DETROIT — Tigers president and GM Dave Dombrowski spoke of Torii Hunter's value in the clubhouse, and he'd "love" nothing more than to have soon-to-be free agent Victor Martinez re-sign with the team. But that's as far as Dombrowski was willing to go in discussing any matters related to all of the Tigers' upcoming free agents.
Dombrowski said the team hasn't made a decision regarding Martinez or any of the remaining free agents on the team, as well as any options the Tigers will or will not pick up. That includes reliever Joakim Soria and veteran starting catcher Alex Avila.
"We have not had those conversations yet," he said. "I think we have had some general dialogue. John (Westhoff, legal counsel for baseball operations) may have had it with agents, but it being so quick after the season, I think that would be something we would tackle right after the World Series, when people can officially enter free agency."
The Tigers will get first crack at retaining Martinez when the World Series ends, as well as veteran Torii Hunter who is debating retirement. The Tigers have five days to get a deal worked out before all enter free agency, some whom aren't too hot on the idea of leaving the team. That includes the Tigers' best starting pitcher of the 2014 season, Max Scherzer, even though he did opt for free agency.
Dombrowski said he did not know yet whether it would be possible to retain both Scherzer and Martinez. He stated it was clear after the team was unable to sign Scherzer in spring that his representative, agent Scott Boras, "wanted him (Scherzer) to test free agency."
Also adding to the complexity are the amount of players set to come off the disabled list. When that is no longer in effect several changes will need to take place. Whether that means the Tigers will have a higher than normal turnover rate this offseason has yet to be determined, mostly because nearly everything regarding the offseason is still in the air.
"There are eight potential free agents on the roster," Dombrowski said. "Then there are guys we will take off the roster, but I don't know where that will stand as far as the total picture is concerned. All those decisions haven't been made yet."
Conversations between Hunter and Dombrowski have not taken place since the the season ended. Dombrowski said Hunter hasn't told the Tigers' GM he's retiring but nothing has occurred beyond that. Hunter said during the season he would love to come back for another year, but also said he would need to discuss it with his family before making a decision.
If Hunter were to choose to keep playing, his age is a factor. At 39 years old, Hunter is no longer performing to his former Gold Glove standards, though there have been flashes in the latter half. He struggled in the first half of the season, something Dombrowski acknowledged on Tuesday, but also noted how things turned around for Hunter later in the season. Additionally, he spoke about the value Hunter brings to a clubhouse on a daily basis, something that is difficult to find.
"He's outstanding — in fact, I don't think I've been around a guy better on the team in the clubhouse, and Victor Martinez is a guy that fits into that category," Dombrowski said. "There are only a couple of other guys that come to my mind that fit into the category, when I've been around them."
Late in the season Hunter had admitted the effects from the 2013 postseason injuries (including a concussion he played through) affected him more significantly in the first half than he let on. In the second-half of the season those issues were resolved and Hunter played better in right field after the All-Star break.
"I know he gave every ounce of energy he had, and needed some time away," Dombrowski said. "But during the season, he had talked to me, and said he was thinking of playing this coming year. But I don't know what he's decided in that regard."
Regarding Soria, Dombrowski remained equally silent on whether the Tigers would pursue the option, but cited Soria's importance if the Tigers were to pick him up.
Soria got off to a rough start with the Tigers in his first three games and struggled greatly in the postseason. However, he put up stellar numbers in September despite the injuries and limited options to pitch out of the bullpen. Soria had also never pitched in a postseason atmosphere and was placed into high-leverage situations in both ALDS games. Undefined as his role may have been though, Dombrowski said Soria was never unhappy with his role.
While the Tigers found many relievers on the market at the time were married to a closing role, Soria was not one of them and it gave the team flexibility. Stating he would be important in a bullpen that is a focal point in the offseason is an understatement, but necessary. Whether the Tigers exercise that option for 2015 though, remains to be seen.
"Until you announce it — we have which way we're leaning, but we're not in a spot to really say that at this time," he said. "If we pick up his option, he'll be a very important part of our bullpen. When we acquired him — I think in his case and in David Price's case, when we acquired them, we looking not just at 2014, but at 2015. So in Soria's case, we still have to make a final decision, but it's a situation where we look at him as being an important acquisition towards this year, also."