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 Tigers known for late offseason surprises

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PostSubject: Tigers known for late offseason surprises   Tue Jan 04, 2011 8:13 pm

Tigers known for late offseason surprises
By Jason Beck / MLB.com | 01/04/11 2:10 PM EST

DETROIT -- If the calendar has turned to the new year, the Tigers usually have a late offseason surprise signing coming. If they end up making another one this year -- especially a big move -- even team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski might be a little surprised.

But true to his poker face, Dombrowski wasn't ruling out anything as he talked Monday, the Tigers' first day of office business back from the holidays.

"Really, I guess the best way to say it is that we're open-minded," Dombrowski said. "You always have a feel for where you are [in the market]. It's not like you stop analyzing just because you've signed guys. You're always aware."

They've been more than aware the past few winters after the holiday break. They've been active.

Look up and down the Tigers' transaction history, and Dombrowski has more than once saved his best for last, even if he didn't always expect it. He came out of the holidays last year fully prepared to add an established closer and ended up with the best on the market in Jose Valverde. The ink was barely dry on the mid-January deal when the courtship between Johnny Damon and the Tigers first went public, starting off what became a month-long saga before they agreed to a one-year deal.

Valverde, the last closer left on last winter's market, became an All-Star and one of the saving graces of Detroit's bullpen. Damon became a very good No. 2 hitter and a mentor for Austin Jackson.

A year earlier, the Tigers added setup man Brandon Lyon just in time to announce his signing at TigerFest in late January and stabilize the eighth inning in Detroit.

Detroit began 2008 with its headline-grabbing moves already done, but had enough time to trade for an obscure starter named Armando Galarraga.

Go back further, before the Tigers ended their streak of losing seasons, and Detroit had two franchise-changing signings just before Spring Training. Magglio Ordonez was the last prominent hitter left on the market when he became a Tiger in February 2005. Ivan Rodriguez did the same a year earlier, a month after the Tigers began the new year by trading for Carlos Guillen.

The Tigers were sneaky spenders on the market back then, having to put on a heavy recruiting effort to convince great players to join the turnaround project at Comerica Park. But they coudn't have planned out either signing. They had the versatility of owner Mike Ilitch's hunger to win at their advantage.

They still have that, but after four .500-plus seasons over the last five years, they have a completely different history. They also have the foundation laid for their roster, between their returning players and the moves they already made this offseason in an aggressive November.

That doesn't mean they won't do anything. But as for having to, Dombrowski said, "I don't think we have a glaring need."

Their positional needs, Dombrowski said, are "pretty well set." They filled the major void in their bullpen by spending big for Joaquin Benoit in November, shuffling the rest of their setup relievers down the line and filling out the group.

It's the rotation, though, that has attracted the most speculation over the last couple weeks since Detroit shored up its lineup by re-signing Ordonez. And if there's a late offseason surprise to be made, it would seemingly involve a starting pitcher. When the Phillies signed Cliff Lee last month, the Tigers showed early interest in Joe Blanton, whom the Phils had been expected to trade to free up payroll space. More recently, the Tigers have been linked in rumors with free agent Brad Penny, who broke into the big leagues a decade ago with Dombrowski's Florida Marlins.

Dombrowski hasn't said the Tigers are looking for a rotation upgrade, instead referring to being open-minded. But his comments are becoming incrementally stronger that they have their five-man rotation.

"We feel our five guys are pretty well set," Dombrowski said Monday.

That doesn't mean they won't bring in competition, for the rotation or other areas, besides their prospects. They're expected to announce their full list of non-roster invites in the coming days, and they could still pluck some stragglers off the market. But anything they do now, Dombrowski indicated, would be more of a single-year move -- for a short-term fix or depth -- than a long-term solution anywhere.

Still, Dombrowski allows the possibility of a surprise. The way the Tigers approach payroll and their roster allow for it. And remember, at this point last year, they had no intention of signing Damon.

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.


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