The Tigers 2013 rotation is considered one of the best in the American League, if not all of baseball, and why not?  Justin Verlander leads the way, and last season Max Scherzer showed signs that he is developing into a co-ace.

Dave Dombrowski also found a way to sign Anibal Sanchez and bring him back to Detroit after a strong stretch run and post-season in 2012.

The trio has garnered many of the headlines this off-season, especially during the club's recently completed caravan and TigerFest.  Yet, the Tigers playoff runs each of the last two years may not have been possible without one of Dombrowski's most successful trades since taking over as President, CEO and GM in 2002.

The deal to bring Doug Fister to Detroit in 2011 was not greeted with much fanfare.  In fact, no one predicted Fister would actually pitch better than Verlander the final month of 2011.

Fister is not a loud, look-at-me, type of personality.  During the caravan, he seemed to blend into the background.  Yet, his contributions to the last two playoff runs have been front and center.

Fister is 8-2 with a 1.73 ERA in the last two Septembers combined.  When it mattered the most, he was as dominant as anyone down the stretch. 

The last two seasons overall, only Verlander (2.52), Jared Weaver (2.59), Jeremy Hellickson (3.02) and David Price (3.04) have a lower ERA than Fister (3.12).

Examining the trade to this point, it appears the Tigers have gotten great value for the pieces they gave up.  The Tigers parted with outfielder Casper Wells, pitchers Charlie Furbush and Chance Ruffin and third base prospect Francisco Martinez.

Here is a look at the production the Mariners received in return:

                                                                   2012 statistics

Casper Wells  SEA                              93 games  (.228-10-36  .302 OBP)  
Charlie Furbush  SEA                          48 games   (5-2  2.72  0.95 WHIP)   
Chance Ruffin  TACOMA  (AAA)           50 games  (0-5  5.99  1.557 WHIP)
Francisco Martinez  JACKSON (AA)       95 games  (.227-2-23  .315 OBP)

Furbush has blossomed into one of the better left-handers in the American League, but overall the trade at this point is clearly tilted in the Tigers direction.  When you factor in the importance of the games in which Fister has pitched, the trade has yielded far more than many Tigers fans anticipated.

Martinez still has plenty of upside and Ruffin is a former first round pick, so the jury is still out at this point, but for the time being, count this deal as one of Dombrowski's best.  It looks even better when you consider Fister is only 28 and under team control through 2015

Interviewing Miguel Cabrera at TigerFest
The first signs of a new baseball season in Detroit begin to surface with the club's annual Caravan and TigerFest.  The Caravan took place Thursday and Friday and included stops in the Metro Detroit area as well as Mid-Michigan and the West side of the state.  Most stops usually produce a lot of laughs and some good insight as well from players, coaches and managers.

The funniest moments usually come during the fan question and answer portion of the programs.  Here are my top moments from this year's Caravan.

Question for Manager Jim Leyland:  "Skip would you consider coming over sometime for a beer?"
Leyland:  "If we don't win, I'll come over for a lot of them."

Question for Max Scherzer:  "Do you have any superstitions?"
Scherzer:  I do, but I don't like talking about them.  I'm superstitious about my superstitions.  I can tell you that if I have a winning streak, I wear my shorts on backwards until I lose."

A little too much info there, Max.

Question for Torii Hunter "Do you like to golf?"
Hunter:  "I'm not that good.  I'm more like Tiger Hood."

Phil Coke telling the story of when he struck out Miguel Cabrera.
Coke:  "We were talking about hitting in the clubhouse one day and Miggy asked me if I ever faced him.  I said that I did as a rookie. 

"What I do, hit home run?"
"No Miggy, no home run."

"Double for sure."
"No Papi, no double either."

"You walk me like a sissy?"
"No, I didn't walk you."

"What I do then?"
"I struck you out on a back-foot slider."

"Ahhh, no wonder, I no remember my at bats against horse(bleep) pitchers."

Cabrera wondered why Alex Avila didn't work out with him this off-season in Miami like years past.
Avila:  He won the MVP and Triple Crown last year, there's not a whole lot more I can teach him."

And finally,

A little girl on her family meeting Phil Coke in spring training last March:
"We kind of had a weird experience with him."

Welcome to our world young lady!

The one thing that I have learned over the past five years is that the list of people that don't like Don Kelly is a very short one.  In fact, I can't find anyone to put on the list. 

Kelly is the definition of overachiever.  He didn't play Division 1 college baseball, instead reaching All-American status at NAIA Point Park University in Pittsburgh.

Kelly has always been one of Jim Leyland's favorites.  He can play multiple infield and outfield positions and provides the roster with the flexibility that all managers love.

He's not a star player, but has been involved in many of the Tigers biggest moments the past two years. 

There is the solo homer he hit off Trevor Cahill of the A's in the 7th inning of the September 16th game in 2011, giving the Tigers an insurance run in a 3-1 division clinching win in Oakland.

There is the home run in a clinching Game 5 of the 2011 ALDS off Ivan Nova, helping the Tigers eliminate the Yankees. 

The game-winning, bases loaded sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth inning last October, to send the Tigers to a 2-0 lead in the ALDS.

And, one of my favorite moments, the night Kelly donned the catcher's equipment and subbed for the injured Victor Martinez in a lopsided loss to the Giants.  Kelly caught six innings that night, which was three days after he made his first appearance on the mound, pitching against the New York Mets.

So, by signing a minor-league deal with an invite to camp, Kelly potentially keeps alive his Tigers career.

Here is the complete list of non-roster invitees announced by the Tigers:

Trevor Bell, Shawn Hill, Michael Morrison, Jose Alvarez, Kenny Faulk, Ryan Robowski, Curt Casali, Brad Davis, James McCann, Argenis Diaz, Eugenio Suarez, Tyler Collins, Daniel Fields, Nick Castellanos, Don Kelly, Kevin Russo, Matt Tuiasosopo

Baseball can't be too far away.   The Tigers today announced the 2013 Caravan schedule which will begin on Thursday, January 24th.

Two separate buses are scheduled for stops in metro Detroit and northern Michigan.  I'll be rolling on the metro bus.  Here is the complete list of stops courtesy of the Tigers press release:

Metro Bus

Thursday, January 24
1:00-2:30 p.m.                GM Heritage Center
                        GM Heritage Center                                                      6400 Center Drive, Sterling Heights
·        Tigers players will tour a showcase of heritage, classic, race car and concept vehicles
·        Photo opportunity with invited guests including local servicemen and women

1:30-2:15 p.m.                Red Robin
                        Red Robin                                                    31805 John R. Road, Madison Heights
·        Two tigers players will serve as celebrity waiters for customers at Red Robin

1:35-2:05 p.m.                Holocaust Memorial Center
                        Holocaust Memorial Center                                 28123 Orchard Lake Road, Farmington Hills
·        Tigers players will receive an orientation of the Holocaust Memorial Center

2:30-3:45 p.m.                The Detroit Arsenal Family and MWR at the US Army Garrison
                        US Army Garrison                                                       6501 E. 11 Mile Road, Warren
·        Tigers players will tour the Ground Systems Power and Energy Lab (GSPEL), a new one-of-a-kind facility that addresses the emerging power and energy challenges facing the Army’s next generation of ground vehicles
·        Players will observe and participate in a tactical robot demonstration
·        Players will participate in an interactive question and answer session with soldiers, Veterans and employees
3:15-4:30 p.m.                 West Bloomfield Police Department
                        West Bloomfield Police Department                 4530 Walnut Lake Road, West Bloomfield Township
·        Tigers players will attend a meet and greet with officers of the West Bloomfield Police Department to give thanks for their service to the community and to honor fallen Sergeant Patrick O’ Rourke

4:00-4:40 p.m.                 Royal Oak Fire Station #2
                        Royal Oak Fire Station #2                                            31000 Woodward Ave, Royal Oak
·        Tigers players will attend a meet and greet dinner with firefighters of Royal Oak Fire Station #2 to give thanks for their service to the community

4:00-6:00 p.m.                Palladium 12 Theatre in Birmingham
                        Palladium 12 Theatre in Birmingham                          250 N. Old Woodward Ave., Birmingham
·        Rally featuring Tigers players will include an interactive question and answer session, games, raffle prizes, giveaways and more
·        FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC (Program begins at 5:00 p.m.)

4:00-6:00 p.m.                Royal Oak Middle School
                        Royal Oak Middle School                                         709 N. Washington Ave., Royal Oak
·        Interactive question-and-answer session with parents and students about anti-bullying
·        The winners of the Detroit Tigers Anti-Bullying Essay/Story Contest in partnership with Detroit Newspapers in Education and Michigan K.I.D.S will be announced
·        FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC (tickets no longer available)

5:15-6:00 p.m.                Hockeytown Authentics
                        Hockeytown Authentics                                                1845 East Big Beaver Road, Troy
·        Fans have the opportunity to take a photo with two Tigers players
·        A collection to benefit fire victims will be administered by the American Red Cross  

Friday, January 25
10:00-11:30 a.m.        United States Coast Guard
                        United States Coast Guard                                                  110 Mount Elliott Street, Detroit
·        Tigers will headline a rally, including an interactive question and answer session with members of the U.S. Coast Guard and Veterans from the Tuskegee Airmen and Montford Pointe Marines

10:30-11:00a.m.        Dunkin Donuts
                        Dunkin Donuts                                                              29285 Southfield Road, Southfield
·        Two tigers players will serve as celebrity baristas for customers at Dunkin Donuts  

11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.           DMC Children’s Hospital of Michigan
                        DMC Children's Hospital of Michigan                                       3901 Beaubien Street, Detroit
·        Playroom visit with patients
·        Note:  Media may cover a short visit with patients in the hospital lobby, but are not permitted patient floor units

11:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m.        North American International Auto Show
Cobo Hall, General Motors Display Area                                     One Washington Blvd., Detroit
·        Fan rally and parade, including an interactive question and answer session in the Chevrolet Display Area

11:45 a.m.-1:00 p.m.        United States Customs and Border Protection
                        United States Customs and Border Protection, Fort Street Cargo Facility     2810 West Fort St., Detroit
·        Tigers players will receive an orientation of United States Customs and Border Protection operations
·        Players will participate in a rally and interactive question and answer session for officers and employees
1:00-2:30 p.m.                 DTE Energy
                        DTE Energy                                                                   1 Energy Plaza, Detroit
·        Tigers players will participate in a rally and interactive question and answer session for employees

2:30-3:45 p.m.                GM Renaissance Center Wintergarden
                        GM Renaissance Center Wintergarden                                      400 Renaissance Center, Detroit
·        Tigers headline an employee rally, including an interactive question and answer session
·        In partnership with Think Detroit P.A.L., GM employees will donate baseball and softball equipment to benefit local area youth
·        A jersey will be presented to recognize the launch of 13 new Chevrolet products in 2013

2:45-3:00 p.m.                Wayne State University Center for Latino and Latin American Studies
                        Wayne State University                                                             5045 Anthony Wayne Drive, Detroit
·        Tigers players will participate in a roundtable discussion and Q&A session with Wayne State University students and teachers from the Greater Detroit Hispanic community
·        Tigers players will share their experience as Latinos in Major League Baseball with students at Wayne State University at the recently renovated Latin American cultural room, Salon de Nuestra Cultura

2:50-3:25 p.m.                Manoogian Mansion
Manoogian Mansion                                                          9240 Dwight Street, Detroit
·        Mayor Dave Bing will share the history of the Manoogian Mansion for Tigers players and personnel
North Bus

Thursday, January 24
11:00-1:00 p.m.                Northern Michigan Regional Chamber Alliance Luncheon
                        Cadillac Grill                                                                                7839 E. 46 ½ Rd., Cadillac
·        Tigers players will participate in the Northern Michigan Regional Chamber Alliance luncheon, hosted by the Cadillac Area Chamber of Commerce
·        Silent and live auction to benefit Detroit Tigers Foundation

1:00-1:45 p.m.                Sweet Shop
                        Sweet Shop, Cadillac                                                   111 South Mitchell Street, Cadillac
·        Tigers players will make candy and greet employees to celebrate the Sweet Shop’s 50th anniversary

2:00-3:00 p.m.                Pepsi
                        Pepsi Marketing and Equipment Center                                                 6200 Taylor Drive, Flint
·        After a tour of the facilities, Tigers players will unveil a special new vending machine to commemorate the 2012 American League Championship

3:30-6:00 p.m.                Christian Youth Fellowship Association Rally
                        Temple Theatre                                                            201 North Washington Avenue, Saginaw
·        Tigers players will participate in a community rally benefiting the Christian Youth Fellowship Association featuring the American League Championship Trophy

5:00-7:30 p.m.                Great Lakes Bay Hispanic Leadership Institute Banquet
                        Saginaw Valley State University – Curtis Hall                                     7400 Bay Road, Saginaw
·        Tigers players and personnel will participate in the Hispanic Leadership Graduation Banquet
Friday, January 25
7:30-10:30 a.m.                Soaring Eagle Casino Community Rally
                        Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort                            6800 East Broadway Road, Mt. Pleasant
·        Tigers players will participate in a community rally featuring the American League Championship Trophy hosted in partnership with the Soaring Eagle Casino, Central Michigan University Athletics, Central Michigan University Alumni Association, Mt. Pleasant Chamber of Commerce and Mt. Pleasant Convention and Visitors Bureau

11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.        Midland Center for Arts Community Rally
                        Midland Center for Arts                                                                        1801 Saint Andrews Street, Midland
·        Tigers players will participate in a community rally which will include a special Dreams Come True presentation hosted in partnership with the Midland Center for Arts, Dow Gardens and the Midland Chamber of Commerce

11:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.        21st Annual Snowfest
                        Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth                                       730 South Main Street, Frankenmuth
·        Tigers players will participate in the 21st Annual Snowfest and recognize the 150 year anniversary of the Frankenmuth Brewery
·        In partnership with Zehnder’s and Pepsi, scarves, hats and gloves will be collected for donation to the Salvation Army of Saginaw County

It hadn't happened since 1996, but this year Hall of Fame voters decided not to elect a single eligible member into the Hall.  It's gonna be a sleepy ceremony this summer in Cooperstown.  Is anyone surprised?  If you are, you probably shouldn't be.  The writers have spoken and I think we all saw this coming.

The all-time home run leader?  Denied.  Played in 11 All-Star games and won seven Cy Young's?  Sorry.  Piled up over 3,000 hits and 500 home runs?  Not now, not never.

Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro were just three of the game's biggest names that were stonewalled in their first attempt at induction.  Add Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa to the list.

Whatever your belief regarding the steroid era, Wednesday's results should shock no one.  Writers have made a statement.  The steroid cloud which hovers over a group of players, whether by admission or merely suspicion, had devastating effects.

The last two days have provided the most spirited debates in recent baseball memory, or at least since the Trout/Cabrera MVP discussion.  Personally, I have no problem with writers taking a stand and using the integrity of the game as just cause for denial.  There is however a small part of me that wonders how many writers denying Bonds and Clemens took a stand in the mid 90's and called for the game to look into PED's and clean its act.  My guess is not many.  Seems a touch hypocritical to me.

In any event, it is the game that suffers.  Some of its greatest record holders may never enter the shrine that celebrates the game's greatest achievements. 

Still, the game is well on its way to cleaning up.  The silence in Cooperstown this summer will serve as further proof.  So will the announcement today that Major League baseball will institute random drug testing for Human Growth Hormone (HGH) beginning this season.  Each player will be tested at least once.

Punishments will be the same as the consequences for steroid use, which is a 50-game suspension for the first positive test, a 100-game suspension for the second positive test and a third positive test results in a lifetime ban from the game.

Starting in 2013, I will use this space as much as possible to answer questions I receive on Twitter throughout the year.  So, without further ado, here is the first edition of Twitter Talk.

Ryan-  You have picked four of the top stadiums in the Major League Baseball in my opinion.  My two favorite stadiums in the game are PNC Park in Pittsburgh and Target Field in Minnesota.  Camden Yards remains one of the more scenic parks in baseball and while Kaufman Stadium has lost some of its charm after the renovation, it remains one to visit.  To answer your question, I would probably opt for the Pittsburgh/Baltimore trip in May.


Matthew-  Tough question to answer in a small space, but briefly here is my path.  I attended Michigan State and studied broadcasting.  I was also very involved in campus radio and had an opportunity to hone my skills by calling Spartan baseball, basketball and hockey at MSU.  After graduating, I worked in several different towns including Peoria, IL, Davenport, IA and Tucson, AZ before I landed my first big league job with the Angels in 1995.


Rhett-  The Tigers have some options heading into spring training.  Bruce Rondon will most likely get the first shot depending what happens in spring training.  The Tigers may also deal for a candidate if they feel Rondon is not ready.  In any event, you can probably forget about Jose Valverde returning.  His post season implosion signaled the end of his tenure in Detroit.

You can follow me on twitter @mario_impemba