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Tigers fill a need, but more than tweaks are still necessary

Winter Meetings Wrap:

The 2011 Winter Meetings will not be filed among the most memorable of recent Tigers' history, nor will they be among the most forgettable. Over the past five years, Detroit has been a key player in two major deals, but they've also left their hotel suites after doing nothing at all.

This year, while a bit on the boring side, the Tigers took care of a pretty important need when they signed Octavio Dotel to pitch in the seventh inning. That means all the righthanders in the bullpen are pushed down a slot. If Al Alburquerque is healthy, that puts a lot of pressure on Ryan Perry to pitch well and probably keeps him away from close games in which the Tigers have the lead. So, sounds like a winning move to me. I also liked the price: $3.5 million for 1 year. So that worked out great.

What is probably more interesting is hearing about all the deals the TIgers didn't make, the players they profess to having little to no interest in. The list of players they had little to no conversation about: SP Mark Buehrle, SP Yu Darvish, 2B Kelly Johnson, 3B Aramis Ramirez, among others.'s Jason Beck quotes Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski on Johnson:

"We never made an offer to him. Our interest there was somewhat more limited. Compared to some of the other guys I said we really never talked about, we inquired about him a little bit, but really weren't prepared to step up and give what they would be looking for."

This comes a day after Dombrowski said about Buehrle (at MLive):

"Despite people saying (so) at various times, we never had any (interest). We really have maintained all along that we're not after the big, long-term deal with a pitcher. We never had any."

I don't doubt these quotes cause some annoyance to people who are not as happy with the Tigers' plan to have platoons at both second and third base, or who would like to see one more veteran pitcher in the Tigers' rotation.

So where do we stand now? The Tigers are in a tough spot, without a doubt. Of course, a lot of teams would be willing to trade spots with Detroit. It is coming off a 95-win season that ended in the ALCS after all. And it does play in what might be the worst division in 2012. But if the goal is to step forward and not backward, there's still work to be done. In fact, I would argue there's work to be done just to get back to the 95 win mark.

But how?

More and more, it doesn't look like second or third base issues will be solved. Which isn't to say a trade offer won't come up in the future, although it will be hard for Detroit to make a true upgrade without creating a hole elsewhere. A player of Martin Prado's ability wouldn't come cheap, but you can't very well move a key outfielder to get him, either. As far as the free agent market goes, there's definitely no great solution there. There are incremental upgrades, but the Tigers seem to be loyal to the players on their roster instead.

As far as pitching goes, Dombrowski sounds like he'd like to take a closer look at his young pitchers: Jacob Turner, Andy Oliver, maybe even Casey Crosby. (I guess we need to include the less-exciting Duane Below and Adam Wilk here, too.) Dombrowski feels like Turner's as good as most pitchers he's going to be able to add, anyway. But he'd also like to sign a veteran player to protect the young pitchers. So basically, I think the Tigers are limiting themselves to players who are just happy to have a job. There's a market out there for that, and those players can be successful. But it's probably not someone you're going to sign in December. And again, we're talking a possible incremental upgrade by signing a veteran fifth starter. (On the other hand, if Turner emerges that would be a pretty solid upgrade even as a rookie.)

That still leaves us with the Tigers' chase of Yoenis Cespedes, the 26-year-old Cuban outfielder who has a lot of scouts excited. Not much can get done there until he is declared a free agent, and the Tigers will have competition from a couple of other free-spending teams in the Yankees and Marlins. So there's no guarantees there either. Signing Cespedes would probably give the Tigers an upgrade near the top of the order and possibly a little room to make a trade to fill other holes though, so it feels like a pretty important piece of the puzzle to me.

So that's where we stand. The Tigers will never be able to reach the quality of stars now found in Anaheim, Boston or New York, but if they can put together a group of players with few glaring weaknesses like the Rangers maybe they can still achieve the ultimate dream. If he can do that, Dombrowski will truly have earned his money.