Detroit – Dave Dombrowski gets it; he understands why fans might be skeptical about this 2015 edition of Tigers baseball.
"It's just a less certain club, and as I say that, I mean there are more unknowns," the Tigers' president and general manager said during a 40-minute interview session in front a large TigerFest crowd Saturday.
Then he listed the unknowns: Jose Iglesias coming back after missing last season with stress fractures on both legs; Miguel Cabrera coming off surgery; Justin Verlander coming off the worst season of his career; replacing Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello with Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene; and the ever-present concerns about the bullpen.
"Those are all question marks," Dombrowski said. "But there's a difference. They aren't question marks to us. It's not like they can't play, it's just that they are unknown and people aren't quite sure how to take that.
"But I am comfortable with this club and I really like this club."
Dombrowski drew a loud round of applause when he said the team's expectation for the season was to win a fifth straight AL Central Division title and a world championship.
"We've won four straight division crowns, yet there is an empty feeling because you haven't brought that big prize home," he said. "The one big difference compared to other seasons is there are more unknowns this year. We've run so many people out there in the past that people could relate to – this guy is playing here, this guy is playing there and maybe there was one open spot.
"When you sit back and analyze this club, we're in a spot where we really like our club. We feel we have a very good chance to bring home another division championship and hopefully a world championship."
Here are some other highlights from Dombrowski:
On whether Cabrera would be ready to start Opening Day:
"He sees the doctor next on Feb. 15, the specialist. At that point, we're hopeful that he'll be released basically full-go at that time. He's doing upper-body weightlifting at this time. He's in good shape, he's watched what he's eaten this winter and he's in very good shape. So we're hopeful at that point he gets turned loose.
"If he's not ready for Opening Day, it's going to be very, very close. ... For a short time period we have Victor Martinez, who can play first base at that point. Alex Avila could play over there for a little bit. We could DH some of the other people we have in the organization, so we'll tackle that as it comes, but we still hope he'll be ready for Opening Day."
On expecting big years from both Cabrera and Verlander:
"They're both gamers. They go out there and play. They don't look for excuses to get out of the lineup. Coming back from that core surgery, people tell me it takes a while to come back. You can play but you don't have your same strength. I don't think there's any question it affected Justin all year long, to the point where he was making adjustments with his delivery and trying to get comfortable.
"In Miguel's case, I know he wasn't the same, but after he had that surgery, that's when people said, 'Oh, Miguel, he's on the downswing.' I couldn't disagree more. It's amazing he could play last year with what he had. The doctor can't even believe that he could go out there and he was player of the month in September in a pennant race. I wouldn't be shocked if he put up those huge numbers that he has in the past."
On his certainty that Iglesias is ready:
"He's cleared to go full-bore. You don't want him to run a marathon tomorrow, but he'll build himself up. I felt really comfortable because last night we had our sponsors' party, they have a little dessert and some music and I saw him in the back dancing by himself. If he can dance like that, he's fine. I'm not worried about him whatsoever."
On not negotiating with Max Scherzer this offseason:
"They called us about Max's situation as time went on, made it clear that he would be open-minded to playing here again. But we never had any negotiations at that point because we thought we had made a strong effort to try to sign him and it was clear he was looking for the numbers he received now, maybe even a little bit more.
"Yes, we did speak to him at various times. But when they talk about a mystery club -- if there was a mystery club involved and I'm not sure if there was or if there was not -- it was not us. We were not involved in negotiations whatsoever."
On the universal inconsistent nature of bullpens:
"I talked to MLB.com's Peter Gammons and he made a great point. A few years ago Cleveland was No. 1 in bullpen ERA. They brought the same guys back and finished last the next year. They brought them all back again the next year and finished ninth. ... I feel good about our club in the bullpen."
On losing Don Kelly to Miami:
"We tried to resign Donnie. He did a great job for us in his role throughout the years. For a manager he is a great guy to have. He comes to play every day, he's positive, he gets along with everybody and you can play him anywhere. We would have loved to bring him back but he thought his opportunities to make the Major League club were better in Miami."