Next week, the MLB Winter Meetings will take place in San Diego. Every team has specific needs and wants, but anticipating your favorite team's moves is part of the fun surrounding the hottest week of the offseason. The Tigers are going into next week in a better position than most teams -- not many teams have a pair of Hall of Famers on their roster -- but they still have a few needs to take care of.
We all know what those needs are. Steamer projects that the Tigers' top three outfielders will combine for 4.0 WAR. The bullpen is marginally better than the unit that was among the league's worst in 2014. The back of the rotation is still a question mark.
Unfortunately, everything we have heard suggests that the Tigers won't be adding too much salary onto the team's payroll. there hasn't been any mention of the luxury tax, but it seems that the Tigers are treating it as a hard cap. Instead of continuing to beg for Andrew Miller, I want to identify some specific areas that the Tigers could reasonably expect to improve during the Winter Meetings.
Despite our pleas for a strict platoon, it seems that the Tigers as currently constructed see Rajai Davis as a borderline everyday player. They showed plenty of confidence in his abilities when they traded Austin Jackson away in the David Price trade. His $5 million salary also carries a bit of weight. He was only worth 1.4 WAR last season and his platoon splits are as drastic as anyone on the roster, but the team seems satisfied enough with his glove and speed to partially ignore his .277 wOBA against right-handed pitchers last season.
This doesn't mean that Rajai will be the full-time left fielder, though. Davis may split time between left field and center, potentially spelling Anthony Gose when the Tigers face a lefty. Assuming Tyler Collins is on the bench, the Tigers may look to pick up a right-handed hitting outfielder next week. Michael Morse will be far too expensive, but there are several cheaper options available. Chris Denorfia, Ryan Ludwick, Scott Hairston, and Reed Johnson are all free agents. Signing one of these players -- or a similar lefty-mashing option -- gives the Tigers a reasonable upgrade against left-handed pitching and a potential bat off the bench to use in a critical situation. Instead of burning his backup catcher as a pinch hitter, Brad Ausmus could use his right-handed outfielder in a key spot.
Let's face it: Andrew Miller isn't walking through that door. Neither is Sergio Romo, David Robertson, or Francisco Rodriguez. The only relief pitcher the Tigers have been linked to in the past couple weeks is Ronald Belisario. This tells you all you need to know about the Tigers' willingness to spend on the 'pen.
This doesn't mean that they are done adding pieces, though. The Tigers could use a left-handed pitcher to replace Phil Coke, who had some interest from other teams earlier this offseason. That replacement could be Coke himself, who probably won't make too much more than his $1.9 million salary in 2014. It could also be someone like Craig Breslow, who has expressed interest in pitching for a contender.
The Tigers could potentially use another right-hander or two as well. Joel Hanrahan and Bruce Rondon are the major additions to the bullpen so far, but both are coming back from injuries. Josh Zeid was another pickup, but he looks to be little more than a lottery ticket. Joe Nathan, Joakim Soria, and Al Alburquerque are locks to make the bullpen, but no one else seems to have a job locked up. There are plenty of right-handed relievers on the free agent market now, many of whom are waiting for the top guys to set the market.
I would imagine that the Tigers will wait to see how everything shakes out this week before adding another reliever. They have a history of waiting out the market, whether it's for a top closer like Jose Valverde or a bargain bin pickup like Joba Chamberlain. A lack of bullpen signings this week isn't a sign of complacency, it's just Dave Dombrowski's standard operating procedure.
Based on everything the Tigers have said so far, a fifth starter falls squarely under the "want" category. The club seems comfortable in crowdsourcing its fifth starter from the farm system if they don't find the right value pick-up this offseason. This tactic worked in 2014, as Kyle Lobstein helped solidify the rotation down the stretch. It's tough to say whether he would have continued that level of production for an entire season, though. That said, asking for 160-180 innings with an ERA under five from the kids isn't an unreasonable expectation.
The Tigers may look to improve upon this, though. They have already expressed interest in Justin Masterson, and there are a few other interesting buy-low candidates floating around baseball as well. Brett Anderson is a popular choice, and recent free agents Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen should saturate the market a bit to drive prices down. This could come at any time, though I imagine prices will go down as the week moves along.
Despite the relative lack of needs, the Tigers still have work to do during this week's winter meetings. Dave Dombrowski has a history of making a splash this week, and with payroll so tight he may shock us again and strike a big deal. Whether it is via trade or free agency, I think we will have a clearer picture of the Tigers' 2015 roster after the meetings are over.