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 Infield, 'pen among Tigers' market concerns

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PostSubject: Infield, 'pen among Tigers' market concerns   Thu Nov 19, 2009 9:06 pm

Infield, 'pen among Tigers' market concerns
GM says trade talks won't impede free-agent negotiations

By Jason Beck /

11/19/09 12:00 AM EST

DETROIT -- Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski has trade discussions percolating -- a lot of trade discussions, judging by his comments over the past week or so -- but he says those won't slow any of his free-agent talks as the Tigers' exclusive negotiating period with their own free agents closes Thursday night.

"I don't think it will at all," Dombrowski said Tuesday. "I think everything is tied together, but I don't think it slows it down at all."

That should be somewhat good news for their efforts to re-sign any of their free agents. And as open season begins for free agents Friday, that remains their top priority on the market.

Given their limited money to spend, it's easier said than done. If it does get done, it probably won't be quickly.

By all accounts, the Tigers' free-agent talks haven't moved quickly. Dombrowski confirmed last week that Detroit wouldn't look to re-sign either of their late-season trade acquisitions, Jarrod Washburn and Aubrey Huff, and he told that he didn't expect to sign any of the others before they could talk contracts with other clubs beginning Friday. Signings during the exclusivity period usually involve offers that are too good to pass up, Dombrowski reasoned, and the Tigers weren't in a position to make those.

But the Tigers also aren't in a position to expect trades to fill many of their openings. Dombrowski doesn't know how his trade discussions are going to pan out, or what he can expect to get in return if he does swing a deal or two. He'll make deals based on talent, not payroll, he indicated, but it doesn't mean they'll get the offers they want.

Thus, they remain in touch with the representatives for their free agents, all of whom will listen to interest from other clubs. Some have better chances of coming back to Detroit than others. In just about every case, the desire for players to get multi-year contracts and the limitations for the Tigers towards signing anyone long-term result in a gap that'll have to be bridged.

The Tigers gave a telling sign of their chances of re-signing Placido Polanco as soon as season's end, when Dombrowski said that Tigers Minor League Player of the Year Scott Sizemore was ready to step up to the big leagues. Sizemore underwent surgery a few weeks ago to repair a fractured left ankle, but that hasn't changed the expectation that he'll be ready for Spring Training.

The Phillies, who traded Polanco to Detroit in 2005, have shown interest in bringing him back as a third baseman. Polanco said at season's end that he was hoping to be in a position to make a choice between teams, and that such factors as training close to his offseason home in Miami would be nice. Still, he sounded like someone who wondered if he had played his final game as a Tiger. Detroit's best chance to retain him, if they choose, might be to offer him arbitration, thus gaining a Draft pick or two if he signs somewhere else, and see if Polanco eventually takes the offer.

The other half of Detroit's double-play duo seemingly has the better shot of the two at a return. Adam Everett turned a one-year deal last winter into a productive season, both in the field and in situational hitting, and there's believed to be mutual interest in a return. Whether they can go year to year with him, or whether he can get a multi-year contract elsewhere, remains to be seen.

If the Tigers can't bring back Everett, they have a big hole to fill. Though Ramon Santiago had a career season as part of the shortstop mix this year, neither Dombrowski nor manager Jim Leyland see him holding up to an everyday role. The free-agent market isn't particular deep at short, and the Tigers don't want to compromise their infield defense too much. Detroit showed no interest in Orlando Cabrera when he was on the market last winter.

Then there's the bullpen, where the Tigers have the advantage of prospects galore who are nearly ready for the Majors but the challenge of filling a glaring role at closer for 2010. They can hope to bring back Fernando Rodney or Brandon Lyon, but probably not both.

The good news for the Tigers is that the market has more free-agent closers than teams who need a closer, which could leave Detroit waiting out the market for relief help for a second consecutive winter. The bad news is that Lyon and Rodney could each draw interest in a setup role if they choose, and Detroit's best internal options are either youngster Ryan Perry or oft-injured Joel Zumaya.

Lyon was one of the last closers left on the market last winter when he signed with Detroit in late January. The problem the Tigers face is that so many top closers on the market this year are Type A free agents, including Mike Gonzalez, Kevin Gregg, Rafael Soriano, Jose Valverde and Billy Wagner. Any of them will cost the Tigers their first-round Draft pick unless their old teams decline to offer them arbitration. The Tigers showed trade interest in J.J. Putz last winter and could eventually pursue him this offseason if the opportunity opens.

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

“It takes pitching, hitting and defense. Any two can win. All three make you unbeatable.”    
–Joe Garagiola
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