After assembling an All-Star roster going into the 2012 season, everyone expected Detroit to just kick the crap out of the American League. They eventually did that once the calendar turned to September and moved into October, but you have to keep in mind that the Tigers were as much as three games back on September 18th, with 15 games to play. I'm sure Jim Leyland's club doesn't want to have to get into a dogfight come September again to just make the playoffs.
Depth Chart (as of 3/15)
C: Alex Avila
1B: Prince Fielder
2B: Omar Infante
SS: Jhonny Peralta
3B: Miguel Cabrera
LF: Andy Dirks
CF: Austin Jackson
RF: Torii Hunter
DH: Victor Martinez
SP: Justin Verlander
SP: Doug Fister
SP: Max Scherzer
SP: Anibal Sanchez
SP: Rick Porcello
CL: Bruce Rondon
The only real new face in Detroit is Torii Hunter, who the team inked to a two-year deal quickly after free agency began to fill a glaring hole in right field. Victor Martinez missed all of 2012 after tearing his ACL, but will be back and healthy for the 2013 season. The Tigers also have a new backup catcher in Brayan Pena, replacing long-time Tiger Gerald Laird, who signed with the Braves this winter.
The Tigers didn't lose much this winter. Laird left to sign with the Braves, and the team gave Delmon Young a nice fruit basket when he signed with the Phillies. Closer Jose Valverde wasn't re-signed and still needs a job, and reliever Daniel Schlereth was nontendered and signed a minor league deal with the Orioles. Also, backup outfielder Brennan Boesch was released this week, but after the Tigers already had gone to arbitration with him, essentially flushing some money down the toilet (not that the Tigers need to worry about that).
Bruce Rondon, come on down. The Tigers appear to be going all in with Rondon as their closer despite a bit of a shaky spring and less than 30 innings thrown above high-A during his career. Gulp. Avisail Garcia had a nice impact on Detroit during their stretch run last season, and could battle for a bench spot. Top prospect Nick Castellanos appears primed to grab a starting role in the majors if an injury opens up a job for him, and an injury in the rotation could open up a spot for Casey Crosby (though he's likely also behind Drew Smyly on the depth chart).
Rule 5 pick Jeff Kobernus will be given every opportunity to win a spot on Detroit's Opening Day roster, but is finding competition from Garcia and maybe even Don Kelly. There's also the question of whether or not Rondon is the best option for the closer's job, but if they don't outright hand the job to Rondon, the Tigers will likely just employ a committee at the back end of games instead of anointing another reliever as the capital C closer.
The Tigers are a very healthy team aside from Martinez's knee, but considering he won't be catching much (if at all) in 2013, it's less of a concern than if he were an every day backstop. That's really all that's going on with Detroit's MASH report.
Just what are the Tigers going to do with their closer's job if Rondon doesn't grab the bull by the horns?
A World Championship for the Tigers sure would be sweet, especially with the incredible roster that GM Dave Dombrowski has put together. With Justin Verlander's free agency looming (cue Tigers fans vomiting), a title for Detroit would be the absolute best case scenario, and it's a realistic one too.
If any of the Tigers core players get injured (like Martinez did last season), you could see a repeat of 2012 in terms of early season struggles. Detroit can't exactly slog through the season like they did last year after the White Sox stood pat from last year's great team and the Indians and Royals both made substantial improvements.
This is the best team in the division, and I'd feel pretty confident in saying they're going to finish first. But the games are played because crazy things can happen. I'll be shocked if the Tigers *aren't* a playoff team this season, and they've got the talent to go all the way.