One of the glorious things about doing this job is that you get to write about sports. One of the inglorious things is that you get to cover the team that will, almost assuredly, be the tonic responsible for the deep and unenviable slumber of the October season to every other team in their particular division.
Last season, the Detroit Tigers were propelled to the American League Championship Series, a spot they had found themselves in the two seasons previous as well. By what manner of sorcery have they accomplished such a feat? Essentially, Mike Ilitch, team owner and all-around rich guy, has decided in his waning years to make the pursuit of a World Series championship a personal mission, acting appropriately as a punctuation to a life well-lived. And for that, I kinda hope it happens for him, despite my divisional leanings lying elsewhere.
If 2013 brought them to the cusp, where oh where will 2014 take them?
More AL Central Previews
More AL Central Previews
1B Prince Fielder, SP Doug Fister, SS Jhonny Peralta
Both Fielder and Fister were traded away, netting in whole or in part most of the players that are listed just below. Fielder to Texas was an interesting move, insomuch that it brought back a player who is, in the aggregate, at least an equal performer to what Fielder's reasonable expectation would be (though Fielder has a considerably higher ceiling). It also allowed the team to move Miguel Cabrera back to first, so the Tigers managed to improve three infield positions defensively with one trade.
The Fister deal is a little more confusing, as was noted here at Daily Dish after the deal was consummated. But, presumably the Tigers felt that they upgraded their team without really diminishing the rotation, considering Drew Smyly is ready to step into Fister's spot.
Chamberlain and Nathan are the twin barrels of truth that the Tigers hope can finally sort out their bullpen issues that have more or less plagued the team in equal parts in the regular- and post-seasons the last three years. The Valverde Era has finally come to an immediate end after an interminable denouement without the slightest hint of mourning. They join the newly acquired Ian Krol in an effort to make the impure true again.
Ian Kinsler, disparaging remarks about his former team aside, brings a strong defensive upgrade and at the very least a cromulent bat to the plate. Rajai Davis is a depth play/speed option off the bench, and should provide some value with his legs.
Nick Castellanos takes over for Miguel Cabrera at third, as he moves over to first. Castellanos has had an interesting career in the minor leagues; not in the "Oh, I see" variety but the "What is this?" variety. He's also been an outfielder for much of his time on the farm, so it's no easy shift on the defensive side of things. It would also help if he produced something offensively, as the Tigers will be punting at short with Alex Gonzalez filling in for Jose Iglesias, who is on the 60-day DL to start the season and may invariably miss most, if not all, of the year.
Torii Hunter's aged knees will also be something to keep an eye on; though his offensive production has been pretty even keel over the previous decade, his defense certainly isn't what it used to be, and at age 38 (39 in July) a hill becomes a cliff pretty fast.
The main guy to watch, though, will be Victor Martinez, who is now likely to serve as Miguel Cabrera's "lineup protection" this season. Though he doesn't carry the cache of a Prince Fielder, he gets on base and hits for a good average with good power.
The defense improves and the offense holds serve, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer do their best Johnson-Schilling impersonation all year and no one misses a beat as the Tigers rout the cavalcade of pitiless American League Central teams on their way to 105 wins. They finally manage to break through and get Ilitch that ring he's been trying to buy for the last few years.
Prince Fielder leaves a hole in the lineup that a heap of Kinslers couldn't fill, Hunter deteriorates, Justin Verlander has yet another decline, and Castellanos proves to be troublesome both offensively and defensively. Victor Martinez is injured again and Miguel Cabrera has another nagging injury that limits his playing time even more as the Tigers lose the division to the Indians/Royals in the last week of the season.