Detroit's brass will be watching the World Series -- but they'll be doing it in Lakeland, Fla.
The Tigers commence their end-of-the-season organizational meetings Wednesday (Oct. 20) at their spring training site.
At that time they'll spend several days going over reports on players within the organization, assessing where the most prominent minor leaguers stand in regards to their development into possible major league players.
They'll also go over reports from their scouts and minor league managers and coaches regarding players from other organizations, deciding which ones might be worth acquiring at some point.
But the biggest thing they'll be doing is attempting to chart a course for improving during the offseason.
Last year's meetings produced the decision to make a major push for solid major league players. That resulted in the signing of free agents 2B Fernando Vina, LF Rondell White, RHP Al Levine and RHP Jason Johnson.
Pursuits of RF Vladimir Guerrero and SSs Miguel Tejada and Rich Aurilia were brushed off, so Detroit traded two minor leaguers to Seattle for SS Carlos Guillen. It turned out to be fortunate in that it was the only club to meet C Ivan Rodriguez's demands for a four-year contract and then, at the All-Star's urging, signed free-agent closer RHP Ugueth Urbina at the end of spring training.
Those moves helped the Tigers go from 43 wins in 2003 to 72 in 2004. Now they would like to jump another 20 victories in the standings -- the lowest number of victories by a postseason qualifier this season.
To do that will require the addition of more free agents, possibly combined with a trade, because the Tigers have no impact players or pitchers from their farm system on the immediate horizon. There is pitching help but it is at least one more season away, and while position help could arrive at some point next year, none appears to have the power to hit 35 or more home runs.
Detroit is expected to target a major position player, possibly at third base, along with an outfielder.
It faces decisions on re-signing CF Alex Sanchez and 3B Eric Munson, along with who to replace them if it doesn't, and must decide whether to commit to UTIL Brandon Inge at third base or keep him as a multiposition player.
The meetings might last until the weekend.
Reshaping of the 40-man roster has already begun with Detroit trimming two relievers and claiming an injured starter, giving it two open spots for the addition of minor leaguers who need protection from the Rule 5 draft process. Following the end of more than two decades of poor drafting, the Tigers are on the verge of having to make some tough decisions in that regard. The Tigers need outfield help, but third base could be the strength of the free-agent market.
STARTING ROTATION: Starting pitching is not Detroit's primary area of offseason concern although the Tigers might target one additional rotation member if the opportunity presents itself. Their starters posted a 3.71 ERA over Detroit's final 14 games. Three members appeared to wear down a little at season's end, but RHP Jeremy Bonderman and LHP Wilfredo Ledezma finished strong.
--RHP Jason Johnson (8-15, 5.13, but was 0-7, 7.13 after recording his only post-All-Star game win July 29) did not live up to the hope he would be the staff ace when he signed a two-year, $7 million contract prior to the season. However, he nearly reached 200 innings, and that helped bullpen-challenged team. Needs to rediscover his curve.
--RHP Jeremy Bonderman (11-13, 4.89, but was 5-3, 2.32 for his last nine starts) was frequently spectacular after being told to ignore all the advice he was being fed and just concentrate on one pitch at a time. Threw two shutouts in his finishing streak and showed the makings of being a top starter. Refinement of changeup will help.
--LHP Wilfredo Ledezma (4-3, 4.39) dominated the Eastern League, then showed in the majors he learned a lot from being a Rule 5 choice with the Tigers in 2003. Expected to win a starting spot in the spring and eventually grow into a staff leader with excellent fastball, sharp curve and top-flight changeup.
--LHP Mike Maroth (11-13, 4.31, 59 walks in 217 innings) rebounded nicely from his 21-loss 2003 season. Missed a chance to finish above .500 when his team was only able to score seven runs for him over his last six starts. However, he was 6-6, 3.55 over his last 15 starts when he rediscovered working inside.
--LHP Nate Robertson (12-10, 4.90, 155 strikeouts, 66 walks in 196 2/3 innings) was a staff leader early in the season but wore down in the last six starts (0-3, 7.36) of what was essentially his rookie season. Fastball in the low 90s with life, good changeup and breaking ball indicate good things ahead.
BULLPEN: Long and middle relief were a problem early in the season, but failure to hold late-inning leads contributed to 10-game slide in the standings the last five weeks. Changes will be made, with one or two possibly coming from within and the rest probably coming after salary dumps by other teams.
--RHP Ugueth Urbina (closer, 4-6, 4.50, 21-for-24 in saves, 56 strikeouts in 54 innings) missed the last month of the season when he returned to Venezuela to deal with the kidnapping of his mother. Isn't quite as dominating as he once was but still very reliable. Has a $4 million option the Tigers are almost certain to exercise.
--RHP Gary Knotts (7-6, 5.25, 15 starts and 2-for-2 in saves) appeared to mature as a pitcher late in the season. Looked upon as a long man right now and might give his manager reason to have a quick hook next year. Provides insurance as a starter, too, winning his last two as the fill-in for LHP Wilfredo Ledezma. Control of curve has made him effective.
--LHP Jamie Walker (3-4, 3.20, limited left-handers to .197 BA) worked 70 games, and that's maybe a little too much. As the lone lefty in the bullpen much of the season, he often had to face an extra hitter or three. Looking for a two-year deal and will probably get it.
--RHP Al Levine (3-4, 4.58) began poorly but finished with a 2.95 ERA for his last 36 appearances, so the Tigers might pick up his $1.1 million option. Worked career-high 65 games and has been in at least 50 each of his last six seasons.
--RHP Esteban Yan (3-6, 3.83, 7 saves in 17 chances) is eligible for free agency, but Detroit hopes to get him signed before then. Flourished in long and middle relief after the All-Star game but faltered when thrust into closer's role by absence of RHP Ugueth Urbina.
--LHP Steve Colyer (1-0, 6.47) did the job in nine of his final 10 appearances, mostly facing one or two hitters, with little of the control problems that bothered him in first two stints with the Tigers. Upper-90s fastball, excellent curve and out of options, he'll get a long look in the spring.
--RHP Franklyn German (1-0, 7,36) has repeatedly failed trials with Detroit because of control issues (11 walks in 14 2/3 innings this season). Has worked on changing where he ends his delivery, though, and showed sharp improvement his last two outs. Last chance with the Tigers because he's out of options.
CATCHING: With a 10-time All-Star behind the plate, where's the problem? The problem is finding a quality backup because Detroit believes Ivan Rodriguez will need 1-2 days off per week next year to maintain his high production. Injuries in the second half contributed to lower output.
--C Ivan Rodriguez (.334, 19 HR, 86 RBI, .983 OPS) caught 135 games with sore hip flexor, prompting second-half falloff. Reached career milestones of 250 HR, 1,000 RBI. The plan is to give him 1-2 days off per week next year to keep nagging injuries under control.
--UTIL Brandon Inge (.287, 13 HR, 64 RBI) started 34 games behind the plate and 58 at third base. Might have the best release of any catcher in baseball but developed into superb multi-position player and probably won't catch much next season.
INFIELD: The only unsettled spot for next season is third base, and Detroit could decide to give that spot to UT Brandon Inge. Hall of Fame former Tiger Al Kaline said Inge could be an immediate Gold Glove winner at third.
--1B Carlos Pena (.241, 27 HR, 82 RBI) finally figured it out over the last two months of the season, ranking among the league leaders in walks while hitting nearly .300. Showed consistent hitting approach in that stretch; his success seemed to settle his fielding, too.
--2B Omar Infante (.264, 16 HR, 65 RBI) emerged as a budding star after taking over when 2B Fernando Vina went down in May. Had to bat leadoff a lot after the All-Star break (he should be hitting sixth or seventh because he can drive the ball) and seemed to wear down the last 30 days except for a short spike when he returned to short following the injury to SS Carlos Guillen. Excellent glove and hands, too.
--SS Carlos Guillen (.318, 20 HR, 97 RBI, .921 OPS) enjoyed a career year after coming to Detroit from Seattle in exchange for two minor leaguers. Saw his bid to set a Detroit record for RBI as a shortstop stopped by right knee injury requiring ACL surgery (second time since 1999). Signed a four-year deal early in the season and should pay dividends all four years.
--3B Eric Munson (.212, 19 HR, 49 RBI) started the most games at third last year but really wasn't the starter from about the All-Star break on. Had the highest home run percentage on the team (321 ABs), but the Tigers might have to cut him loose and risk having him come back to haunt them -- the major league contract he signed as the third overall draft choice in 1999 is expiring and the minimum $1.2 million Detroit would pay him to sit on the bench next year might be too much.
--INF Jason Smith (.239, 5 HR, 19 RBI) provided some solid backup at second, third and short. Hit well in spurts, has decent speed and laid down two perfect suicide-squeeze bunts in September. His return could hinge on how the club decides to utilize Brandon Inge, however.
--2B Fernando Vina (.226, 0 HR, 7 RBI) saw his season, and possibly his career, end in May with a torn hamstring and partially torn patella tendon in his kneecap. Declined surgery and hopes rehab will let him resume playing in the spring. On back end of two-year deal, but manager Alan Trammell has already announced Omar Infante will be the starter at second in the spring.
OUTFIELD: Muddled is the best word to describe the Tigers' outfield. RF Bobby Higginson is in the last year of an over-market contract, the first three of which were mediocre as his career is on the decline. There's uncertainty about who will play center and more punch from the corner spots is mandated, so an import or trade is likely.
--LF Rondell White (.270, 19 HR, 67 RBI) provided solid help in the first half but his injury history showed up in the second, limiting him to a typical 121-game season. Solid clubhouse citizen (earned the nickname "Rock"), he's expected to be around for the last half of his two-year contract although inclusion in a trade is a possibility.
--OF Craig Monroe (.293, 18 HR, 72 RBI) did the bulk of his power work in the final two months (.319, 16 HR, 47 RBI in 66 games) and figures to open in right or even center next season. Has gone from journeyman to regular status in two years.
--RF Bobby Higginson (.246, 12 HR, 64 RBI) is providing part-timer production for superstar pay ($8.85 million). Some think Detroit will eat his contract -- and it might -- but he is still valuable on defense and knows how to work pitchers. Look for him to be a part-time player and pinch-hitter next year.
--CF Alex Sanchez (.322, 2 HR, 26 RBI, 19-for-32 in stolen bases) emerged as the finest bunter in recent baseball history, but with only 40 at-bats after July 7 and due for arbitration he could be finished as a Tiger. However, with no replacement in sight, Detroit might elect to overlook his defensive deficiencies, sign him and try to trade him at some point next season.
--OF Marcus Thames (.255, 10 HR, 33 RBI) gave Detroit some surprising production after an 0-for-20 beginning as he followed a track laid down by Craig Monroe last season. Not as good defensively as Monroe but might be a useful fourth outfielder to somebody.
DESIGNATED HITTER: A spot of strength for the Tigers, who could fill the slot any number of ways should they so choose.
--DH Dmitri Young (.272, 18 HR, 60 RBI) missed two months right off the top with a broken leg and was bothered by nagging injuries after the All-Star break. Had a strong September and provides insurance in left, at first and at third. Could see more field time next year.
RHP Colby Lewis (rotator cuff surgery in mid-April) hopes to be ready to pitch again by spring training but realistically will be brought along slowly. SS Carlos Guillen (right knee ACL surgery ACL Sept. 28) has a recovery time of 4-6 months that could have him ready for spring training, but the Tigers will be careful in hopes he'll be OK for Opening Day. CF Alex Sanchez (15-day DL Aug. 9, right quadriceps) batted just 40 times after July 7 because of hamstring and quad injuries, but arbitration eligibility could mean he won't be offered a 2005 contract. 2B Fernando Vina (60-day DL, right hamstring, 2/3-torn left patella tendon) declined surgery, which was iffy as far as a recovery, and is facing the end of his career; will attempt a comeback in the spring. RHP Nate Cornejo (60-day DL, right shoulder surgery, labrum) is out until spring and will be brought back slowly. RHP Fernando Rodney (right elbow ligament transplant surgery, 60-day DL) has begun throwing lightly and hopes to be ready during spring training. RHP Chris Spurling (right elbow ligament transplant surgery, 60-day DL) is throwing again and hopes to be OK for spring training.