The free-agency period is officially open. Here's how I see the Tigers' needs:
- Pitching pitching pitching. Detroit was 11th of 14 AL teams for starting pitching, which is not a problem that is going to fix itself. Overall Tigers pitching ranked 12th. The infield is not going to be very good, as I've said all along. So the pitchers have to be pretty self sufficient.
- Middle of the order bat. No disputing that. Protection for Miguel Cabrera and a second chance because even Cabrera isn't perfect.
- Corner outfielder and DH. Even ceding Ryan Raburn a starting spot, both positions are open for the grabbing.
- No. 2 or No. 3 in the order bats. (Possibly both). Johnny Damon had a .355 on-base percentage. Ordonez had .378 OBP. To tread water with last season, the Tigers have to match the quality of those players. Only after they do that does the offense begin to see true upgrades.
- Right-handed catcher.
President and general manager Dave Dombrowski keeps telling them to the press this is how he sees the needs:
- A corner outfielder / designated hitter who can hit fifth
- Maybe two of those, while we're at it
- Some bullpen help
- A catcher who can back up -- not replace -- Alex Avila.
He did also tell reporters in today's conference call, as recorded by MLB.com's Jason Beck:
"I think we've reached a point where we know what we're going to do, and it would give me no benefit to tell you exactly what our plan is. We know what our thought process is. We know where we want to go. We're moving in that direction. ... For us, we've started the process, and that means that at times you're already talking to people at this time."
Anyone who wants to play along at home in interpreting the Tigers needs should build a list that looks similar to this:
Some relievers: It's hard to project any single reliever, so I'm not going to try. But we know the Tigers need some help in the middle relief corps and they will definitely find it this offseason. This is a good one to do it during, too. Feast your eye at MLB Trade Rumors. I would expect a couple of relievers to be signed for a few million apiece. That's a good way to go about things, because you just never know what to expect in any one year from any one reliever.
- OF Jayson Werth: He is a corner outfielder with insane power -- it's not just hitting in the telephone booth that was his home ballpark -- and above-average abilities in the field. While he is a few years past the ideal age, there's nothing wrong with signing a 32-year-old outfielder. (Ask the Tigers.) If you want to talk in saber language, he has been about a 5-win player for three consecutive years. That is rare consistency. I'd love to see him in Detroit.
- C/DH Victor Martinez -- V-Mart also brings the ability to put him in the middle of your batting order and forget about him for a few years too. His value is mainly derived from the fact he masquerades as a catcher, and he would likely continue to do so in Detroit while playing as DH otherwise. They say Avila is the starting catcher, but Martinez would get a fair amount of starts there and allow them to move other players into the DH roll, as they are wont to do.
- OF/DH Magglio Ordonez: They'd like him but they cannot put him on the top of their list, nor will he make signing with them a priority either. While the first year of his contract you could see him playing primarily as an OF,by the end he'd end up DH. Obviously I don't need to tell you much about him!
C John Buck: He had a nice season in Toronto after some not-so-nice seasons with the Royals. He would complement Avila well. The Tigers seem like the kind of organization who would be willing to overpay.
- DH Adam Dunn: He can hit the ball. He can get on base. He can hit for power. He's even had reports connecting his name to Detroit. Why might this not happen? He is said to prefer playing in the field and Detroit almost certainly knows better than that. But if he would agree just to DH ...
SP Carl Pavano: He's experienced in the AL Central. Despite constant drafting of pitchers in early rounds the past several years, they still need a pitcher even if they don't claim to. As Cliff Lee is not reasonable as an expectation, Pavano rises in the list of possibilities. OR:
SP Jorge de la Rosa: Jesse Behr of Baseball Prospectus throws him in as another starting pitching candidate.
Names that probably wont' happen: Cliff Lee, as I mentioned. OF Carl Crawford. Not a need by the Tigers. OF/DH Manny Ramirez.. SP Bruce Chen. (Did you see what he asked for?!)
Now I've said in the past that I'd provide my wish list. It goes something like this:
Starting pitching, starting pitching, starting pitching: It will be very hard to win the division with Rick Porcello at the No. 3 spot, Phil Coke at No. 4 and some unknown in the organization at No. 5. Trading for starting pitching is always costly. So maybe they'll try to hit the free agent market for Pavano or De La Rosa here.
- Werth -- As I wrote about, Werth's value is based on multiple tools. That's a good thing. Besides, he seems like he'd be really fun doesn't he?
Some relievers: This time I can provide you with the names I'd like to see some combination of: Joaquin Benoit, Grant Balfour, Jesse Crain, Randy Choate, Pedro Feliciano. And really, there's more than that. Pick two. Fill the rest of the bullpen up internally until someone sticks.
Jim Thome: The Tigers need two things: 1) A DH who can really hit the ball. 2) Thome not on a team they face 18 times a season. Getting him in the Old English D fulfills both purposes. But only if he costs a reasonable amount of money.
- Carl Crawford: Sure the Tigers don't want a top of the order guy but I wouldn't complain about putting him in the corner next to Austin Jackson and batting second or third in the order. It seems like it would be quite fun actually. He's not just a speedster.
- Ordonez: Sure I'd like him back in Detroit at the right cost.
- Dunn or Martinez: Nothing against the players themselves. But the contracts they're going to get are going to be high, and the Tigers should be spending the most money on players with multiple tools.
And finally we should note the above names are not the only choices.
Notice that all of the above names are free agents. That's because it's easier to fill free agents into team's needs than it is to project what trades will happen. However, Detroit is creative and always comes up with unexpected trades. The list of starters the Tigers traded for over the past few years includes Max Scherzer, Austin Jackson, Phil Coke, Edwin Jackson, Gerald Laird. Armando Galarraga. Miguel Cabrera. Dontrelle Willis. Edgar Renteria. Jacque Jones. Zach Miner. Carlos Guillen. Placido Polanco. And more. You get the point. The Tigers don't mind acquiring players by trading for them. None of those names were players that you would have predicted coming to Detroit ahead of time. Only a couple of those above names cost top prospects. Most cost marginal MLB players or middle prospects. The point being: Expect a trade to fill some of the team's needs.
The Tigers will be busy this offseason. They have a lot of needs to fill. Now we just have to wait and see how they do it.