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Tigers idled as top free agents kick the tires

Tigers idled as top free agents kick the tires

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- If Sunday's signing of Jayson Werth was supposed to whittle down the Tigers' offensive options and get things moving with what's left of their offseason shopping, the Tigers haven't seen it.

To hear from team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski, there's a traffic jam in their dealings at this point, and it might take until after the Winter Meetings for the clutter to clear.

"We've talked to a lot of clubs by phone and a lot of agents by phone," Dombrowski said Tuesday night from his suite in the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort, "but there's a lot tied up. People seem to be tied up in conversations. I talk to them, and then it takes a while for people to get back to you. And then all of a sudden, somebody calls me and I'm tied up in something.

"So there's things that have got to be happening. And you always know when there's big guys involved free agent-wise, they always seem to tie things up. And you can see that there's a lot being tied up by that, and I don't know when it's going to break. But there's a lot of conversations. I think clubs are involved in numerous things, I think until they find out where some of the couple big guys go, it's probably not going to loosen up."

It would appear that the Tigers are tied up in the after-effects of the big free agents, not by the big free agents themselves. Though ESPN.com suggested the Tigers had "definite interest" in speedy outfielder Carl Crawford, the top free-agent position player left available, Foxsports.com suggested no interest from Detroit at the current asking price.

Indications from the Tigers would seemingly suggest the latter.

The problem for the Tigers is that another free-agent outfielder, Magglio Ordonez, might wait until Crawford is off the market before signing. By waiting, Ordonez and Scott Boras can allow teams that might have been interested in Crawford to trickle into the Ordonez interest and potentially create some more competition.

When asked about Ordonez, Dombrowski quickly replied with a no-comment.

"We really can't even get into the free agency aspect of players," Dombrowski said. "The new rules even prohibit us from discussing those."

Another outfield possibility on the market is Josh Willingham, reportedly available from the Nationals after Washington signed Werth. Detroit has expressed interest in Willingham before, and his .848 OPS and 56 RBIs in an injury-shortened season didn't hurt his status. He has one year left before becoming eligible for free agency.

The problem in the past in any Tigers-Nationals trade interest has been the demands, normally centered around Detroit's top pitching prospects.

"I think the strength of our system is our young pitching, and so I think you get asked for that a lot," Dombrowski said in general. "We have quality guys and we have some depth in guys, so it's a natural request."

Andy Oliver and Jacob Turner clearly fit the quality category. Charlie Furbush, whose breakthrough 2010 season vaulted him from Class A ball to Triple-A Toledo by season's end, draws different opinions from different clubs, but few if any higher than the Tigers, who see him potentially fighting for a roster spot this coming spring.

"He was second in professional baseball in strikeouts last year at the Minor League level," Dombrowski said. "But he has a solid breaking ball and a changeup. His fastball moves. It's above-average. He's got a feel on the mound. We like him."

It doesn't appear as if the Tigers have gone far beyond that. Though Lakeland, Fla., native Matt Diaz was drawing plenty of interest as a free-agent outfielder and a right-handed power hitter, the Tigers were not among those teams. Late Tuesday, the Pirates came to terms on a two-year deal with Diaz, who turns 33 next spring. Diaz batted .250 with seven home runs and 31 RBIs in just 244 plate appearances for Atlanta last season.

The Tigers have confirmed one set of talks involving a pitching prospect, the ones that would grant right-hander Alfredo Figaro the chance to take his career to Japan. Nothing has yet been finalized, but while the Tigers haven't always granted requests like these, it's likely to go through.

Figaro went 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA in eight games for the Tigers this past season, allowing 11 earned runs on 18 hits over 14 2/3 innings. He walked eight and struck out five. With the Tigers' pitching ranks getting deeper at the upper levels now as more recent Draft picks rise up the ranks, Figaro might have reached his ceiling with Toledo.

Figaro served as a depth starter last season, but that insurance is likely to come from the latest group of Tigers pitching prospects, or any other depth signings the Tigers make. That possibility is likely to pick up later in the offseason, as Spring Training draws closer and free-agent arms remain unsigned.

They've also shown interest in potential back-end starters on the trade market. Booth Newspapers cited a source saying the Tigers at least contacted the Cubs about left-handed swingman Tom Gorzelanny, another player in whom they've had previous interest.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"content":["winter_meetings" ] }
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