Never underestimate Mike Ilitch's appetite for a championship.
While the Tigers loved what they got from Anibal Sanchez a year ago, they didn't have $80 million budgeted to keep him off the free-agent market. But that's what Dave Dombrowski persuaded Ilitch to pay after the Cubs' Theo Epstein went to Miami to get Sanchez signed in December.
Epstein may have surprised Dombrowski by putting a five-year deal on the table when the Tigers' best offer had been a reported $48 million over four years. But Sanchez and his agents gave the Tigers a last chance to keep him, and the deal was done the next day.
Dombrowski probably felt he had enough pitching to win the Central with Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Doug Fister, but for the Tigers, it's not about the division title. They want to put Ilitch in a fresh-from-the-factory convertible for a World Series parade past the Renaissance Center, and they start 2013 with arguably the easiest path. The Central looks to have improved, but there's no comparing the White Sox, Royals, Indians or Twins to the Tigers.
Last year: 88-74, rallied late to win the Central and beat the A's and Yankees in playoff series before being swept by the Giants in the World Series, giving the Tigers a 1-8 Series record under Jim Leyland..
Manager: Leyland is 68 but keeps rocking along, with his status year-to-year.
Key reinforcement: OF Torii Hunter.
Big fun: Sidelined after major knee surgery last season, Victor Martinez joins Hunter in upgrading a lineup that surprisingly was only sixth in the AL in scoring.
Big worry: Valverde isn't being replaced by a proven closer. Phil Coke must carry the weight until powerful rookie Bruce Rondon is ready, which the Tigers hope is soon.
Last year: 85-77, led the Tigers by three games with 15 to play but ran out of starting pitching during a 2-10 collapse that spoiled a charmed season.
Manager: Robin Ventura took a strong defensive team and made it better in his rookie season, with middle infielders Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham contributing to opponents scoring only 30 unearned runs, fewest in the majors.
Big fun: Coming off his first season as a starter, Chris Sale heads a deep pitching staff that is capable of winning low-scoring games. He'll compete for the Cy Young Award if he's better than he was in 2012.
Last year: 72-90, as an injury to catcher Sal Perez and a disappointing performance by first baseman Eric Hosmer kept a potentially strong lineup to 676 runs, which ranked 12th in the AL.