By Mark Wilson
February 24, 2015

Sports thrive on anniversaries.

It’s no mystery that I like anniversaries.

Baseball leads the pack on looking back.

Since this is 2015, we can start 80 years ago.

In 1935, the Detroit Tigers won the World Series. They knocked off the Chicago Cubs in six games with Hank Greenberg winning the American League MVP Award.

70 years ago, in 1945, the Tigers won the World Series again. Again they beat the Cubs but this time in seven games. Hal Newhouser won the MVP that year.

In 1955, 60 years ago, Motown’s ball club finished well back of the pack as they duplicated in 1965, 50 years ago.

40 years ago, in 1975, the Tigers accomplished something they’d only done ONCE in history.

They lost more than 100 games.

A 57-and-102 record bought them last place in the A.L. East, a whopping 37 and a half games behind Boston.

The 1985 season, 30 years back, Detroit was fresh off its first World Series championship since 1968 and looking forward to a repeat.

Instead, they finished third, fifteen games behind Toronto.

1995, 20 years ago, began with the elongated baseball strike and ended with the Tigers finishing 24 games under .500. Sparky Anderson was done at the end of that campaign.

Alan Trammell, a star on the ’85 club, was managing the squad in 2005. His third straight season of futility bought him a pink slip at the end.

What does it all mean?

Not a damn thing.

Sure was fun looking back though, wasn’t it?

A lot has happened in those TEN years.

Tram left in favor of Jim Leyland who shocked the baseball world by taking the Tigers to the 2006 World Series, a five game defeat to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer have won major awards. Magglio Ordonez won a batting title. Victor Martinez came close to doing the same. Cabrera captured THREE of them.

Verlander has thrown a pair of no-hitters; Miggy won a rare Triple Crown and Leyland is gone in favor of Brad Ausmus.

Along the way, the Tigers got to another World Series, a four game sweep dumping to the hands of the San Francisco Giants.

They’ve also won FOUR consecutive A.L. Central titles.

But, since 1984, there have been NO championships.

Last year was the 30th anniversary of the most recent one. We celebrated the ’84 group on numerous occasions in 2014.

See? We LOVE our anniversaries.

So… as we commemorate the 80th anniversary of the 1935 Tigers’ championship and the 70th anniversary of the 1945 Tigers’ championship, the song remains the same for the 2015 version of Tigers baseball.

Win a damn championship!

By all accounts, it will not be easy; not by a long shot.

Gone are two main pieces to the starting pitcher puzzle. Scherzer is doing his dealing in Washington while Rick Porcello took his act, via trade, to Boston. Max is with the Nationals; Ricky P. now calls Fenway home.

In their places are Alfredo Simon, acquired from Cincinnati, and Shane Greene, picked up from the Yankees.

Scherzer and Porcello combined for 33 victories and 381 strikeouts in ’14. Those are numbers that Simon and Greene would kill for.

Or, so you would think.

Last year, Simon won 15 for the Reds while striking out 127. Greene went 5-and-4 with 81 K’s in his major league debut in New York.

It’s not crazy to think that Simon couldn’t at least duplicate his work and Greene’s upside is off the charts since he is just getting started at age 26.

Amazingly, Greene is one month OLDER than Porcello.

Rick wrapped up his SIXTH season in the bigs while Greene enters his SECOND.

We all knew what Dave Dombrowski was giving up by trading Porcello to the Red Sox.

Still, the two pitchers D.D. got to replace Ricky and Max may not fall that far off their stats of last season.

Verlander begins anew in the Motor City.

He bulked up over the winter hoping to keep his energy level from spring training to October.

J.V. also enters the first year of that gargantuan contract extension.

Starting on Opening Day, Verlander will cash checks totaling $28 million dollars by year’s end. He’ll make 28-mil for each of the next FIVE ledgers.

He needs to dispel the notion that a decade of pitching howitzers to opposing batters hasn’t zapped all his strength.

The last time Verlander had as few as 159 strikeouts, his 2014 total, was his Rookie of the Year season in 2006.

Anibel Sanchez also has something to prove.

His injury limited him to just two playoff innings vs. the Orioles. Ausmus was roundly criticized for removing Sanchez in Game 3 of the sweep to Baltimore.

My feel is that Sanchez could only GO those two innings.

Anibel made just 21 starts but still K’d 102 in just 126 frames.

He has FOUR years remaining on the deal that pays out at least $16-million per annum.

Then, there’s David Price.

It could be a full year and out for Price if Dombrowski can’t coax DP14 into inking a long term agreement.

Price showed up in the trade from Tampa and performed admirably. Despite his 4-and-4 mark, he was able to finish off a season in which he led the A.L. in punch outs with 271; 82 of those here.

Avoiding third year arbitration, Price got a hefty raise to $19.75 million.

Say what you want, but money is the reason why Scherzer, Porcello and Doug Fister are all pitching somewhere else.

Joe Nathan has another year at $10 million large.

The Tigers’ closer had more ups and downs than a pothole laden Pontiac Trail.

Unlike the suburban street, Nathan didn’t always “get you there.”

Nathan fell just shy of the worst earned run average of his 14-year career. That 4.81 number was joined by the most runs he’s allowed since becoming a reliever in 2002.

He also walked more, 29 batters, than he has since 2003 and struck out fewer, 54, than he has in similar innings at any time during his MLB tenure.

In short, Nathan stunk.

Sure he had 35 saves, but he blew enough games to last a lifetime.

Ausmus doesn’t hesitate to say that Nathan starts 2015 in that closing role even though Joakim Soria is at the ready.

Soria was hardly impressive following his arrival from Texas; same place Nathan came from.

With Phil Coke gone, Dombrowski is hopeful that Bruce Rondon can make a full recovery from season-missing arm surgery.

Rondon, Al Alburquerque, Joba Chamberlain and a host of young dudes will round out the bullpen.

It’s no better, or frankly, worse than last year.

That’s the problem

It needed to get better.

ELEVEN different pitchers made their big show debuts in 2014. That’s a lot for a team winning a fourth straight division.

Among the position players, all eyes are on Cabrera.

Here we go, kids.

Miguel remains one of the highest paid players in the game.

Two years ago, owner Mike Ilitch somehow got hoodwinked into giving Miggy a boat load of cash before he had too.

At the time, Cabrera was the unabashed BEST hitter in baseball.

The aforementioned batting titles and Triple Crown all contributed in forcing Ilitch (in his own mind) to sign Migs to a deal that rivals anything Alex Rodriguez conjured up during his salad days.

Even though I’ve written it numerous times, spoken about it ad nauseam, it’s worth another look.

$28 million for two years, $30 million the next four after that and then $32 million in 2022 and 2023.

There are two MORE seasons at $30 million that automatically vests if Cabrera finishes top ten in MVP voting.

He doesn’t have to WIN the MVP… just finish in the top ten.

Oh, and did I mention that the deal kicks in… NEXT YEAR?

Yes, I have but I capitalized it for emphasis.

Miggy didn’t have a bad 2014.

His 25 home runs, 109 RBI and .313 batting average would be taken by 95% of ALL major leaguers.

For Cabrera’s standards however, they are way off his usual numbers.

He hit 19 homers LESS than 2013. He had 28 ribbies LESS than 2013. His walks were down by 30 and his average was 35 points LESS than previous.

That’s a lot of less.

To his credit, the 52 doubles he produced led the league and were his all time high.

No offense, but Cabrera ain’t making all that dough to hit a bunch of doubles.

This is a guy who is only 31 years old and just 10 homers away from the 400 milestone.

At times in the past year-plus, Miggy struggled to bash ‘em out of the park.

He’s hit only five post season dingers the past three playoffs combined.

That’s in 27 games.

Cabrera left his clutch bat at home against the Orioles. Miggy had ONE measly run batted in vs. those O’s.

Prince Fielder was run out of town for producing just one less.

Plus, since Miggy had surgery to repair his right foot which had bugged him for a while, he’ll be limited this spring training.

A special treadmill arrives in Lakeland, Florida that the Tigers got from the NFL combine.

Don’t give Lions’ coach Jim Caldwell any ideas.

He says the only thing he didn’t do this off season was, “run.”

Well, hate to say it but, running is still a big part of the game.

There is no doubt that, until further notice, as Miguel Cabrera goes… so go the Tigers.

Victor Martinez was supposed to take some of that heat off Miggy.

During workouts earlier this month, V-Mart tore the medial meniscus in his left knee. He’s expected back by the start of the season if he doesn’t need any extended spring training.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that Victor is 36 years old and healing doesn’t get easier with age.

He had a helluva 2014.

32 homers, 103 RBI and led the A.L. in OPS at .974. It got him a runner-up spot to Mike Trout for MVP.

Having a drop off in those digits won’t help the cause.

Jose Iglesias is another of the walking wounded.

Iggy looked O.K. during some conditioning and workouts in Lakeland this past weekend. He was an early arrival to Tiger Town complete with orange cleats.

Double shin stress fractures could have meant career ending surgery. Luckily for Iglesias he avoided that and started his comeback in late September.

By now, he should be good to go.

Shortstop was such a problem for the Tigers; a healthy Iglesias gives them something they didn’t have in ’14.

We all know this kid has the potential to be an Ozzie Smith-type glove man and .300 or better hitter.

Iggy and Ian Kinsler make an excellent double play combo; best one the Tigers have had since Trammell and Whitaker patrolled the middle infield for two decades.

Nick Castellanos is back for his second season at third.

While he didn’t make any All-Star sheets, Nicky C. showed he can handle the rigors of day to day 3B.

His power numbers were right where I thought he’d be. 11 homers, 31 doubles and 66 RBI were mediocre, pedestrian totals but not terrible for a rookie playing just about every day.

Castellanos was tied for seventh in the A.L. with 15 errors.

It would seem that he’ll be better in 2015.

With Torii Hunter trolling back to Minnesota, the outfield is curious yet cautiously optimistic.

J.D. Martinez is back to reprise his role as the shocker of ’14.

From the scrap heap in Houston, Dombrowski plucked Martinez who came right in and made a difference.

When the regular campaign was complete, there were as many ladies wearing J.D.’s number 28 as there were wearing anyone else’s jersey.

The guy became a fan favorite.

Comerica Park was very nice to J.D. and he appreciated every minute of it.

For a guy who spent much of April in Toledo, and hit 10 homers mind you, finishing with 23 more in the majors was huge.

76 RBI?


.315 batting average?

You kidding me?

We should have given J.D. more parades around here. What he did was Herculean. It just doesn’t happen like that on veteran winning teams in this man’s major leagues.

I’m looking forward to Martinez’s encore.

14 months ago, Rajai Davis was a one-line press release pick up from the Blue Jays.

134 games later, Davis was a big part of the Tigers winning that fourth consecutive division.

He came in and immediately gave Detroit the speed they’d been craving and Ausmus was now demanding.

Davis stole 31 bases and dropped in 27 doubles. His .282 average was 15 points higher than his career number.

Great addition.

Dombrowski hopes the same for Anthony Gose.

Also ripped off Toronto’s roster, Gose has stolen 34 bases in parts of three seasons that add up to about a full major league rodeo.

A.G. can play anywhere in the outfield which Ausmus loves.

That’s good because Yoenis Cespedes is almost strictly a left fielder.

The fella the Tigers got in the Porcello deal from Boston is here to provide some pop.

Pop, pop and more pop.

He adds protection for Cabrera and V-Mart that J.D. helped with a bit.

Cespedes is a much more feared hitter than J.D.

The king of the All-Star Home Run Derby, Cespedes has averaged 24 homers during his first three MLB seasons.

Y.C. isn’t young at age 29, but he’s already on his third city.

Why didn’t Boston or Oakland keep him?

It’s kind of weird but both times he was dealt for Grade A pitchers; Porcello and Jon Lester.

With Cabrera still a year away from the big extension kicking in, Cespedes may have found a home in Detroit.

A 2-3-4-5-6 quintuplet of Kinsler, Cabrera, Martinez, Cespedes and Martinez is highly intriguing.

There is a potential there of 150 or MORE home runs.

That doesn’t count what Davis/Gose and Castellanos can add.

Hell, even Alex Avila has had close to a 20 homer go-round.

Avila hit 19 during his All-Star catching season of 2011.

People forget now that Alex finished 12th for the MVP trophy.

He was the reigning “best catcher” in the A.L. four years ago.

He’s not best anymore.

Far from it.

Avila’s average has gone from .295 to .243 to .227 to .218.

It was the .218 that had the Tigers looking around for catchers.

His own dad, Dombrowski assistant GM Al Avila, wouldn’t have been able to save his son.

He made nine errors last season but at least his passed balls were down to a more palpable three from his league high TEN in 2012.

Catching 122 games was right at his limit. Backup Bryan Holaday was serviceable but not spectacular.

Basically it is pretty much understood that if James McCann is ready, he will eventually take over for Avila. It would not be a stunner to see Alex traded during ’15.

McCann batted only 12 times last year. He got three hits.

I think Dombrowski would like to see how McCann does in Toledo. His minor league numbers are fair and he did hit a career high .295 in Triple-A. He’s not a big basher as his 18 career minor league homers show.

McCann has already registered nearly 15-hundred minor league at-bats.

Getting close to “now or never” time for the Tigers’ second round pick in the 2011 MLB Draft out of Arkansas.

Utility players?

Hmmm… that’s a sore spot.

Other than the Gose/Davis platoon thingie, there isn’t much to write home about.

Everyone’s favorite bench jockey, Don Kelly, is off to greener pastures in Miami. I’m only surprised that DK32 didn’t take a job as Leyland’s personal assistant.

Man, Leyland loved Kelly.

Steven Moya will get a shot in utility as will Tyler Collins. Andrew Romine is still around to provide infield help and be ready should Iglesias have lingering shin issues.

Dombrowski will keep a watchful eye on any waiver wire stuff. A trade could still be brewing for a backup bat.

So, what do we have here?

We have a much improved division that features a World Series participant from Kansas City.

The Royals had baseball spellbound with the kind of game they played down the home stretch and into the playoffs.

Who knew they had it in them?

Ned Yost had one foot out the door and the other on a banana peel before K.C. took off like a shot.

Losing James Shields to the Padres will hurt, but the Royals back end bullpen is SO GOOD, I doubt anyone will miss “Big Game James.”

The White Sox got better with the additions of Jeff Samardzija, closer David Robertson and position players Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche and JB Shuck.

Kinda hate to say it, but Chicago is better with Paul Konerko gone.

Jose Abreu, the whiz kid of ’14 with those “Rookie of the Year” 36 homers and 107 ribbies, is the unquestioned leader of the Sox now.

Manager Robin Ventura could be a weak link. This is a cornerstone year for Rockin Robin.

The Indians were battling in the summer until the Tigers took them out.

Terry Francona turned that situation around quickly in Cleveland and he was rewarded with the A.L. Cy Young Award winner in Corey Kluber.

Cleveland didn’t do much on offense.

Brandon Moss, a Tiger killer, was brought over from Oakland and should feast at Progressive Field.

If Jason Kipnis can back to his All-Star self, the Indians will be hanging in again this summer and maybe beyond.

As far as Minnesota is concerned?

Sorry Paul Molitor.

You have to prove there is something going on with the Twins before I believe they’ll even SNIFF a run at the divisional big boys. Feel bad for ya, Joe Mauer.

All of a sudden, the A.L. Central doesn’t look so weak.

For the four years of the Tigers’ reign we’ve heard that the central blows. Detroit can win because the others are terrible.

True or not, it’s not true anymore.

The Royals made sure of that when they took the Giants to the limit in the World Series.

As spring training commences and spring games start next week, Joker Marchant Stadium will be a popular place.

Not only are northern snowbirds anxious to get out of the polar artic vortex blast and head south, but baseball wants to see if the Tigers can make it five in a row.

Prior to this run, the Tigers had won a TOTAL of three division titles.

1972, 1984 and 1987.

That’s it.

In four years Detroit won MORE division flags than they had the previous 41 years COMBINED.

It’s nothing to shake a stick at.

The Atlanta Braves won FOURTEEN in a row but only had ONE hunk of World Series hardware to show for it.

So far, the Tigers have none.

Ilitch will be 86 in July, about to build his legacy hockey rink at “District Detroit” and this is his final foray into trying to win a fall classic.

This year and next, maybe another, but this train isn’t rolling down the track to “ForeverVille.”

Dombrowski is desperate to get Ilitch the World Series trophy he so longs for.

Four NHL Stanley Cups with his Red Wings is nice but he wants the baseball thing.

Ausmus, criticized roundly in his first managing season, needs to be better. He has to make the right moves at the right time and show that he can do this thing.

Brad had no real managing resume when he got here.

It all begins in Lakeland.

If this is going to be a season that we remember with anniversary parties, then the work begins now.

Predictions are for a time closer to April but on a frozen February morning, the Tigers are ready for the challenge. Ausmus is fired up. Well, as fired up as HE ever gets.

“The drive for five.”

That could be the motto.

A fifth division title in a row won’t mean much if a 2015 World Series championship resides somewhere else.