Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski spoke to the media this afternoon about his off season plans for the American League champions. There was little in the way of surprises in the presser, save for Dombrowski's gushing profusely over the talents of relief pitcher Bruce Rondon.
Before you continue, one word of warning. Take everything the Tigers' long-time GM says with a large grain of salt. If the man held his cards any closer to his vest, he'd be wearing them.
The Tigers will be better because the team will address areas which were "below-average", along with experience and some players having better years in 2013.
Dombrowski confirmed Tigers will not re-sign relief pitcher Jose Valverde or outfielder/DH Delmon Young. Catcher Gerald Laird will be allowed to look for other opportunities, though he could still return.
To replace Valverde, whom the Tigers had decided to not bring back even before his post season issues, Dombrowski stated he feels the Tigers have several in-house candidates who could fill the role.
He specifically mentioned the fire-balling right-hander who rocketed through the minor league system in 2012, Rondon. The Tigers are so high on Rondon, Dombrowski admitted they seriously considered bringing him up before Sept. 1 to make him eligible for the post season.
"There's not many arms like him."
"He has the perfect mentality for closer."
"You would not believe the number of teams that call me about Rondon."
Other options they would consider as a closer are the usual suspects; Dombrowski specifically mentioning Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel, Phil Coke, Brayan Villarreal and Al Alburquerque.
Dombrowski did not dismiss using a bullpen by committee when asked. If the Tigers do elect to pursue a "place-holder" closer, it would be late in the off season.
In regard to Young, their reason for allowing him to walk was simple. The Tigers view Young strictly as a DH and Victor Martinez is already plugged into that role for 2013.
To backup starting catcher Alex Avila, Dombrowski said the Tigers would feel comfortable with Bryan Holaday in that role. He did not close the door on Laird returning, but told him to pursue other options and see what develops.
As to free agents the Tigers will attempt to resign, their priority will obviously be starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez. But retaining him is far from a a done deal.
"We feel signing Sanchez as making us better, but we do have internal options."
If Sanchez leaves via free agency, Drew Smyly has the inside track as the 5th starter. His future is strictly as a starter, not a reliever, as he was in the post season.
The Tigers don't expect to make a huge splash in free agency, but they didn't anticipate signing Prince Fielder, either. Dombrowski doesn't believe there will be a "Fielder-like surprise", but he also added:
"Sometimes, I get surprised, too."
Brennan Boesch will return and tendered a contract. They still believe he has untapped potential.
Quintin Berry is seen as a guy who should compete for a role in spring training. When asked about playing time, Dombrowski would only say,
Dombrowski would not discuss Ryan Raburn's status, he has yet to speak with him.
Andy Dirks has a role, but they aren't yet sure it's as an everyday player.
Don Kelly was removed from the 40 man roster and is free to sign elsewhere. The Tigers would be willing to invite him to spring training if Kelly doesn't hook up with another team.
He did not mind Dotel speaking out during the post season, considers him a good guy.
Victor Martinez will be ready for spring training, though the Tigers slowed down his rehab process once it became obvious he would not return in 2012. Martinez is no longer seen as an option at catcher. Asked what sort of production the Tigers' expect from Martinez, Dombrowski said:
"Is he going to hit .330 and drive in 100-plus? I don't know that, but he'll be a good hitter."
As to picking up Jhonny Peralta's contract option, Dombrowski replied:
"I don't know where the OBVIOUS alternative is."
If it were the regular season, Omar Infante would have been out 4-6 weeks with his fractured hand. The Tigers have no other injury issues.
The Tigers believe Avisail Garcia is a big time talent, but aren't sure he is ready to be a full-time player in 2013. He will play winter ball. Dombrowski's quotes show the Tigers have plans for Garcia.
"He has improved by leaps and bounds"
"We think he has star potential, 5-tool player."
"I'm not sure he's ready to contribute in the corner outfield on an every-day basis. I'm not sure that he's not."
Dombrowski also addressed the future of the Tigers' number one prospect, Nick Castellanos:
"Could he go back to 3B? I guess he could. With our immediate needs, look at it being OF."
We may see corner outfield by committee, including the possibility of signing a veteran in the off season.
"If I had to settle with him (Garcia), Castellanos and Dirks, and something else ... I think you do that."
Bringing back Jim Leyland was mere formality, it was known all season he would return and his manger is ready for another season despite his age.
"It took about 2 minutes. I don't even think it took that long."
"No question he has the energy. He wants to do it."
"One of the best baseball minds around."
"You sit down and talk baseball with Jim Leyland, you'd be floored how much he knows."
"For those who don't like Jim Leyland, if people knew how hard he works, they would love him."
All of Leyland's coaching staff will be back, but there may be a shuffling of duties. Dombrowski would not go into specifics, save for Toby Harrah returning as assistant hitting coach.