Tigers News & Notes - 11/2

Much has been made of the various areas of need the Tiger front office needs to focus on this offseason - and the needs are plenty. However, don't be surprised if they focus on a couple of areas to improve the club for the 2005 season. Plus, the probable future of Matt Anderson.

It's more than likely the Tigers won't be making a big pitch for free-agent pitchers as they implement their plans for improvement.

They have other, more pressing needs on a list that looks a lot shorter than it did a year ago.

The money Detroit would have to spend on a front-line pitcher would go a long way toward remaking the Tigers' overtaxed and overmatched bullpen. Getting better relief pitching is first or second on the club's home-improvement list.

Acquiring a rotation leader was a priority at midseason. Detroit hoped RHP Jason Johnson would take that step in 2004 when it signed him as a free agent from Baltimore, but that didn't happen.

It didn't seem as though anyone on the Tigers' staff would emerge when the All-Star break came up, but that changed in the second half.

"We have young pitchers like Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson and Wilfredo Ledezma who are capable of becoming top-of-the-rotation performers," president/CEO/GM Dave Dombrowski of the Tigers said. "Along with some of our pitching in the minors, I think this is a strength of our system."

Detroit was laughed off when it approached the top-tier free-agent position players after winning just 43 games in 2003. But the changes the Tigers did make resulted in a 29-game improvement this season, which might give their pitch more credibility this year.

"The big difference this offseason from last year is we now have a number of core players," Dombrowski said. "Last year we had Dmitri Young -- and that was about it.

"But with Pudge (Rodriguez) and (Carlos) Guillen, along with the progress of some of our younger players like Brandon Inge, Carlos Pena and Craig Monroe, now we have people to build around."

The emergence of Inge is both a problem and a solution for Detroit.

Whether to keep him as a super multi-position player or install him as a regular at one of his "secondary" positions was a big topic of discussion at the team's postseason organizational meetings.

There's a good chance the Tigers will give themselves the flexibility to go either way with Inge depending upon what they wound up doing for a third baseman, center fielder or utility player.

--LHP Jamie Walker, who sought a two-year deal, agreed Friday (Oct. 29) to a one-year contract with Detroit that contains a club option for the 2006 season. Walker appeared in 70 games for Detroit in 2004, going 3-4 with a 3.20 ERA. He has pitched in 205 games for the Tigers in three seasons, posting an 8-8 record and 3.38 ERA despite being overused because he's often been the lone lefty in the bullpen. "Jamie provides a solid left-handed reliever in our bullpen," president, chief executive officer and general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "He did a fine job this past season, and we look forward to him contributing to our club in 2005."

--RHPs Craig Dingman and John Ennis, who elected to become free agents when they were outrighted by Detroit to the minors following the season, have agreed to minor league contracts with the Tigers. Both will get invitations to major league spring training. Dingman split time between Detroit and Triple-A Toledo last season, as did Ennis. Dingman went 2-2 in 24 games with a 6.75 ERA. Ennis pitched better when converted from starting to relieving during the season in the minors and earned a late season call-up by the Tigers. He pitched in 12 games, earning a save but no decisions, and had an 8.44 ERA.

--RHP Al Levine became a free agent Friday (Oct. 29) when the Tigers declined the option on his contract for 2005. It would have cost the Tigers $1.1 million to have Levine pitch for them next season. Levine was 3-4 with a 4.58 ERA in 65 games for the Tigers last season but had a 2.95 ERA over his last 36 appearances. The Tigers want to remake their bullpen to make it much stronger for next season. Cutting Levine also frees up a roster spot for a minor league player.

--LHP Rob Henkel, who missed most of the season following shoulder surgery, was outrighted to Triple-A Toledo on Oct. 25 so Detroit could put RHP Justin Verlander on its 40-man roster. Verlander, the Tigers' top draft choice, signed a major league contract Oct. 22, so Detroit had to trim a player.

Henkel, a top pitching prospect obtained in a trade with Florida, has seen his progress stalled by shoulder and back problems the last two season. He made three starts for Double-A Erie in the spring, going 1-1 with a 4.70 ERA before needing surgery to repair a torn labrum. He is not expected to be ready to pitch in time for spring training.

Henkel, 26, was on the disabled list three times in 2003 with a sore left bicep, a bad right rib-cage muscle and a sore left shoulder. Otherwise, he had a 9-3 record with a 3.38 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 82 2/3 innings.

--RHP Matt Anderson is one of the pitchers Detroit is expected to cut as it shapes its roster for the start of the 2005 season.

The Tigers have an option for $6.25 million on Anderson but are expected instead to exercise the buyout clause for $400,000.

Anderson went on the disabled list July 25 with a sore right shoulder while pitching for Triple-A Toledo. He has been unable to throw in the high 90s since suffering a torn armpit muscle two seasons ago and has had problems learning how to hit spots, change speeds and develop other pitches. He is a former No. 1 draft choice.

BY THE NUMBERS: 400,000 -- Dollars it will cost Detroit to buy out the $6.25 million 2005 option on the services of RHP Matt Anderson, a contract clause the Tigers will almost certainly exercise.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I know a little bit about the process of negotiations. There's a time when the parties have to reach out personally." -- Richard Verlander, father of top Detroit draftee RHP Justin, on why he called Tigers scouting director Greg Smith to restart stalled talks, leading to a contract between the parties.

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