DETROIT -- For all the buzz about the Tigers' offseason moves, the fate of their 2016 season rests more on three of the club's longest-tenured players.
The better Victor Martinez can swing for power left-handed, the better the Tigers' chances for an otherwise right-handed-hitting lineup. The longer Miguel Cabrera can remain healthy, the longer Detroit can stay in the playoff race. On the pitching side, the Tigers' rebuilt rotation looks a lot better with a healthy, effective Justin Verlander at the top.
All three health situations played a role in Detroit's plummet from four-time American League Central champion to the division cellar. All three are critical to the Tigers' rebound. All three, so far, are healthy.
"This year, all those guys, instead of rehabbing, they're actually working on strength and conditioning like a normal offseason," Detroit general manager Al Avila said last month. "That in itself makes us better."
In the first part of our Spring Training preview series, here's a more detailed look at who's on the rebound for the Tigers in 2016:
DH Martinez: The AL MVP Award runner-up in 2014 was hampered in his follow-up campaign before he even got to Spring Training due to a meniscus tear in his left knee. V-Mart was ready for Opening Day, but his knee wasn't nearly strong enough to provide the same power behind his left-handed swing. Martinez eventually spent a month on the DL to strengthen the knee, looked more like his old self for a while, then struggled down to the stretch to the lowest batting average (.245), on-base percentage (.301) and OPS (.667) of his career. He feels better now, but the impact on his swing won't become clear until at least Spring Training and perhaps not until the regular season.
1B Cabrera: You know the standards are high when a player has to rebound from a season in which he won his fourth batting title in six years. But Cabrera battled a sore ankle for much of the 2015 season, dating to surgery in the '14 offseason, and sustained a left calf strain that cost him 35 games around the time the Tigers became sellers at the non-waiver Trade Deadline. Cabrera's numbers improved across the board from '14, but he still didn't feel he had the same power behind his swing. He was able to strengthen rather than rehab this offseason for the first time in three years, and he's hoping to translate that to the plate.
SP Verlander: After searching for his old form since 2014 and missing the first two months of '15 with a triceps strain, Verlander was just about there for the stretch run, posting a 2.27 ERA and a .548 OPS allowed over his final 14 starts. The next step for Verlander is not only continuing that form, but stretching it out over a full season. Like Cabrera, Verlander had a chance to strengthen rather than recuperate this winter for the first time in a couple years. If Verlander picks up where he left off, the Tigers' rotation looks formidable at the top with him and Jordan Zimmermann.
SP Anibal Sanchez: How does a veteran right-hander who had allowed 25 home runs over three seasons give up 29 homers in one year? That question plagued Tigers coaches and officials last season, until Sanchez was placed on the disabled list in August with rotator cuff inflammation. His fastball velocity was right around his career average, but his fastball too often wandered into the heart of the zone. His slider, meanwhile, was hit hard. Between exercise and therapy, Sanchez believes he has put his shoulder in a better position for health.
RP Bruce Rondon: It's difficult to remember now that Rondon was on the verge of winning a spot in Detroit's Opening Day bullpen before a DL stint with biceps tendinitis started a year full of travails, from an ill-fated August audition at closer to an early trip home in mid-September to a benches-clearing altercation in winter ball. He returns to Lakeland, Fla., needing to prove himself once more, and with a tougher path to a bullpen role in Detroit. Time is running short for the closer of the future since 2013.
SS Jose Iglesias: After missing all of 2014 with stress fractures in his shins, Iglesias rebounded with an All-Star selection and a .300 batting average. However, he missed the final month of the 2015 season with a fractured bone chip in his right middle finger. The injury has since healed, setting him up to pick up where he left off.