Tigers in middle of pre-Meetings rumors

Tigers in pre-Meetings rumors

DETROIT -- Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski has done plenty of talking with clubs over the past few weeks, and baseball's rumor mill has had plenty of talk about the Tigers as a result.

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Starting Monday, when executives from around baseball gather in Indianapolis for their annual Winter Meetings, those talks will pick up again. One way or another, all that talk will lead to some action, and the Tigers could end up the talk of the meetings.

In the bigger picture, it should finally lead to some definition on what this offseason means for the Tigers.

"I would anticipate we will have a lot of talks next week," Dombrowski said.

While Dombrowski has said repeatedly that Detroit is not having a fire sale, payroll purge or any other financially motivated sell-off -- and he has said it often enough that he's tired of talking about it -- he has remained vague as to what the team is doing. Unlike past offseasons, when he has said he wasn't looking to trade certain players, he isn't doing that now. Quite the opposite, he's indicating that any list of untouchables is short, that he won't get into specific names, and that they've had a lot of talks with clubs.

On the payroll situation, he's using the term "fiscally responsible," a different statement now for a team that has ranked among baseball's five highest payrolls the past two seasons.

By the time team officials leave Indy and return to Detroit, key cogs to the 2009 team such as Edwin Jackson and Curtis Granderson could be ex-Tigers. Miguel Cabrera, the star slugger who made the Tigers the talk of the Winter Meetings two years ago when they acquired him from Florida, could draw big-market interest and maybe even an offer. And the Tigers could look a little more like a prospect-based club built for the coming years. Or they could turn their noses at the offers they get, pull back on some of those talks and head into 2010 looking pretty similar to this past season, save for a couple moves.

Like it or not, the Tigers are going to be the talk of the Meetings, whatever they do. It's an odd position for Dombrowski, who traditionally has done his best work under the radar, like the Cabrera trade two years ago, but it's the buzz they created when their willingness to talk trades on seemingly untouchable players hit clubs at last month's General Managers Meetings in Chicago.

Whether reality lives up to all the hype will be one of the defining story lines of the Winter Meetings. Dombrowski said he doesn't know what's going to happen with trades, and other teams are left guessing, too. In the end, how other trade talks around baseball turn out could have a major effect on what the Tigers do.

Of the potential players on the market, industry sources indicate that Jackson has a better chance of being traded than others, even if payroll isn't an overriding consideration. His star-caliber first half this past season makes him one of the game's budding young pitchers at age 26, but his inability to work through his second-half struggles raised concerns, as does his looming free agency in two years. If Detroit signs a pitcher long-term this winter, it'll be Justin Verlander. With starting pitching in demand, Jackson has a chance to draw more interest at the Meetings among clubs looking for a midrotation arm.

Granderson brings the appeal of a multitooled talent, offensively and defensively, who can provide a power bat in the leadoff spot. His character is unquestioned, and his contract leaves him under team control for at least the next three seasons. But those are also reasons the Tigers are likely to hold on to high demands for a return package and wait to see if teams meet it.

Then there's Cabrera, the man whom Dombrowski called "our core player" and "our foundation" while dismissing trade speculation back in April. That was before the Tigers fell short of the postseason for the second straight year, Cabrera went into a late-season slump and a domestic incident made headlines during Detroit's final-week fall out of first place.

Unlike Jackson and Granderson, Cabrera comes with the baggage of that incident and a contract that guarantees him $126 million over the next six seasons. The latter likely limits any discussions involving Cabrera to clubs that can take on that kind of contract, and of those clubs, very few have a need at first base.

Part of the problem for the Tigers is that the players they would want in return -- young talent that could help now and later -- are likely to be part of other trade talks. Although the Red Sox are the team most rumored for potential interest in Cabrera, for instance, their similarly rumored interest in Roy Halladay could take precedence. The result could be a logjam among clubs, waiting for one trade or free-agent signing to get things moving.

"I don't think it makes a different one way or the other for me," Dombrowski said of the timing of the market. "You deal with the timing and go from there. It's a later developing market with some decisions, but it's pretty obvious to me why: The World Series ended later than it usually does."

One oft-speculated way to bridge a talent gap would be for the Tigers to demand a team also take on one of Detroit's formidable contracts, of which there are many. Some in baseball suspect the Tigers will try to do this. Dombrowski, however, has said he will not make an unfair deal simply for financial reasons.

All the indications and speculation could be worthless by the time the Tigers race out of Indianapolis, with or without deals. All that seems certain is that the team's situation should be much clearer.

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