Since the end of the World Series, the American League Champion Detroit Tigers have not stood pat by any means. The Tigers signed veteran outfielder Torii Hunter to a two year $26 million contract, filling a large hole in the lineup and in right field.
Detroit also released Don Kelly and Ryan Raburn, and outrighted reliever Tyler Stohr to Toledo. Pitcher Anibal Sanchez, catcher Gerald Laird, DH Delmon Young, and closer Jose Valverde have become free agents. Laird has signed to play in Atlanta and the Tigers remain interested in Sanchez, but the club is not interested in bringing back Valverde or Young. Victor Martinez will return as the designated hitter and bat fifth behind Prince Fielder.
The Tigers have added three other new players to the roster, the most notable being potential closer Bruce Rondon, as well as reliever Melvin Mercedes and shortstop Dixon Machado, neither of whom are expected to contribute in the major leagues any time soon.
Dave Dombrowski has stated that if the season were to begin with only these moves being made, he’d call it a successful off season. While that might be nice spin, the Tigers are not likely done with roster changes this off season. The club has finished house cleaning and can now deal with arbitration eligible players, and they have an open spot on the roster should they find a player they'd like to add in the rule five draft.
When Dave Dombrowski identifies a player that he'd like to acquire in free agency, he wastes no time in getting a deal done as soon as possible. But when there is a general area of need, such as in a bench, platoon, or relief role, he tends to wait out the market and see what's available after the holidays. With Hunter in the fold, the biggest need has been addressed. Sanchez will take a while to sort out, but other moves are not dependent on his signing. What remains is going to take time.
Other clubs have made off season moves and decisions, which may impact what the Tigers do with their own roster. Following is an update on the status of the Tigers' off season plans.
Sanchez status: Anibal Sanchez has reportedly asked clubs for six or seven years in the range of $90-100 million. That would be too rich for the Tigers, but he’s not likely to get that much money, nor that many years guaranteed. He’s good, but not that good.
The Yankees have resigned Hiroki Kuroda, who was being pursued by other clubs, most notably the Dodgers. The Yankees were never a suitor for Anibal Sanchez, as they are avoiding multi-year contracts in an effort to get below the luxury tax level in 2014. Had Kuroda returned to the Dodgers, that may have lightened the competition for Sanchez, but the Dodgers remain interested. They’re also interested in Angels starter Zack Greinke, but so are the Angels.
As it stands, Greinke is the most highly regarded free agent starting pitcher, with Sanchez a solid second. The Tigers and Sanchez may have to wait out the market and see where Greinke goes, before his status is known. If not Sanchez, the Tigers are expected to go with what they’ve got in their rotation, rather than to pursue others such as Dan Haren or Sean Marcum.
Closer status: Reports indicate that the Tigers would be happy to open training camp with Bruce Rondon as their closer. However, it would be very unlike Dombrowski to put all his eggs in Rondon’s basket, since he has never made a pitch in the major leagues. The Tigers’ GM has always made the closer position a priority, not hesitating to sign free agents to fill the role, while never paying the huge salaries over $ 10 million per season.
Speaking of high salaries, former Yankee closer
Alfonso Rafael Soriano declined a $13 million option for 2013 and declared free agency. Agent Scott Boras apparently advised Soriano that he could get up to $60 million over four seasons. I doubt that, but he’ll get big money from some club. Perhaps Boston. Reports are that the Tigers are not interested in Soriano.
Other reports have linked former Phillies closer Ryan Madson to Detroit. The Reds declined Madson’s $11 million option for 2013 due to the uncertainty of how he will recover from Tommy John surgery after being injured in April and missing the entire season. Former Twins and Pirates closer Matt Capps would be a less expensive option, and former Tiger Brandon Lyon is also on the market, coming off a decent rebound season.
The most likely scenario is that Detroit will wait out the market where there are many veteran relief pitchers, and see what kind of bargains can be had after Christmas. That is essentially what Dombrowski did before the 2010 season, when Valverde was the best free agent closer, but became available at about a 30% discount in January. He did the same thing with Lyon a year earlier, and with Todd Jones before that.
Outfield status: Comments made by Dombrowski and Jim Leyland indicate some uncertainty about whether the club views Andy Dirks as an every day player, or more of a platoon player or a fourth outfielder. They’ll open spring training with Dirks and Boesch being two left handed hitting outfielders, although the opening is in left field which favors Dirks.
With Ryan Raburn and Don Kelly being let go, the Tigers could add another right handed hitting outfielder to strengthen the lineup against left handed pitchers, and platoon with Dirks. The Tigers also have right handed youngsters Nick Castellanos and Avisail Garcia coming up fast, but having their young stars platooning and starting only 30% of the games is not the ideal situation.
Once again, the Tigers may play the waiting game and see who becomes available at a bargain later in the off season. Boston has signed right handed slugger Johnny Gomes to a two year, $10 million contract, and former Boston and Tigers’ outfielder Cody Ross remains available.
Other possible corner outfielders who would not cost a first round draft pick to sign include Shane Victorino, Angel Pagan, Ryan Ludwick, and Scott Hairston. Pagan is more of a center field, top of the order type of hitter, and would require a big multi year contract. The others will sign less money, and all fit the description of a right handed batter suitable to hit lower in the order.
Some more expensive options would include Nick Swisher, Josh Hamilton, BJ Upton, and Michael Bourn. Each of these would cost a first round draft pick to sign, as well as a salary north of $15 million per season for multiple seasons. However, it is often the case that the more expensive players sign first, while the others wait out the market. Upton and Bourn are more center field, top of the order type hitters, as are Pagan and Victorino.
Catching status: Gerald Laird’s signing with Atlanta leaves the Tigers with Bryan Holaday as their primary backup catcher. Holaday hit just .240 last season in Toledo with two home runs and 25 RBI in a partial season. His defensive skills are reported to be solid, but he would leave yet another weakness in the lineup against left handed pitchers when he starts.
Among the free agent catching options, there is not much on the free agent market for right handed hitting back up catchers. The Red Sox have signed David Ross for two years and $ 6 million. Mike Napoli and Russell Martin are available, but are certainly starting catchers. Other names would include Chris Snyder and Kelly Shoppach.
The Tigers could, indeed, open camp with the players on their current roster and still be strong favorites to repeat as Central division champions, with a shot to make it back to the World Series. More likely, they’re going to wait out the situation with Sanchez, get their arbitration eligible players signed and look into extending Justin Verlander's contract, then look for reasonably priced options for a right handed hitting outfielder to platoon with Dirks, as well as a veteran relief pitcher, and maybe a back up catcher.
What do you think is the most important area remaining to be addressed by the Tigers?