Tigers have many questions to tackle

Tigers have many questions to tackle

DETROIT -- Let the Tigers' offseason begin, whatever it brings. And at this point, it's tough for the team to predict that.

The challenge to rebound from this year's disappointing season begins here. With the World Series having concluded and eligible free agents beginning to file, the Hot Stove season is under way. With several needs to fill and so much competition looking for the same improvements, the Tigers face what could be one of the more intriguing situations in baseball this winter.

Can team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski fill openings at shortstop, catcher and pitching without taking away from his core group of talent? Will Detroit, an offseason mover and shaker in past years, dive into the free-agent market for help, or can the Tigers swing a major trade for the third straight year?

At this point, Dombrowski cautioned, it's too early to tell.

A year ago, the Tigers had already made a major move, dealing for Edgar Renteria less than 24 hours after the end of the World Series. The previous winter, Detroit's major deal of the offseason came two weeks after the end of the World Series with the trade for Gary Sheffield. This year's market shapes up slower for just about everyone involved, including Detroit.

"Our situation's no different than when we ended the season," Dombrowski said Friday. "We're really just starting the process. We're going to pursue a lot of different things. We're going to explore."

Dombrowski laid out the landscape for the Tigers last month. He said at that point that he would be "surprised" if the Tigers were big participants in free agency, but he also said they had the flexibility to make changes and complement their key parts.

"We have flexibility to do some things," Dombrowski said at the time. "I don't have flexibility to do tons of things, but I have flexibility to do some things. Sometimes you trade young players for young players. ... We've got plenty of finances that are attributed to our ballclub. Now we just have to make them work better for us."

He also said at that point that he wasn't looking to trade away core players, though the Tigers would listen to what other teams have to say. As the rumor mill begins to turn on whether the Tigers could trade All-Star outfielder Magglio Ordonez if it helps them address their needs, the outlook remains the same. They're not shopping their big names, but they're not ruling out listening to anything, either.

"I think really it comes down to we're not looking to trade our core players," Dombrowski said, "but you also have to be open to different ideas. It's also one where we have a pretty good core group of players. It's one where you sit down and you listen and you talk about a lot of different things."

Team officials had plenty of internal discussions this week in the second round of organizational meetings. They discussed their farm system earlier this month at the team's Spring Training home in Lakeland, Fla., where they also filled their vacancy for a pitching coach. This week's meetings were more about the big leagues, looking both at the Tigers' needs and those of other clubs.

"As always, Dave was very organized. The scouts were very organized," manager Jim Leyland said Thursday. "You re-identify your needs, then you talk about how you're going to attack those needs. This was more of a sparring round to make sure we were aware of our needs to the fullest.

"It was probably a preview to the Winter Meetings, so that when we went there, we were fully prepared. This was making sure all our ducks are in a row for the Winter Meetings."

This year's Winter Meetings take place Dec. 8-11 in Las Vegas. The prelude comes next week, when teams will gather in California for the GM Meetings.

By the time the Winter Meetings begin, the Tigers should know their options better. Left-hander Kenny Rogers hasn't yet announced whether he wants to pitch next season at age 44. Free agent right-hander Freddy Garcia, who made three September starts for Detroit in his comeback from shoulder surgery, is on track to begin winter ball in his native Venezuela in the next week or two. The market for Renteria, now a free agent after Detroit declined his $12 million option for next year, should be better defined, as should the Tigers' options at short.

The Tigers are looking to fill their shortstop opening short-term until one of their prospects is ready. That includes Danny Worth, who reached Triple-A Toledo last year in his first full pro season, and Cale Iorg, who impressed club officials at Class A Lakeland. As a Type-A free agent, Renteria could net the Tigers two extra picks in next summer's First-Year Player Draft if they offer him arbitration and another team signs him. The flip side, however, is that Renteria could accept arbitration if offered and get a one-year contract out of it.

Defense will be a major consideration at short, but it'll be the same at catcher, too, where young Dusty Ryan is the lone incumbent off of his September stint. Improving defense, Dombrowski said, will help a pitching staff that was saddled with 71 unearned runs last year -- not the most in the Majors, but not far off.

Whether the Tigers can go defense-first at both positions and maintain balance in their lineup is one question they face.

"We're looking to improve our defense," Dombrowski said, "so any consideration will have defensive discussions. They're all intertwined [positionally], but I think it's also one where you look at them independently, too. You look at the best players you can."

The answers will take shape over the next several weeks.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.