Philadelphia, PA – (SportsNetwork.com) - There's a new skipper in town, but the expectations remain the same for the Detroit Tigers.
The three-time defending American League Central Division champions tabbed Brad Ausmus as Jim Leyland's successor on the bench, and although wet behind the ears, the new manager should have success right away.
"This guy was born to manage," said Tigers general manger Dave Dombrowski.
Ausmus was given the keys to an Indy race car with tremendous talent across the board in slugger Miguel Cabrera and a rotation worth drooling over. How badly can Ausmus' first season go with Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez at the top of the rotation?
It will be World Series or bust for the Tigers, who have reached the ALCS in each of the last three years and made it to the Fall Classic in 2012. They won 93 games last season and will try to break that mark in 2014.
Detroit doesn't have slugger Prince Fielder anymore after he was traded to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Ian Kinsler in a move to free up some money. Starting pitcher Doug Fister was dealt to the Washington Nationals for basically nothing. Key hitters Jhonny Peralta and Omar Infante are gone, too.
But despite losing some key pieces to the puzzle, the Tigers did upgrade the bullpen, which could possibly be better than last year. Closer Joe Nathan was added this offseason to shore up the group after a solid season in Texas.
Another 90-plus win season and possibly a fourth straight AL Central crown is in the works for the Tigers. This time they'll have some competition in Cleveland and Kansas City in their quest for a World Series title.
2013 FINISH (93-69) - First Place (AL Central)
KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: 2B Ian Kinsler, IF Steve Lombardozzi, OF Rajai Davis, RHP Joe Nathan, RHP Joba Chamberlain, LHP Ian Krol, LHP Robbie Ray
KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: 1B Prince Fielder, SS Jhonny Peralta, SS Ramon Santiago, 2B Omar Infante, RHP Doug Fister, RHP Jose Veras, RHP Jeremy Bonderman, RHP Joaquin Benoit, RHP Octavio Dotel
PROJECTED LINEUP: 2B Ian Kinsler, RF Torii Hunter, 1B Miguel Cabrera, DH Victor Martinez, CF Austin Jackson, C Alex Avila, 3B Nick Castellanos, LF Don Kelly, SS Jose Iglesias
PROJECTED ROTATION: RHP Justin Verlander, RHP Max Scherzer, RHP Anibal Sanchez, RHP Rick Porcello, LHP Drew Smyly
PROJECTED CLOSER: RHP Joe Nathan
MANAGER: Brad Ausmus
CAN AUSMUS SUCCEED WITH NO MANAGERIAL EXPERIENCE?
All Brad Ausmus has to do is look to St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny for confidence. Matheny replaced a legend as well in Tony La Russa and has enjoyed immediate success with the club. Ausmus is hoping for the same kind of luck in the Motor City and credits Jim Leyland for guidance.
"Jim has been fantastic with me, starting with the organizational meetings we had the day after I was announced as manager," Ausmus said. "He's been great in two ways: one, he'll give me any information I ask for or any information that he thinks I might need. And [he] also makes it clear, 'I'm not the manager, you are. You need to do this. Just because I'm telling you I did it this way or I like this, doesn't mean you have to say that.' He's been fantastic."
Honestly, how could Ausmus screw up a team that is already loaded with talent and has been together for some time. Ausmus lives and breathes baseball, and also received interest from several clubs before joining the Tigers. He is fortunate to be surrounded by other baseball minds in hitting coach Wally Joyner and bench coach Gene Lamont.
WILL CABRERA HAVE ANY SETBACKS FROM OFFSEASON SURGERY?
The perennial All-Star slugger and Triple Crown threat underwent a procedure for core muscle repair surgery. Cabrera needed 6-to-8 weeks of recovery and will be ready for Opening Day.
"He can do everything. He feels fine. He tells me he has no pain," Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "He's ready to go 100 percent. He looks great. He's not being held back whatsoever."
Cabrera was hurt for most of the month of September and was clearly hampered by the injury during the postseason. He batted just .262 in 11 games and had only two homers with seven runs batted in as the Tigers lost to Boston in the ALCS. After winning the Triple Crown in 2012, Cabrera again won the AL batting title last season with an MLB-best average of .348. His 44 homers and 137 RBI were second to Baltimore's Chris Davis, who had 53 home runs and 138 RBI.
Can Cabrera won a third straight MVP award? It's quite possible since barely any pitchers in the league can fool him at the plate. Victor Martinez has the luxury of batting behind the great slugger, who won't struggle with Fielder now with the Rangers.
Cabrera will also return to first base, a position he played before heading to the hot corner when Fielder was signed. Prospect Nick Castellanos will get a shot at third base.
DO THE TIGERS HAVE THE BEST 1-2 ROTATION PUNCH?
That's a good question because there are other clubs that can argue that point such as Washington, St. Louis, Boston, Tampa Bay and Los Angeles. Detroit led all rotations in innings and strikeouts last season and will be without Fister, who's making a case for the Nationals as the top team in the NL East. With Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez, one tends to forget Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly round out the rotation.
Verlander was just named Opening Day starter even though he had an off year with a 13-12 record and a 3.46 earned run average in 34 starts -- one shy of his career-high set in 2009. The hard-throwing right-hander, who had core muscle repair surgery in January, has double-digit wins in each of the past eight seasons and will once again be a candidate for another Cy Young Award.
Scherzer took home the honor in 2013 and the decision to roll out Verlander in the first game wasn't an easy one for Ausmus.
"It's a decision that 29 other managers would like to have, choosing between two Cy Young Award winners," Ausmus said. "Max was the best pitcher in the league last year. There's a very legitimate argument that he could or should get that opportunity to pitch Opening Day. But we're in a unique situation because we have Justin Verlander, who's also won a Cy Young. He's won an MVP and he started the last six Opening Days. So ultimately all that factored into the decision."
Scherzer is another solid right-hander and avoided arbitration in January. He went 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA in 32 starts last year, but recently turned down a six-year, $140 million extension.
"Honestly, this is the place I want to be," Scherzer said. "I'm comfortable here. I love being part of the Tigers. So hopefully we can get something done before Spring Training, otherwise I'm confident after the season we can completely resolve this."
X-FACTOR: NICK CASTELLANOS
The Tigers have no interest in sending their prized third baseman back to Toledo, so they hope Castellanos is the real deal. The Tigers don't have much choice since Cabrera is moving back to first base now that Fielder is gone. Castellanos saw action in the outfield last season and brings some pop to the plate. He played 11 games and made 18 at- bats in a September callup. He's an upgrade over Cabrera in the field and has been working with former slick- fielding sensation Omar Vizquel. The job is Castellanos' to lose.
The Tigers are one of the favorites to win the American League, but will have some company in the race to reach the World Series. Favored to win a fourth straight AL Central crown, Detroit also has division hopefuls Cleveland and Kansas City to fend off while trying to remain competitive minus power bats in Fielder and Peralta. But have no fear, Tigers fans, because Cabrera, Kinsler, Martinez and Hunter are capable to doing a little extra. Oh yeah, Verlander, Scherzer and Sanchez could win about 20-plus games each. The window of opportunity is still open as long as Ausmus pushes the right buttons.