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 Tigers figure to be active at Winter Meetings

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PostSubject: Tigers figure to be active at Winter Meetings   Fri Dec 02, 2011 2:59 am

Tigers figure to be active at Winter Meetings
By Jason Beck / MLB.com | 12/02/11 12:01 AM EST

DETROIT -- The Tigers probably won't be the biggest spenders when the Winter Meetings get underway next week in Dallas. They could be among the busiest.

After the Tigers went to last year's Winter Meetings and did next to nothing, anticipation is building in Detroit that this year's event could be a busy gathering all around. There's a decent chance that the Tigers could be at the center of it as they try to fill as many of their needs as they can before the market thins out.

They still don't know who's going to bat second, and they don't have an alternative to Austin Jackson in the leadoff spot. They don't have a veteran option for their open rotation spot to push top prospect Jacob Turner, Duane Below, Adam Wilk and others. They're still open to upgrades at second and third base, with a strong chance they'll try to upgrade at one and platoon at the other.

That's a long list of needs. They won't fill all of them. They'll take care of some.

"We're just pecking away at a couple things," manager Jim Leyland said Wednesday after talking about the Ramon Santiago re-signing. "We're not done by any means. We're going to try to improve."

With a strong possibility that trade discussions are about to pick up league-wide, as top free agents are seemingly in a holding pattern as new general managers settle in, the Tigers are in a good position. Few seem to take advantage of trade talks more than Dombrowski, who runs his hotel suite at the Winter Meetings like a combination hub airport and command tower.

Club needs

Starting pitcher: Four-fifths of the rotation is pretty well set, with Justin Verlander topping a staff that includes up-and-coming Doug Fister and youngsters Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello. It's that last spot that's the question, and the Tigers have a lot of different directions they can go. They've reportedly expressed interest in Mark Buehrle, but so has at least half the league, including many teams with front-line holes to fill. The South Siders could trade for a starter, as CBSSports.com's Danny Knobler suggests is more likely, or sign another journeyman for a short-term fix until Jacob Turner is ready. Don't expect a resolution at the Winter Meetings.

Leadoff man or No. 2 hitter:
It's going to require some creativity, but the Tigers still would like someone to put atop the batting order and take some pressure off of Austin Jackson. If not, they'd at least like a table-setter to put between Jackson and the middle of the order. They've had discussions on free-agent outfielder Coco Crisp, but he's a career center fielder who is believed to prefer to stay in center if he can.

Infield help: The Tigers are prepared to platoon Santiago with Ryan Raburn at second base, but they're leaving open the chance at another move there, such as a trade for Atlanta's Martin Prado. Detroit has Brandon Inge and Don Kelly as a potential platoon at third, but the club has been in contact with the agent for free-agent slugger Aramis Ramirez. And while Dombrowski has said it's unlikely they'll pursue top free-agent shortstops Jose Reyes or Jimmy Rollins, they could be possibilities if the bidding is underwhelming. One way or another, infield is the easiest place for the Tigers to make an offensive upgrade.

Middle relief: The Tigers are set in the late innings with closer Jose Valverde and setup man Joaquin Benoit, and they boast Phil Coke and Al Alburquerque for the seventh inning and situational appearances. They still wouldn't mind a veteran to bridge the gap between the starters and Benoit. They've had discussions on long-desired righty Octavio Dotel, and they're still open to bringing back Joel Zumaya on a Minor League contract with a Spring Training invite.

Who they can or need to trade

LF Delmon Young: If the Tigers decide left field is the only position where they can mix up the offense and grab a bat for the top of the order, Young and his right-handed power bat hit the trade market. Otherwise, he stays.

IF/OF Ryan Raburn: He can play many positions, but he isn't an everyday player at any of them. The bigger issue is that second base is the only spot the Tigers would be able to give him a steady diet of at-bats. If the Tigers add an everyday second baseman, a Raburn trade could be the move that solves the ensuing roster issues.

RHP Ryan Perry: There's still time for the former first-round pick to become a solid late-inning reliever, but in Detroit, the late innings are taken, and Perry's pitching has been inconsistent. He'll be eligible for arbitration next winter, which could be a really tough decision for Detroit if his struggles continue.

Top prospects

RHP Jacob Turner, LHP Casey Crosby, LHP Andy Oliver, 3B Nick Castellanos, LHP Drew Smyly

The Tigers love their pitching prospects. They also have four starting pitchers under control for at least the next three seasons. Unless they trade one, there are only so many spots for them to plug in their prospects. They're holding onto Turner, but their other prospects could be available. Look, too, for their catching prospects to become potential chips in trade talks now that they're finally building some depth, from Rob Brantly to Bryan Holaday.

Big contracts they might unload

Young: He won't be non-tendered, but with a $6 million salary or more coming in his final year before free agency, he could be dealt for reasons more practical than financial if the Tigers bring in a speedy left fielder.

Payroll summation

Though owner Mike Ilitch's history of big splashes and big payroll leads some to believe the Tigers could get into a bidding war for a free agent like Reyes, Rollins, Buehrle or Cuban talent Yoenis Cespedes, team officials insist the club only has room for a couple $20 million salaries. If the Tigers go after a top free agent, it would probably be for the chance to get a $20 million player for, say, $15 million or something like that. They have more than $84 million committed to 10 players under contract already, and that's before they get into their six arbitration-eligible players, whose salaries could push them between $105-$110 million.

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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