"This organization is in good shape," manager Jim Leyland said. "It's got some good young players. It's got some good veteran players. It's got great fans. It's got great ownership. And it's in good shape. And yes, I think it's a team that can compete. I think we came into this year thinking we could compete, and we did."
They go into next season thinking they should contend. For all the questions they face, their key positions are largely set, from their front-end rotation to their closer to their leadoff and cleanup batters. Defensively, they're a double-play combination short of being set up the middle with catcher Alex Avila and center fielder Austin Jackson.
They have the versatility to fit in a middle-of-the-order hitter in a number of different traditional power spots -- both corner outfield positions are wide open, as is designated hitter, and the left side of the infield is only slightly clearer -- and they have the payroll space to attract him. What they don't have is the luxury of a deep market for impact offensive players.
"It's not particularly a gorgeous free-agent list," Leyland said. "But it doesn't take much for this club. This club has a chance to be real good. How many people are going to be going after some of that list? You don't know until you get into some type of financial bidding war, I guess. I don't know that we're going to do that. I think it's one of those years where you try to pick the right piece at the right price, and we don't need many pieces."
Free agents: Jeremy Bonderman, RHP; Johnny Damon, OF; Brandon Inge, 3B; Gerald Laird, C; Bobby Seay, LHP.
Eligible for arbitration: Armando Galarraga, RHP; Zach Miner, RHP; Ryan Raburn, IF/OF; Joel Zumaya, RHP.
Player options: None.
Club options: Magglio Ordonez, OF, $15 million; Jhonny Peralta, IF, $7.25 million.
Non-tender possibilities: Miner, Zumaya.
Position-by-position look at where the 2010 roster stands going into 2011. The arrows represent how the player's 2010 season compared to 2009.
Avila's performance in close to everyday duty down the stretch suggests he performs better when he plays regularly. His performed well enough that he'll get the majority of the starts next year. That leaves the Tigers looking for a veteran, preferably a right-handed hitter, to back up and possibly share time in stretches.
As difficult as it is to imagine Cabrera doing much more than he did for the Tigers this season, it's feasible if they can find a proven power hitter to bat behind him and keep some healthy hitters to reach base in front of him. Lineup protection is one of the Tigers' primary offseason targets.
Guillen may or may not be ready to start next season after microfracture surgery on his knee. If he is, he isn't likely to be at second base, at least not as the regular starter. Guillen could end up shifting around at a few different positions in a superutility role, unless the Tigers have a need.
Whether the Tigers pick up Peralta's option or sign him to a new contract altogether, they want him back at short, and they'll have him on an offseason workout plan to do it. His standout offensive production and reliable glove down the stretch convinced the Tigers they could live with his below-average range, especially if they have a rangier third baseman beside him.
Staying with the Tigers is clearly Inge's first preference, and the fact that the Tigers offered him a multi-year contract in the season's final week makes it a likelihood. Inge's range gives the Tigers a better chance of using Peralta at short without a significant defensive dropoff, though Inge will be 34 next season and his bat is what it is.
It's a big group, but Jackson is the only member of it with a spot assured for next season. The Tigers believe Ordonez still has it with the bat, but must decide how much ankle surgery will limit, and at what cost they're willing to bring him back after declining his option. He could end up more of a DH. Boesch and Wells will compete for spots, possibly in a mix at one corner. Raburn is in line for close to a regular role, according to Dombrowski.
Damon hit well enough to find a regular role, but it won't be in Detroit, which will open up a spot for the big hitter they're expected to pursue on the market.
It's quite a benefit to look at a roster in September and be able to write in the top three spots of next year's rotation in ink rather than pencil. Verlander, Scherzer and Porcello should be at least the best starting trio in the division, and one of the tops in the league. The Tigers have tabbed reliever Phil Coke for the rotation next year to add a lefty arm. The fifth spot is potentially wide open. Andy Oliver is expected to get a chance to compete for a spot after his brief summer internship as the fifth starter this year, while the Tigers might have a decision to make on the arbitration-eligible Galarraga. Fellow prospect Charlie Furbush could be a dark-horse candidate with a strong Spring Training.
Despite injuries up and down the farm system among relief prospects, the Tigers have the depth to build a young corps around their veteran closer and an experienced setup man or two that they'll seek on the market. Schlereth and Weinhardt took major steps forward in their first seasons as Tigers, while Perry found some much-needed consistency towards season's end. Team offcials are optimistic on Zumaya's return, but not enough to count on him to open next season.