Many needs filled, Tigers look forward
Finding a closer to stabilize bullpen could take some time
LAS VEGAS -- Don't tell Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski that the Winter Meetings don't serve a purpose anymore. The press releases on the board in the back of the media room and the buzz in the lobby at the Bellagio showed what it means for him.
"I always find it a great time to make moves," Dombrowski said.
If anything, it's what's left after returning home that's the hard part.
The Tigers left their Vegas shopping spree still without a closer, but they have just about everything else they needed. They didn't take care of what was once perceived to be the easiest part of their offseason moves, but through conversations and scouting, they answered the difficult questions of how to fill their two starting voids up the middle with quality talent without breaking their budget.
That's why Dombrowski likes this format.
"If you're in a position where you want to make a move, you have all your baseball people here," he said. "You sit around the room. You talk about things. You discuss things. You throw things out with other clubs. You have your agreements and disagreements. But everybody's there. So if you want to make moves, it's a time that's conducive to do it."
In terms of the Tigers adding position players, it was. In terms of adding a closer, it turned out to be a frustrating game of chess. The rest of their offseason shopping will involve trying to move around the remaining pieces of the closer market to find a ninth-inning solution.
Dombrowski said Friday that he doesn't expect anything imminent on that front.
"We'll regroup and come back," he said. "And at the beginning of next week, people start analyzing where they are. They'll look at the non-tender list. And I think it will sort of push some things forward with next week, clubs talking with one another. I'm sure we'll follow up on conversations we've had, and I would think we'll get some new talks. You're also going to have some free agents that start to fall, too. I would think we'll have more conversations, too."
Brian Fuentes, Trevor Hoffman and Brandon Lyon are the most prominent free agents left. Baltimore's George Sherrill is available via trade, with Pittsburgh's Matt Capps a less likely option given what the Pirates are supposedly demanding. The Tigers, Cardinals, Brewers, Angels and Nationals are all looking for late-inning help. The rest is the process of elimination.
And given the increased talk about Fernando Rodney from Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland, even the incumbent closer isn't eliminated quite yet.
The Tigers came to town wanting to make moves, though their trade for Gerald Laird was already pretty much finished by the time they arrived. Without a catcher, a shortstop and a closer, they needed to make moves. The tricky part for them was how to position their resources and their budget to make all of them and still stay within payroll.
They haven't gotten everything done, but by dealing for Laird and agreeing to terms with Adam Everett, the Tigers are close. They even took care of a secondary need with Thursday's Edwin Jackson trade, allowing them to go to Spring Training hoping for rebounds from starting pitchers Nate Robertson and Dontrelle Willis instead of needing them.
The Laird deal showed that the Tigers could still swing a trade using pitching prospects from a system that was supposedly low on them by other estimations after last year's dealings. Though the Tigers could've used Guillermo Moscoso, they didn't need him in their long-term picture. Everett's pending signing to what is expected to be an incentive-laden contract helped the Tigers avoid a pricey trade for Pittsburgh's Jack Wilson.
With the extra payroll space and parts to deal, the Tigers targeted Seattle closer J.J. Putz. But the idea of giving up left-handed sluggers Jeff Larish and Matt Joyce in any sort of trade proved too much to overcome for an agreement. Once the Mariners changed course and sent Putz to the Mets in a three-team deal, the Tigers turned Joyce into starting pitching depth with Jackson.
By adding a starter, Dombrowski hopes, the Tigers have improved their relief corps -- first through better outings heading into the bullpen, then through eventually adding another would-be starter to their relief corps.
"I'm starting to feel a lot better about our depth," Dombrowski said.
He'll feel even better when and if Detroit adds somebody at the back end of the game.
Deals done: Acquired C Gerald Laird from Texas for RHPs Guillermo Moscoso and Carlos Melo; agreed to terms on a one-year contract with SS Adam Everett; acquired RHP Edwin Jackson from Tampa Bay for OF Matt Joyce.
Rule 5 activity: Selected LHP Kyle Bloom from Pittsburgh in the Major League phase, lost C James Skelton to Arizona in the Major League phase.
Goals accomplished: The Tigers added both a catcher and a shortstop for relatively low cost with a defensive emphasis at both spots. Everett is expected to be a major upgrade at short in terms of range, while Tigers officials see Laird as a quality receiver capable of holding down the running game and working with their young pitchers. Starting pitching wasn't a priority by comparison, but slotting Jackson in the fourth spot of the rotation provided a big relief for Dombrowski.
Unfinished business: The Tigers still have to sort out their bullpen, not that they didn't try while they were here. They're expected to move on a lefty reliever between now and the holidays, with free agent Joe Beimel the leading candidate, but the closer front could end up being a longer wait. Eventually, Detroit will have to approach their many arbitration cases and possibly pursue long-term deals, with Justin Verlander the most intriguing case.
GM's bottom line: "We're very happy. We've got a starting catcher. We've got one of the guys in the rotation. Hopefully we can do something at shortstop soon. For us, we feel very happy." -- Dombrowski
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.