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Tigers aim to reload through free-agent tweaks

Tigers aim to reload through free-agent tweaks

Tigers aim to reload through free-agent tweaks
DETROIT -- The Tigers were sitting in their clubhouse Sunday night, still trying to get their heads around being swept out of the World Series, suddenly answering media questions trying to sum up a season that abruptly ended. Even in the stunned silence, however, the business of the Tigers' offseason was beginning.

One by one, team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski caught up with players whose futures were in question and called them into a quiet part of the clubhouse, out of public view or media access. For some, it was the clubhouse manager's office. For others, it was the hallway leading to the training room.

This is what Dombrowski does as each season wraps up, whether the Tigers go home at the end of the regular season or go to the playoffs. He talks face-to-face with players whose futures are in question and tries to give some outlook into the team's plans.

He'd rather do it in another setting, no doubt. But when you go to the World Series, you don't get to plan these things.

Those plans aren't public just yet. Still, for at least a couple of players, Sunday likely marked the end of their tenures in Motown.

Delmon Young, whom the Tigers stopped seeing as a full-time outfielder long ago, hits the open market as a right-handed slugger with back-to-back standout postseasons. But with Victor Martinez expected back next spring after knee surgery ended his season, Young is a man without a position in Detroit.

"I'd like to see how the process plays out," Young said. "It's my first year on the free-agent market, so I'm just going to see how it goes."

Closer Jose Valverde led the American League with 110 saves over his three seasons in Detroit, and had a higher conversion rate than anyone in that stretch. Yet the way this postseason ended for him, mired in the bullpen after his meltdown in the AL Championship Series opener, looks like it could be the way he leaves.

"I think everybody wants to play for the Tigers," Valverde said Sunday night. "They have a great team, great owner. Now I'm a free agent. I don't know [what's going to happen]. That's for my agent [Scott Boras], not for me.

"My agent knows exactly what he's doing. Now it's time for my agent, not for me."

Far less certain is the future of Octavio Dotel, whose $3.5 million contract looked like a bargain for 58 innings of quality relief with 62 strikeouts. He has a $3.5 million option for next season.

"I'm very excited and I hope they pick my option," Dotel said. "I hope I can come back here. Hey, if you see it, we've got an unbelievable starting rotation right now. ... This is the team I want to be with in 2013."

It's the rotation where the Tigers have the biggest question, and surely the priciest proposition. What was assumed to be a rental on Anibal Sanchez took a different outlook when the two sides meshed for a stellar late-season run.

Dombrowski is on record saying he'd like to keep Sanchez. The flip side of all that success, though, is that Sanchez is poised to be one of the most coveted free agents on the market, with no shortage of teams looking for starting pitching.

The Tigers have never invested in a market deal for a top free-agent starter under Dombrowski's watch, preferring to build their rotation from within and add a mid-level piece if needed. If they sign Sanchez, it'll be a major investment for a team looking to win now.

Add it all up, and it's a busy slate -- and that's just the situation with Detroit's own free agents. That's why Dombrowski was walking back and forth through the clubhouse, followed by one player after another, in the moments after the World Series. As abruptly as the season ended, the offseason is already under way.

Contract issues

Free agents: DH/OF Young, RHP Sanchez, RHP Valverde, C Gerald Laird.

Club options: RHP Dotel ($3.5 million, $500,000 buyout), SS Jhonny Peralta ($6 million, $500,000 buyout).

Player options: None.

Arbitration eligible: C Alex Avila (1st time), OF Brennan Boesch (1st time), RHP Phil Coke (2nd time), RHP Doug Fister (1st time), OF Austin Jackson (1st time), OF/IF Don Kelly (2nd time), RHP Rick Porcello (2nd time), OF/2B Ryan Raburn (3rd time), RHP Max Scherzer (2nd time).

Areas of need

Corner outfield: If the Tigers are going to add an offensive piece, this is the position to do it. Detroit can fill one corner with a mix of Andy Dirks and one of their right-handed-hitting prospects, either postseason surprise Avisail Garcia or Nick Castellanos. The other spot, likely left field, is where they could look to add a supporting hitter to either set the table for the middle of the order or back it up.

Closer: Coke's dominant run through October at least made it conceivable that he could take on save opportunities with Joaquin Benoit, but it doesn't appear likely. The Tigers will probably look at a buyer's market for closers and seek the certainty of a proven ninth-inning arm. They'll have no shortage of choices.

Shortstop: Most likely, the Tigers will pick up Peralta's option and hold on for another year. If not, Detroit could upgrade defensively on the market.

Backup catcher: Laird quietly turned in more than a backup effort for his $1 million deal, not only producing when he played but helping keep Alex Avila fresh for the stretch run. With a season of Triple-A ball on Bryan Holaday's resume now, the Tigers have to decide whether they can fill this spot from within and save a little money, or whether Laird's production demands a return.

2013 payroll

Add $20-plus million salaries for Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander and Prince Fielder, plus arbitration raises for so many players, the Tigers will almost surely maintain their $133 payroll next season, if not increase it, even if they don't make a major acquisition this winter.

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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