The Detroit Tigers, losers of the 2012 World Series, didn't have to do a lot of tinkering this offseason with their roster, as the team had most of its key players returning. Detroit's biggest move was bringing in Torii Hunter on a two-year deal to shore up right field, which was a rotating area of weakness for Detroit last year. Hunter finished 2012 with a career-high .313 average, scoring 81 runs and driving in 92 (with most of the production coming in the season's final month). It was, however, Hunter's first season not hitting at least 20 home runs (he had 16 in 140 games) since 2005.
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Detroit's other major offseason move was re-signing Anibal Sanchez. The 2012 trade deadline acquisition went 4-6 with a 3.74 ERA and 1.29 WHIP over 12 games for the Tigers last season and gives the rotation a nice boost, while knocking either Rick Porcello or Drew Smyly to the bullpen (or another team). With top-of-the-rotation skill, Sanchez may slot as low as fourth in the Tigers' rotation. That gives him a chance to rack up more wins, as Detroit's offense will face pitchers of a lesser caliber throughout the season on days when Sanchez takes the mound, allowing them to light up the scoreboard.
The Tigers let closer Jose Valverde walk and general manager Dave Dombrowski spent the winter singing the praises of Bruce Rondon, a 22-year-old flamethrowing righty who has dominated the minor leagues, but has yet to throw a pitch in the majors. Rondon has a career 2.53 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in the minors and is, by all accounts, looking like the closer for the Tigers in 2013. Even manager Jim Leyland has said Rondon is the favorite to start the season as closer, and he'll give him a somewhat long leash. If Rondon falters, the team has solid backup options in playoff hero Phil Coke and the always-dependable Joaquin Benoit.
And while it wasn't technically a move at all, Victor Martinez returns to the Tigers in 2013 after undergoing microfracture surgery on his knee early in 2012 and missing the entire season. Martinez, who has a career .303 average and .840 OPS, will serve as the designated hitter. The Tigers have said Martinez won't catch, but with interleague games the norm in 2013, Martinez may see some time behind the plate, just to keep his bat in the lineup. It's important to note that Martinez, who hasn't been a regular catcher since 2010, will be eligible only at DH this season in CBSSports.com Fantasy games. This is based on him playing the majority of games in his last season -- which was 2011 -- at DH, and not in anticipation of him being only a DH in 2013).
With Hunter and Martinez being added to the lineup, and no major bats leaving (Delmon Young was the biggest departure), Detroit looks primed to score plenty of runs in 2013. That should benefit pretty much everyone, as they will see more at-bats, have more opportunity to drive in runs and should be in better position to get knocked in, as well.
Bounceback ... Alex Avila, catcher
Avila followed up his 2011 breakout season (.295, 19 home runs) with a major fall in nearly every offensive category, hitting just .243 with nine home runs in 367 at-bats. Granted, Avila dealt with a litany of injuries in 2012, including a hamstring strain, patellar tendinitis, a concussion and a wrist injury. But Avila started off cold, with a .220 average at the end of April, so we can't blame it all on injuries. It's tough to consider Avila's 2011 a fluke, especially given the success he had in the minor leagues with power and average. And with Martinez and Hunter in the mix, Avila will see better pitches and have more opportunities to drive in runs and score. He's worth a late shot in deeper mixed leagues.
Impact Prospect ... Bruce Rondon, relief pitcher
We've seen plenty of young and/or unheralded pitchers claim the closer role on several teams recently -- Ernesto Frieri, Tom Wilhelmsen, Jordan Walden, Addison Reed, Glen Perkins and
Sleeper ... Omar Infante, second baseman
On a stacked team like the Tigers, it's somewhat difficult to peg a player as a sleeper, just because essentially every player is a known commodity. But Omar Infante, he of the super-hot 2012 start with the Marlins, could slip through a lot of cracks. He plays a shallow position (second base) and managed double-digits in both home runs (12) and steals (17) last year. While he probably won't reach those heights again -- it was just the second time in his career he had more than 10 steals or home runs -- Infante has only seen 500 at-bats three times in his career, so he should be able to at least get close. Additionally, Infante has a .291 batting average over the past five seasons -- his dependability in that category is woefully underrated. A second baseman who plays every day, all but guarantees a .280 average and could put up a 15/15 season should have more value than Infante currently does, giving him legitimate sleeper status for 2013.
Outside of Rondon, the prospect most likely to make an impact in 2013 is outfielder Avisail Garcia, a 21-year-old who appeared in 23 games for Detroit last year, hitting .319 in 47 at-bats. At 6-foot-4 and (listed at) 240 pounds, Garcia has been compared to fellow Venezuelan Miguel Cabrera, who has taken the young Garcia under his wing. And just like a young Cabrera, Garcia has not only shown an ability to hit for power in the minors, but he also has some speed, with three straight seasons of 14 or more steals. Garcia made the jump from Double-A to the majors last year and landed on the postseason roster, proving he could play at both the major league level and in high-pressure situations (Garcia hit .261 in 23 postseason at-bats). Garcia's best bet for playing time would be wresting away the left field job from Andy Dirks, something that is unlikley, but still possible. ... Pitcher Casey Crosby had a tough debut for Detroit, with a 9.49 ERA in three starts. A top prospect in the system, Crosby has the potential to be solid, but won't be pitching much this year outside of injury callups or doubleheaders. ... The big name in Detroit's system is Nick Castellanos, whose name you may recognize as the prospect Detroit has refused to trade in would-be high-profile deals. He has performed at every level so far and should start turning those 68 doubles he's hit over the last two seasons into home run power this year. He's still at least a year off from the majors, but makes for a solid keeper pick.