012 Opening Day: Collin Balester, RHP; Duane Below, LHP; Daniel Schlereth, LHP; Jose Valverde, RHP; Gerald Laird, C; Danny Worth, IF; Brennan Boesch, OF; Clete Thomas, OF; Delmon Young, OF/DH; Ryan Raburn, IF/OF