CF Alex Sanchez's future with Detroit could hinge on whether the Tigers can import somebody to play third base for them next season.
A middle- or top-of-the-order bat is one of the Tigers' priorities for this winter, and the search is initially expected to be confined pretty much to someone who can play either third base or center field.
CF Carlos Beltran is expected to be out of their reach although they'll ask just to make sure. There are corner outfielders available, but it's questionable whether signing one of them would be a cost-effective upgrade over what's already there.
Third base is a different story. It's already out that Detroit has interest in coming to a quick agreement with someone such as 3B Corey Koskie, late of Minnesota. He was injured some of last season and his numbers haven't improved over the last couple of years, but he's still young enough that there's an up side.
3B Troy Glaus is a possibility but would have to be convinced to come to the Midwest.
The presence of UTIL Brandon Inge gives the Tigers a lot of flexibility in their pursuit of an upgrade. Even 3B Eric Munson is a fallback -- if the Tigers are willing to pay him $1.2 million for another chance.
Inge showed during his career-enhancing 2004 season he has Gold Glove potential at the hot corner. Many believed he was also the Tigers' best defensive center fielder, too, as well as their best defensive catcher.
If Detroit does get a third baseman who can hit third, fourth or fifth in the batting order, that would let the Tigers move Inge around on the field while still giving him full-time innings, as they did last season.
That would give the Tigers the option of letting Sanchez go or offering him arbitration. The Tigers could risk losing arbitration to Sanchez and hope he would play well enough for them to trade him at some point during the season.
--This year's biggest free-agent names seem inclined to at least give the Tigers a listen. That's a sharp contrast with last year, when SS Miguel Tejada and RF Vladimir Guerrero told the Tigers, 'Thanks, but no thanks' when asked if they had any interest in Detroit.
Detroit has interest in RHP Carl Pavano, a free agent from Florida, to head up its rotation, and while it's likely he will end up with a wealthier team, at least his agent will listen to the Tigers' sales pitch. And maybe one from their catcher, Ivan Rodriguez, who caught Pavano with the Marlins two seasons back.
"I would say there's a lot of interest on the part of Detroit," said Scott Shapiro, Pavano's agent, during the general managers' meetings last week. Pavano turned down a three-year, $21 million offer from Florida.
"We're in a position to explore a lot of different situations," Detroit president/CEO/GM Dave Dombrowski said. "We have had talks about specific players."
"We do know the Tigers have a terrific ballpark in Comerica Park," Shapiro said. "They also have one of the best front offices in baseball and an owner who showed last season -- and has shown with the Red Wings -- that he'll do what it takes to win.
"That's one of the things that's important to Carl. He's driven to win, and he wants to go to an organization that's committed to winning. In the Tigers, you have a club that's certainly headed in the right direction."
--LHP Nate Robertson, who went 12-10 with a 4.90 ERA, got one third-place vote in AL Rookie of the Year balloting.
Robertson started strongly after getting the final rotation spot late in spring training, hit a midseason slump and recovered slightly at the finish of his first full major league season.
"He did quite well," manager Alan Trammell said. "He was kind of our ace for a while, but then he hit a rough spell, which is very normal for a guy in his first full season. But he's a winner, he works very hard and it will pay off in the long run."
--Detroit is retaining its entire coaching staff at Double-A Erie. Returning are manager Rick Sweet, pitching coach Mike Caldwell and hitting coach Pete Incaviglia.
BY THE NUMBERS: 0 -- Votes Alan Trammell got for Manager of the Year in the American League after Detroit improved by 29 games from 2003.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've gotten in touch with a number of players. It's a good free-agent pool. But there are several ways, not just free agency, that a team can improve during the offseason. Sometimes, it happens internally." -- Detroit president/CEO/GM Dave Dombrowski in a general update from the general managers' meetings on where the Tigers stand in their offseason activity.
Bullpen upgrade, a bopper and a big man in the rotation were the areas of improvement the Tigers were focusing on for 2005. Acquiring a middle-of-the-order hitter who could play solid defense at third base or center field was a top priority, and the ability of Brandon Inge to handle either position provided Detroit with flexibility in that area. Adding a top-of-the-rotation starter would give Detroit some depth in that area to make a deal to strengthen another spot.
ARRIVALS: RHP Colby Lewis (waiver claim, from Texas), OF Byron Gettis (waiver claim, from Kansas City), OF Dewayne Wise (waiver claim, from Atlanta), CF Alexis Gomez (waiver claim, from Kansas City).
DEPARTURES: RHP Al Levine ($100,000 buyout of club option).
BIGGEST NEEDS: A second left-handed reliever, solid middle-inning relievers, a slugging third baseman who can field, a center fielder whose defense and offense are in balance, a solid upper-tier starting pitcher.
FREE AGENT: RHP Esteban Yan.
Yan had trouble closing games in September when RHP Ugueth Urbina went home to Venezuela to deal with the kidnapping of his mother but was very good in early and middle relief, and the Tigers would like to have him back in that capacity -- if the price is right.
ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE: CF Alex Sanchez, UTIL Brandon Inge, 1B Carlos Pena.
Inge and Pena will be back, but Sanchez is a tough call. He's in line for a bigger raise than Detroit would like to pay for someone who barely played after July 7 (40 at-bats), has lots to learn about defense and sometimes doesn't make good decisions on the bases. Sanchez's return could depend on who Detroit gets to play third or center field.
IN LIMBO: CF Alex Sanchez might not be offered arbitration -- especially should the Tigers land a power-hitting third baseman or a skilled defensive center fielder. 3B Eric Munson is a man with considerable power potential but is without a solid position defensively; he could be waived or traded. OFs Craig Monroe and Marcus Thames are trade material, as are RHPs Gary Knotts and Jason Johnson. Detroit wouldn't mind dealing RF Bobby Higginson but would have to pay most of his $8 million salary to make it happen.
MEDICAL WATCH: RHP Colby Lewis (rotator cuff surgery in mid-April) hopes to be ready to pitch in the spring. SS Carlos Guillen (right knee ACL surgery Sept. 28) will be prepped in the spring with Opening Day in mind. CF Alex Sanchez (right quadriceps) will be ready for spring training. 2B Fernando Vina (right hamstring, 2/3-torn left patella tendon) declined surgery, which was iffy as far as a recovery, and will try to come back in the spring knowing his career could be over. RHP Nate Cornejo (right shoulder labrum surgery) will be brought along slowly in the spring. RHP Fernando Rodney (right elbow ligament transplant) is throwing again and hopes to be ready in spring training. RHP Chris Spurling (right elbow ligament transplant) is throwing again and hopes to compete for a job in the spring.