The best week of baseball's hot stove season is about to begin as the general managers are gathering in Nashville for the MLB Winter Meetings. There is sure to be a lot of activity in terms of trades and free agent signings. Last year, 26 players were traded and 38 free agents signed including first baseman Albert Pujols, and pitchers Mark Buehrle and C.J. Wilson.
The Tigers did not make a lot of noise at the 2011 meetings. Their biggest transaction was signing free agent reliever Octavio Dotel. In smaller moves, they also signed minor league pitcher Chris Bootcheck and traded reliever Ryan Perry to the Nationals for reliever Collin Balestar.
In past years, General Manager Dave Dombrowski shook up the meetings in a big way. In 2007, he acquired future MVP Miguel Cabrera in a eight-player deal withe the Marlins. Two years later, he acquired center fielder Austin Jackson and pitchers Phil Coke and Max Schlereth while giving up outfielder Curtis Granderson as part of a three-team, seven-player trade with the Diamondbacks and Yankees.
The Tigers have already gotten a head start on their 2013 roster by acquiring second baseman Omar Infante from the Marlins in July and signing free agent outfielder Torii Hunter in November. They will also be adding designated hitter Victor Martinez, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. I don't think they are done yet though.
The Tigers still have several needs including a starting pitcher, a closer, a more athletic shortstop, a right-handed hitting outfielder and a back-up catcher. They are trying to sign free agent right hander Anibal Sanchez, who was acquired from the Marlins in the Infante deal. He is going to be really expensive though - perhaps five years $75 million or even higher if some team goes crazy.
Owner Mike Illitch is not shy about spending money, but the Tigers have not typically gotten involved in bidding wars for free agent agent starting pitchers. They have preferred to develop their own starters or acquire them in trades. When they spend big money, it is usually for a hitter such as Martinez, Prince Fielder, Magglio Ordonez or Pudge Rodriguez. Both Dombrowski and Illitch want Sanchez though, so it's a possibility, but it's only going to happen if Illitch ups the payroll substantially again this year.
Dombrowski has said that the Tigers will not pursue a closer and will instead find one among Joaquin Benoit, Phil Coke, Octavio Dotel and rookie Bruce Rondon. I don't believe they are really set there though as Rondon is still a big unknown and the others seem better fit for setup roles. I don't think they'll go after the big prize Rafael Soriano, but they may go after someone like free agent Joakim Soria or trade for J.J Putz of the DiamondBacks or Joel Hanrahan of the Pirates.
As for shortstops, the Tigers have been linked to free agent Stephen Drew and Indians shorstop Asdrubal Cabrera of the Indians . Astros infielder Jed Lowrie and Marlins recent acquisition Yunel Escobar are also believed to be available. If they can acquire a shortstop, that would make Peralta expendable. Entering the off-season I thought that Peralta would be the Tigers 2013 shortstop, but now it looks more like they want to make a change. The best bet here is that Dombrowski rolls the dice on Drew and then trades Peralta to a team like Arizona or Boston.
Dombrowski has been reluctant to commit to Andy Dirks as a full-time outfielder and the Tigers would prefer that youngsters Nick Castellanos and Avisail Garcia get more seasoning in the minors. The Tigers were linked to Arizona's Justin Upton earlier in the off-season, so maybe that will be this year's blockbuster. As much as Upton would be an upgrade though, he is probably not the type of player for which they would sell the farm. So, I'm not expecting that. Rather, I would look for them to sign a right-handed hitting outfielder to platoon
with Dirks. Free agents Scott Hairston and Cody Ross are two
possibilities, although Ross is seeking a full-time role.
Finally, the Tigers are in need of a backup catcher for the oft-injured Alex Avila. Rookie Bryan Holaday has the defensive skills to backup once or twice per week, but would probably not be an adequate replacement if Avila goes down for more than a week with an injury (which seems inevitable given Avila's durability problems). Dombrowski has said he is comfortable with Holaday as the backup, but I don't believe him. I think they will sign a right-handed hitting catcher such as Jesus Flores, Kelly Shoppach or Geovanny Soto.
There is plenty of time left in the off-season and they are not likely to do all of the above next week. Remember, they waited until the last week of January to make their biggest move of the 2011-2012 off-season. That, of course, was the signing of Fielder to a nine-year contract. I don't think they'll disappoint this week though. I fully expect Dombrowski to swing a deal or two in Nashville.