The Detroit Tigers are only a few days away from beginning the 2012 season. Having won the American League Central Division last season, the Tigers are odds-on favorite to win the division again this season with very few changes from last year’s squad. One big change was the loss of DH Victor Martinez to a knee injury in the offseason. To make up for the loss of offense (Martinez had a .330 average with 12 home runs, 103 RBIs, and 76 runs), the Tigers signed 1B Prince Fielder (.299 average with 38 home runs, 120 RBIs, and 95 runs) to the richest contract in Tiger history (9-year $214 million). With the addition of Fielder, incumbent 1B Miguel Cabrera unselfishly moved to his former position at third base. Jhonny Peralta will remain the starter at shortstop, and Ryan Raburn will take over at second base after having a terrific spring. Rounding out the infield will most likely be 2B/SS Ramon Santiago, 2B/SS/3B Danny Worth, and 3B/OF Don Kelly. Starting again at catcher will be Alex Avila, who will be backed up by former Tiger Gerald Laird. In the outfield, the Tigers will use Delmon Young in left field, Austin Jackson in center field, and Brennan Boesch in right field. More than likely, OF Andy Dirks has won the backup outfielder position over OF Clete Thomas. There is still some uncertainty about the future of 2B/3B Brandon Inge…there have been reports that Inge will start the season on the disabled list rather than being cut.
The pitching staff still had a couple questions to be answered- the 5th starter and the final reliever positions. Ace Justin Verlander hopes to repeat last year’s season which earned him the Cy Young and MVP in the American League. Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, and Rick Porcello form a nice set of arms as the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th starters. Going into preseason, many expected top prospect Jacob Turner to win the 5th spot, however some tendonitis in his throw elbow slowed his spring and sent him back down to the minors to work things out. With Turner out of the mix, Drew Smyly beat out fellow left-handers Andy Oliver and Duane Below for the last spot. Smyly will be sent down for one start in Toledo on April 5 to keep rust away since his first start for Detroit will not be until April 12. Jose Valverde remains entrenched as the closer. Joaquin Beniot, Phil Coke, Octavio Dotel, and Daniel Schlereth were the obvious choices for relief pitchers. With Al Alburquerque starting the season on the disabled list, Collin Balester and Luis Marte won the final two spots in the bullpen out of the remaining pitchers in contention.