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Tigers focus on Putz at Meetings

Tigers focus on Putz at Meetings

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LAS VEGAS -- The closer market began to move Tuesday at baseball's Winter Meetings, and it left the Tigers and Mariners talking. Michigan native J.J. Putz is the potential matchmaker.

While the Tigers are going back over the possibilities in a buyer-friendly closer market, a trade for Putz remains their primary option. The two sides had discussions Tuesday, but have yet to find a match.

While free agent Francisco Rodriguez has reportedly reached an agreement with the Mets, and Kerry Wood is apparently close to doing the same with the Indians, the Tigers remain without a closer. Given president/general manager Dave Dombrowski's description of the day, it was not for a lack of effort.

"Busy," Dombrowski said, without specifically mentioning the Mariners. "We had a lot of conversations with a lot of clubs and agents."

Their conversations with Seattle, however, were the highlight of the day as the Tigers tried to continue filling items on their Winter Meetings to-do list at a brisk pace.

A native of Trenton, Mich., downriver from Detroit, Putz could be the short-term answer for the Tigers at closer while giving the onetime 40-save stopper the chance at a rebound season. Putz converted 15 saves in 23 chances over an injury-plagued 2008 season that saw him limited to 47 games, his lowest appearance total since he broke into the big leagues full-time in 2004.

Putz is under contract for next year at a salary of $5.5 million, with either a $9.1 million club option for 2010 or a $1 million buyout.

With the Mariners in search of left-handed power hitting to make up for the expected loss of free-agent outfielder Raul Ibanez, the crux of the dealings is believed to involve young Tigers sluggers Jeff Larish and Matt Joyce. Both left-handed hitters saw time with Detroit this past season, and both have a strong chance to play a role on the big club next year, though neither would likely be in starting lineup every day.

Larish is the more versatile player in the field, having spent extensive time at third base in the Arizona Fall League in addition to his role this past season at first. He could also potentially play the corner-outfield spots, though the Tigers haven't tried him there.

"Yeah, absolutely," manager Jim Leyland said Tuesday when asked if he felt Larish could be an outfielder. "That's one thing I like about him is his versatility."

That may be key for the Mariners, who need a first baseman but could also pursue deals involving their other position players. Seattle has been rumored in trade talks that would send Adrian Beltre somewhere else, such as Minnesota, but it's far from certain whether Larish could be an everyday third baseman. But then, Joyce could slot the left-field void left by Ibanez's departure.

In other words, the Mariners could use both Larish and Joyce.

"There have been a few that have been very intriguing," Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik told reporters in regards to player names that have come up in trade discussions so far.

The Tigers could deal one and still have one left on the bench as a left-handed power bat amid a predominantly right-handed lineup. Take away both Larish and Joyce, and the Tigers don't have a replacement left-handed bat in the system ready to step in.

"We've been minus left-handed hitters," Leyland said. "I think what we're talking about is to just get some sense of a little more balance than what we had."

For now, that leaves trade talks out of balance.

"It goes to the overall picture of if you think you can improve your ballclub, short-term and long-term," Zduriencik said. "But there have been some points of the discussions that haven't allowed them to go forward, beyond just the fact that we've had discussions."

As for Larish and Joyce, Leyland said, "We're very high on those guys. Exactly how that will play out, I don't know. I think they've both got a loud sound to their bat. We're very high on them, extremely high. You would have to certainly say that they're in the mix, for sure."

They would prefer them to be in their mix. But as Dombrowski pointed out about trading and holding onto young players, "Right now, we're trying to win. That's just where we are."

"There's some guys in our organization that I really prefer to not trade, and I don't think we're going to trade," Dombrowski said. "We've traded a lot of guys, but you also have to weigh who you're getting in return, how much you're really giving up, what kind of depth you have in your system, all those different things."

This particular move is a weighty one, since the Tigers don't have that depth. And while the signings of Rodriguez and Wood take two names off the market, they also removed two clubs from discussions with the Mariners. At this point, the market for Putz appears to center on the Tigers, with the Brewers and Cardinals also having inquired.

The Brewers, who need a closer, are an intriguing option, since it is where Zduriencik served in various roles in player development. He knows their system inside and out. Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin, however, reportedly told local media that he didn't see a fit with Seattle in any trade talks.

Detroit, meanwhile, has kept in touch with the free-agent closer market. The Tigers' interest this offseason is known to have included career saves leader Trevor Hoffman, Brandon Lyon and David Weathers, but Dombrowski cautioned, "All the names are not out there that we've expressed interest in."

That seemed to be an indication that the Tigers have at least some interest in former Rockies closer Brian Fuentes, which Foxsports.com reported later Tuesday night.

"We could do a lot of different things," Dombrowski said. "We're exploring a lot of different options. My list is long in my pocket, and we'll keep pursuing it."

Dombrowski confirmed that the Tigers "did inquire a little bit" about Wood.

For now, the relief market is dominating the talk for the Tigers, who pretty much wrapped up their other big concerns when they traded for catcher Gerald Laird and agreed to terms on a deal with shortstop Adam Everett. Their only other point of discussion Tuesday, Dombrowski said, was at backup catcher.

When Dombrowski was asked whether he felt a deal was close, he said he didn't know. When asked if he anticipated getting a closer before leaving the Winter Meetings on Thursday, he said no.

"Could it happen? Maybe," Dombrowski said.

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

{"content":["winter_meetings" ] }
{"content":["winter_meetings" ] }
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