Didn't the Winter Meetings happen last week? No?
It sure seemed that way as player movement went into hyper-drive throughout a crazy week all over Major League Baseball. Star level talent like Robinson Cano went out to Seattle in search of money, global icon-ness, and damn fine espresso. Players as unassuming as Scott Feldman found their fortunes as well. Journalists kept Twitter humming throughout the week with a new move every hour on the hour or so it seemed. Just when you heard of a big ticket free agent signing, there was another trade to digest. Great stuff cooking on the Hot Stove.
As we know, the Tigers did their share to keep the talking heads on MLB Network busy. GM David Dombrowski moved Doug Fister for three young players from Washington and signed Joe Nathan to assume duties in the 9th inning.
These moves added on to what has already been an offseason of roster movement in Detroit. The Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler trade was consummated the week before the Fister move. Jhonny Peralta is a Cardinal. Omar Infante is about to reap the rewards of Cano leaving New York and is highly unlikely to re-sign in Detroit. Joaquin Benoit looks like a goner according to Dombrowski's comments in the aftermath of the Nathan signing.
Simply put, yes, it's been busy but there is work yet to be done. The Tigers definitely have some needs on paper left to address. Certainly they will scope out the market at the Winter Meetings to see what's possible. Whether they pull the trigger on a move or just lay the groundwork is another matter. Either way it promises to be an intriguing week in Orlando even though it seemed everything got taken care of around the game last week.
What kind of "Dombrowski Prestidigitation" is on tap? Well, let's consider a few things that could be classified as "needs" in Detroit (at least from my view!)
Offense (with power preferably)
In the wake of the Fielder deal, the Tigers now have a heavily right-handed lineup. It's one that could use some balance from the left side, especially if Andy Dirks is not on the comeback trail. The Tigers will also be using Jose Iglesias in the lineup instead of Peralta. The defensive gain will be huge and the baserunning difference will help a bit. But the loss of power at shortstop is going to be very noticeable in the lineup.
Certainly the Tigers survived, if not thrived, in 2006 with a similarly tilted roster of righty bats in their every day lineup. But more and more with opposing bullpens stocked with righty flamethrowers, the Tigers lineup is a crew those righties wouldn't be too scared of facing outside of Miguel Cabrera.
Shin-Soo Choo would be a very nice fit. He would add a massive OBP source in front of Cabrera and a smattering of power that the club could also use with Fielder's absence. (Has anyone noticed the Tigers are down to one guy I'd place an actual wager on to hit 20+ homers? Are we worried about this?)
If Choo is too pricey at this time for the Tigers -- which many feel is the case -- there is always the trade market. Do the Tigers have chips left to get Chase Headley? Do they want Headley? After all, you could make the case he's a one-season monster and a multi-season "okay" guy. Unless the Tigers want to surrender Nick Castellanos, they probably can't meet San Diego's price. That's okay. Headley might not be the headliner the hype machine likes to portray him to be.
More likely, a platoon partner for Dirks might be in the cards. Obviously this wouldn't add another lefty bat to the lineup, but it might make the everyday production out of left-field far more palatable. If Dirks shows that he is at least closer to the guy we saw in 2012 (last season may have been partially the fault of a balky knee) then a part-time guy to take at-bats against southpaw starters might be ideal.
A power guy like Michael Morse probably wouldn't excite too many people and he is coming off a lousy season overall. But he is definitely a guy who can do a Marcus Thames power impression at worst and could have a couple of solid seasons left in him, comparable to what he produced in Washington from 2010-12. The Tigers could probably do worse than to give him 200 at-bats from the short side of the platoon with Dirks. Morse might even be a guy capable of a poor man's Chris Davis resurgence impression if everything fell together for him. Morse put up a slash of: .303/.360/.550 in 575 plate appearances as recently as 2011. Certainly given his steady decline since, there is no counting on that 2011 form to re-appear. But in a platoon role, that power could be handy.
The Nathan signing took care of the 9th inning for the Tigers. If healthy, Nathan should continue to be a very solid presence. However, as most know, the Tigers eventually figured out the 9th inning last season. It was the depth of reliable options that caused so much consternation last season from the masses. Nathan is just upgrading from an Explorer in Benoit to an Escalade in Nathan. A bit nicer but still just an SUV.
Depth, on paper, is still an issue. Indeed with Drew Smyly moving to the rotation, the Tigers are one good man down from the crew that ended last season. Call it "two down" if you include the departed Jose Veras. It seems like a safe bet that the Tigers will be adding at least one more reliever this offseason.
Good bullpens can be built on the fly. Indeed the "April bullpen" often bears no resemblance to the "September bullpen" even on very successful clubs. So it will be very interesting to see what level of financial commitment is made in the bullpen in the offseason. Dombrowski has his shiny bullpen bauble in Nathan, he will likely now troll the depths of the relief scrap heap to find some cheap guys who have a shot. If Benoit finds a closer gig someplace, the Tigers probably aren't going to out bid anyone to get him to come back to set up for Nathan. Despite the competition for bullpen arms, Dombrowski should be able to identify a couple of live arms who are ready to pitch 60 solid innings from a big league bullpen.
Cleveland Indians beat writer Paul Hoynes had a note the other day that Indians reliever Matt Albers, now a free agent, may have a two-year offer on the table from "either the Tigers or White Sox." That's nothing concrete, obviously, but Albers is undoubtedly the kind of guy the Tigers will be searching for in this market. Albers is no star talent but he can be counted on to help a bullpen get through the regular season in good fashion. (John Axford is another intriguing name. If he can't find a closer job, he should feel he can get innings in Detroit.)
Expect the Tigers to sign a pitcher you'd mentally put on par with Albers soon.
Deep Rotation Depth
Using the phrase "starting pitching surplus" is a tenuous proposition because it can dry up fast with a couple of aches and pains. But the Tigers were said to have one for a long while. That was part of the reason for trading Doug Fister. The Tigers could "afford" to move a starting pitcher with Smyly waiting in the wings. Well, now that's over. The Tigers options for spots 6, 7, and 8 include Jose Alvarez, Robbie Ray, and Kyle Lobstein.
If that short list doesn't impress you, Detroit could use another option to grab starts if necessary and it would be all the better if that pitcher had a legitimate bullpen repertoire to help out from there as well. These could be pitchers who start the season in Toledo waiting for a call.
I have spent time extolling the virtues of Felipe Paulino twice before so we won't go there again. But how about Jerome Williams, Jeff Niemann (if the medicals are okay), or Alfredo Aceves? Those are the types of pitchers that could possibly fulfill a swingman type of role which could be handy for new skipper Brad Ausmus. None of these guys are perfect. That's why they might be available for a role like this. Aceves for instance is known to be a bit of pain in the clubhouse. Maybe nobody wants that around, but maybe that also makes him underpriced.
The 2012 Milwaukee Brewers actually scored over 50 more runs than the '11 Brew Crew and that came after losing Prince Fielder. The Tigers don't have to necessarily fear the immediate future just because they lost that big lefty power bat. But it might be a mistake to simply stand pat from this point. This does seem like a lineup that needs some balancing from the left-side and at least the threat of some long balls. It might not be "imperative" as the Tigers are likely the favorites in the AL Central as things currently stand, however if a bargain falls in their lap, it's a good bet they'll strike.
They may even "Go Large" and get Choo. It may stretch their comfort level budget-wise, but they have been down that road before. The upcoming outfield class in free agency looks pretty bad next year. No Choo is on that list. Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez will likely be leaving the payroll then. Choo's millions might not look like such an onerous bill at that time. If his OBP/power skill set interests Dombrowski, he should probably go for it and deal with the fallout later.
And, yes, sign a reliever. (or two)