Detroit went into the Winter Meetings needing to shore up their starting rotation, bullpen and corner outfield positions. They look like they're going to come out of the Winter Meetings needing to shore up ... all of those things. After several eventful years, this year's biggest move was the signing of a relief pitcher who spent time in Japan and Korea.
No, Chicken Little, the sky isn't falling. The Tigers clearly didn't feel comfortable with the prices and contracts being handed out during the past six days or so. General Manager Dave Dombrowski said as much himself, telling MLB.com's Jason Beck, and defeating a popular meme:
"We have a wonderful owner, to me as fine as anybody in baseball," Dombrowski said. "When you put together your club, short of a couple clubs, you can only have so many players that are making $20 million a year. We have two. So sometimes you choose those two and build around them. When you're doing it, it's always a combination of trying to put everything together."
In short, the Tigers have a budget and cannot justify a contract like Carl Crawford or Cliff Lee will rightfully net. They can afford the likes of Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, but past that contracts have to be reasonable. Which makes sense, especially if they want to keep young players like Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer when they are eligible to become free agents in a couple of years.
Does that mean the Tigers are done spending this offseason? Of course not. They remain in the hunt for a player like Magglio Ordonez, whose salary and required number of years are both much more reasonable and palatable than the true stars of this weak offseason crop of free agents. They could also follow up on trade talks that we don't know about to add some talent after the meetings.
What it means is that Dombrowski and his team sized up the available players this offseason and decided they didn't feel comfortable setting the roster for the next several years. Practically speaking, that's what adding a player on a six- or seven-year deal worth $18+ million a year would have done. There'd be very little wriggle room in years to come, because so much money would be tied up in such few contracts and so little comes off the rolls in future years. And again it must be mentioned: The Tigers operate under a budget. If you don't believe that by now, you aren't paying attention. The facts speak for themselves.
That's not necessarily a bad thing. The Tigers' spending got out of hand during the years between 2006-08. What did it get them? How many players available as free agents or otherwise did they decide not to look at because they were already tied to contracts at certain positions. We'll never know the exacts, but I'm guessing it was more than zero. So if Dombrowski and Ilitch didn't feel quite comfortable enough with the terms being discussed for the major free agents, that's fine. Frankly, I think a lot of us agree with them!
Do they still need to find a few players? Of course. Will they find some "close enough" players whose desperation maybe rises a bit as the baseball season grows nearer? If necessary. In the end, they'll have more flexibility and a stronger organization top to bottom because they learned their lessons. That's fine by me. It should be fine by you, too.
The Winter Meetings were boring this year. But sometimes it's the moves you don't make that are the best ones of all.