By Phil Rogers, Chicago Tribune reporter
9:22 PM CST, February 12, 2013
Never underestimate Mike Ilitch's appetite for a championship.
While the Tigers loved what they got from Anibal Sanchez a year ago, they didn't have $80 million budgeted to keep him off the free-agent market. But that's what Dave Dombrowski persuaded Ilitch to pay after the Cubs' Theo Epstein went to Miami to get Sanchez signed in December.
Epstein may have surprised Dombrowski by putting a five-year deal on the table when the Tigers' best offer had been a reported $48 million over four years. But Sanchez and his agents gave the Tigers a last chance to keep him, and the deal was done the next day.
Dombrowski probably felt he had enough pitching to win the Central with Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Doug Fister, but for the Tigers, it's not about the division title. They want to put Ilitch in a fresh-from-the-factory convertible for a World Series parade past the Renaissance Center, and they start 2013 with arguably the easiest path. The Central looks to have improved, but there's no comparing the White Sox, Royals, Indians or Twins to the Tigers.
Last year: 88-74, rallied late to win the Central and beat the A's and Yankees in playoff series before being swept by the Giants in the World Series, giving the Tigers a 1-8 Series record under Jim Leyland..
Manager: Leyland is 68 but keeps rocking along, with his status year-to-year.
Key reinforcement: OF Torii Hunter.
Gone, not forgotten: RHP Jose Valverde, OF Delmon Young, C Gerald Laird, 2B-OF Ryan Raburn, IF-OF Jeff Baker.
Big fun: Sidelined after major knee surgery last season, Victor Martinez joins Hunter in upgrading a lineup that surprisingly was only sixth in the AL in scoring.
Big worry: Valverde isn't being replaced by a proven closer. Phil Coke must carry the weight until powerful rookie Bruce Rondon is ready, which the Tigers hope is soon.
Last year: 85-77, led the Tigers by three games with 15 to play but ran out of starting pitching during a 2-10 collapse that spoiled a charmed season.
Manager: Robin Ventura took a strong defensive team and made it better in his rookie season, with middle infielders Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham contributing to opponents scoring only 30 unearned runs, fewest in the majors.
Key reinforcements: 3B Jeff Keppinger, RHP Matt Lindstrom, IF Angel Sanchez, OF Blake Tekotte.
Gone, not forgotten: C A.J. Pierzynski, 3B Kevin Youkilis, LHP Francisco Liriano, RHP Brett Myers, IF Orlando Hudson, 1B Dan Johnson.
Big fun: Coming off his first season as a starter, Chris Sale heads a deep pitching staff that is capable of winning low-scoring games. He'll compete for the Cy Young Award if he's better than he was in 2012.
Big worry: Unproven at 27, Tyler Flowers takes over for Pierzynski behind the plate after first-year GM Rick Hahn took baby steps in dealing with an old lineup reliant on Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn.
Last year: 72-90, as an injury to catcher Sal Perez and a disappointing performance by first baseman Eric Hosmer kept a potentially strong lineup to 676 runs, which ranked 12th in the AL.
Manager: Ned Yost, who is in his 10th season as a big league manager without getting a team to 84 wins. He'll be gone if the Royals fade out of the gate once again.
Key reinforcements: RHP James Shields, RHP Ervin Santana, RHP Wade Davis, C George Kottaras, C Brett Hayes, IF Miguel Tejada, OF Xavier Nady.
Gone, not forgotten: OF Wil Myers, RHP Joakim Soria, RHP Jake Odorizzi, RHP Vin Mazzaro, C Brayan Pena.
Big fun: Shields is as strong of a presence as you can add to a pitching staff. He should make this an interesting time to watch pitchers Luke Hochevar, Danny Duffy, Nathan Adcock, Aaron Crow, Felipe Paulino and even veterans Jeremy Guthrie and Bruce Chen.
Big worry: That Myers, traded to the Rays for Shields, turns out to be a cornerstone hitter while Shields, 31, goes into immediate decline after his first trade.
Last year: 68-94, which forced the management team of Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti to reluctantly send Manny Acta packing.
Manager: Terry Francona arrives with two World Series rings and a burning desire to show he can make a difference, as he did before the crash landing in Boston.
Key reinforcements: OF Michael Bourn, OF Nick Swisher, 1B Mark Reynolds, OF Drew Stubbs, RHP Trevor Bauer, RHP Brett Myers, RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka, RHP Matt Capps, IF Mike Aviles, RHP Matt Albers.
Gone, not forgotten: OF Shin-Soo Choo, DH Travis Hafner, OF Grady Sizemore, 3B Jack Hannahan, LHP Tony Sipp, RHP Roberto Hernandez, LHP Rafael Perez.
Big fun: Bauer, the key to the three-team deal that sent Choo to the Reds, has the kind of arm the Indians have lacked since CC Sabathia was a youngster. He'll be watched closely before opening the season in Double A or Triple A.
Big worry: Swisher's personality wore thin in stints with the A's and White Sox and will require regular massages from Francona to make an arranged marriage work. He landed in Cleveland only because his stock dropped swiftly as free agency approached.
Last year: 66-96, mostly because of a rotation that finished with a 5.40 ERA, the second-worst in the majors — and Target Field is a pitcher's park.
Manager: Ron Gardenhire, consistently a high finisher in Manager of the Year voting, enters his 12th season without any guarantees of a 13th.
Key reinforcements: RHP Kevin Correia, RHP Mike Pelfrey, RHP Vance Worley, RHP Alex Meyer, RHP Trevor May, RHP Rich Harden.
Gone, not forgotten: OF Denard Span, OF Ben Revere, RHP Scott Baker, RHP Carl Pavano, RHP Matt Capps.
Big fun: Meyer and Kyle Gibson, recovered from Tommy John surgery, will light up camp with their potential to become front-end starters in the near future as the Twins cross their fingers to add one of the three top college arms (Sean Manaea, Mark Appel and Ryne Stanek) with the fourth pick in June.
Big worry: Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are both healthy entering camp for the first time since 2010. An injury to either would trigger Here We Go Again Syndrome.
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