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Tigers bullpen a top priority in offseason, fifth starter spot could get competitive

The Tigers will focus on the bullpen, nailing down center field, and securing a left-handed hitter in the offseason, as well as considering their farm system for a fifth starter if needed.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

DETROIT — A little over a week after the Tigers' season came to an end October 5, president and GM Dave Dombrowski held his end of the season press conference and addressed both the 2014 season, as well as looking forward to 2015.

While Dombrowski would comment on the recently-ended season, he was limited with what information he would give out regarding those about to enter free agency. Whether the Tigers pursue someone outside their organization for a fifth starter has yet to be determined as the results of free agency would dictate their next course of events. However, internal options would be considered.

Dombrowski was, however, quick to discuss areas the Tigers would focus on for improvement in the offseason. Specifically, they would be focusing on three areas; the bullpen, center field, and left-handed hitting.

"One is solidifying our center field situation," Dombrowski said. "This is in no particular order. Either a left-handed hitter to go with Rajai (Davis) or somebody to be a full-time center fielder."

Davis' natural position isn't in center field, but he did "alright" as he adapted to the position full time when former Tiger Austin Jackson went to the Mariners in the three-team trade for David Price. Of importance, Davis provided the Tigers speed on the basepaths and proved to be helpful in distracting opposing pitchers simply by his presence. Dombrowski noted it was a significant loss to the team when Davis was sidelined in the postseason for a Grade 1 pubic symphysis strain.

"Secondly, our bullpen to be improved, production from our bullpen," he said. "Some of that can come from internal."

Bruce Rondon, who missed the 2014 season for Tommy John surgery, is healthy and has recovered. The Tigers fully expect he will be ready to go next spring and he has spent the duration of his recovery in Florida. Dombrowski acknowledged the loss of Rondon hurt the bullpen significantly in 2014.

"Thirdly, somehow we'd like to mix another left-handed hitter in there somewhere, even if it's a situation where — and I don't have a specific answer where that person is going to play at this time because I think a lot of that is determined upon conversations with clubs, who we may re-sign, who may be available in trades — so that's kind of preliminary and I don't really know which position that would be."

Left-handed hitting has been a rare commodity for the Tigers and it may be at a premium depending on how the offseason shakes up. The Tigers will also be looking for offensive power off the bench. That is limited some as the Tigers need a backup catcher as one of those bench options, and catchers generally don't hit for power. Still, it needs to be addressed and Dombrowski said a solution will be pursued.

In addition, if necessary the Tigers would consider a competition between Double-A and Triple-A pitchers for the fifth starter in 2015. It's something they've done before and Dombrowski isn't opposed to the idea.

"Yes. If it came down to that, yes," he said. "I think we have enough pitching that if it came down to that, I'd feel comfortable."

Dombrowski acknowledged the challenges of balancing the bench and the starting lineup, along with the bullpen. But he said that even though the Tigers have a "generous" team owner in Mike Ilitch, there are limitations when booking "superstars" for large contracts, with the expectation that they will be able to perform. When that doesn't happen, it further limits any options with the roster. Pursuing other avenues not so glittering gives the Tigers additional options.

Dombrowski discussed the bench and the bullpen as needing significant areas of improvement on several occasions. But he also said the team wouldn't spend a significant amount of money (particularly the bench) to improve it, largely due to the fact that much of that is taken up on the starting staff and the starting rotation.

"We are a top-heavy team," he said. "But I don't know how that's going to change. I read that, and I understand it. We have the most generous owner in baseball you could possibly have in sports. But we're in a situation where $200 million payrolls aren't what is common here. We're very generous in what we have."

"It's a situation where we're really in a spot that if you're going to have four starters being paid and you're going to have a couple superstars in the middle of your lineup, that means there's not as much availability to do some other things. And you have to determine what you're going to do."