Tigers Options Continue to Dwindle

Another day, another Tiger target falls off the board, as on Wednesday, Shortstop Edgar Renteria first was reported to be returning his old team (the Cardinals) before receiving an even larger offer from the Red Sox and heading to the World Champs. Of course, when it came down to the final decision, the Tigers weren't involved. Unfortunately, this is becoming a common theme in free agency '04 for the Tigers.

The free agent signing period kicked off with a bang with the signing of closer Troy Percival. Percival hadn't visited another club, but by the time the soup came out, he made the decision to join the Tiger organization. By the time the main course came out, Percival was a Tiger.

But the quick success didn't continue.

Carl Pavano was impressed with Detroit, but the team never factored into his final decision.

Steve Finley liked the Tigers offer, but ultimately just waited to get like money from a team out west before spurning the organization.

Percival's teammate, Troy Glaus, couldn't even be influenced, as while he even stated that the Tigers did nothing wrong in their pursuit, it just wasn't what he was looking for.

Next up, Edgar Renteria. Renteria wanted to remain in St. Louis, or at minimum remain competitive. The Tigers offer was competitive, but ultimately it came down to something the Tigers couldn't offer – a legitimate chance to win immediately – at least not compared to the reigning American League and National League champs.

Meanwhile, more potential players seem to fall by the wayside. The Tigers don't appear overly interested in 3B Adrian Beltre, despite the obvious need for a Third baseman. And in the meantime, Beltre is nearing a deal with the Seattle Mariners.

The Tigers appear interested in Outfielder J.D. Drew – although Dave Dombrowski had to keep from laughing when he heard the reported 4-year, $36 million offer that he allegedly made. But much of the speculation seems to center around the lack of interest from other teams with Drew, and the Tigers original interest in spending.

There are obviously more players left on the market, but for those fans expecting a huge splash, it just hasn't materialized. Fans once wishing for a trifecta with Beltre, Pavano and Carlos Beltran all suiting up as Tigers in 2005 would now settle for any significant signing.

Of course, the desire to see action is being overridden by the fact that the market price for a number of players has gone up dramatically, driven up by a number of owners and their sudden willingness to shell out big bucks once again for marginal talent.

Case in point. Last offseason, Vladimir Guerrero (arguably one of the top few hitters in baseball), signed a 5 year deal averaging $14 million/season. On Wednesday, Richie Sexson agreed to a 4 year deal that will pay the slugger nearly $13 million/season. The same Sexson who is coming off a serious shoulder injury that may or may never fully recover. The same Sexson that has only appeared in 2 All Star games in 7 season's in the big leagues.

That's not to claim that Sexson will be a bust for the Mariners – only that the market has seen a sudden shift. And rather than simply attempt to out-spend, Dombrowski appears to be using restraint and ‘fiscal responsibility', a term not thought to be associated with the Tigers and suddenly interested owner Mike Ilitch.

Some will claim that Dombrowski needs to make a move or two, if for no other reason than to make a move. Others will claim in no way should Dombrowski overpay for talent that he doesn't feel is worth the investment.

The truth probably lies somewhere in between.

The Tigers have felt the struggles with wasteful contracts (see Right Field enigma Bobby Higginson for evidence).

But they are also in a current position where a new closer will only win them a handful more games in 2005 vs. 2004, and some of that could become offset by a possible decrease in offensive production (a knee injury to Carlos Guillen, plus another year on aging bodies Rondell White and Ivan Rodriguez could easily spell a downturn in offense).

It's not time to panic. Yet. But make no mistake about it, the Tigers are in an opportunity to win now – and with the right players could challenge for a division crown. But is that potential division crown (as well as a renewed interest in baseball in the Motor City for the first time since Ronald Reagan occupied the Oval Office) not worth a risky contract?

Players like Beltre, Drew and Odalis Perez may present some risks – but they also present solid additions to a club still lacking upper tier ballplayers.

Dombrowski has yet to steer the club wrong in his first three years at the helm, and deserves the benefit of the doubt. But make no mistake about it, if Alex Sanchez and Brandon Inge still occupy starting positions for the Tigers, Dombrowski will have some explaining to do – and ‘we tried' probably won't cut it, after the expectations many had for the team coming into the offseason.

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