Tiger News & Notes: 12/21

Unlike 2003, when the Tigers added a half dozen players to a roster starving for talent, 2004 hasn't been as kind to the organization. Why haven't the Tigers been as successful in '04 with free agents? Plus, the roster report.

The Tigers' future is being tripped up by the club's past.

Things might turn out OK, but president Dave Dombrowski has been frustrated thus far in his efforts to acquire additional help beyond closer RHP Troy Percival.

"At this point," Dombrowski said, "we're going after a different quality of player than what we did. We're going for some of the upper-echelon free-agent players. They have a lot of choices and can be very particular in the selection process."

Much of his frustration can be blamed on a farm system that hasn't had furniture for more than 20 years.

It's why Dombrowski re-assigned Greg Smith and brought David Chadd over from Boston to beef up the scouting department and its results.

One need look no further than Atlanta for the importance of a talent pipeline that has more in it than hot air.

The Braves just acquired one of baseball's top pitchers, RHP Tim Hudson, from the Oakland A's for three young players. Those players were developed by Atlanta and will be replaced at some point by Braves farm products.

Detroit can't do that. It has some pitchers in the minors and a low-impact position player or two but nobody who would make manager Alan Trammell tear up his tentative Opening Day lineup card.

One of the Tigers' top prospects, RHP Justin Verlander, hasn't thrown a pro pitch yet. And the guy who was Verlander last year, RHP Kyle Sleeth, didn't do anything last season to earn his scout a gold star.

Dombrowski is thus limited to trading "A" for "X" or signing free agents. The Tigers have overpaid somewhat for free agents this winter and last because they have no alternative. But now the franchise is running up against $10 million-a-year players -- with current roster member RF Bobby Higginson serving as a reminder of how making a bad decision can hamstring future efforts to improve.

So Dombrowski will be scrutinizing the list of players not offered contracts and allowed to become free agents, and he also will be hoping the price comes down to an edible level on the attractive free agents who remain.

The other alternative is choosing the right time to unload reliever Ugueth Urbina, who could bring a decent return in the trade market and is excess baggage now that the Tigers have signed closer Troy Percival.

That's why a greater emphasis is being placed on doing a better job of scouting and signing young talent. Detroit needs more options to quicken the pace of improvement.

--CF Alex Sanchez accepted a one-year contract from the Tigers on Monday (Dec. 20). The Tigers had been overt in their attempts to find a replacement for Sanchez, leading to speculation that he might be non-tendered.

--UTIL Brandon Inge, as expected, agreed to terms on a one-year contract with the Tigers before the non-tender deadline. Inge might start at third base or center field for the Tigers next season.

--Detroit was blanked at the winter meetings but is still optimistic it will be able to add help before spring training.

Last year, Detroit signed RHP Jason Johnson after Baltimore non-tendered him. It signed C Ivan Rodriguez in January.

The Tigers showed aggressive interest in RHP Carl Pavano, who went to the New York Yankees; 3B Troy Glaus, who signed with Arizona; CF Steve Finley, who ended up in Anaheim; and 3B Corey Koskie, who signed with Toronto.

Last year, Detroit had landed a handful of free agents by this time.

"You're in a position where you're dealing with some very good players that a lot of clubs have interest in," president/CEO/GM Dave Dombrowski said. "You can be the runner-up every time, but you don't get the player. And I think that's happened a few times, but it doesn't really make you feel any better because you want the player."

The Tigers are believed to have serious interest in RHP Derek Lowe and OF J.D. Drew, but only at the right terms.

"It's one of these streaks where it's been hard to get people to commit to signing," Dombrowski said.

--OF Craig Monroe pleaded not guilty Dec. 15 to charges he shoplifted a $29.99 belt.

Monroe was arrested Dec. 3 on a misdemeanor charge Dec. 3 after being accused of wrapping the belt around his waist and trying to leave a store without paying for it. He was released on bond the same day.

Monroe, who earned $335,000 last season, appeared in Charlotte County (Fla.) Court before Circuit Judge Peter Bell.

Monroe hit .293 with 18 home runs and 72 RBI in 128 games last season for the Tigers.

--Reports Detroit offered free agent OF J.D. Drew a four-year, $36 million contract were scoffed at by Tigers chief executive Dave Dombrowski.

"We have interest in him," Dombrowski said, "because he fits a position that we're looking to fill. We think he's a good player, but I've read many things that are completely exaggerated at this point about where things have progressed with him.

"I wouldn't want to get into the specifics on that. Some people you talk to like to keep things quiet. Other people like to embellish your conversations. You just live with those things and try to go forward."

Detroit has been rebuffed in its efforts to land either a high-production third baseman or center fielder. It can take either because UTIL Brandon Inge can handle the other position.

There was concern over Drew's inability to reach the 150-game plateau in his major league career. The Tigers would have him shift to center, not a position he has played with any regularity in the majors but one they think he can handle.

--Detroit made no selections in the Rule 5 draft this year after making three in each of the previous two drafts.

The Tigers entered the selection process with a full 40-player roster, unlike the past two years when they created space because they knew they were going to add someone.

The organization lost two players in the minor league phase of the draft.

Colorado, for its Triple-A team, took LHP Chris Steinborn from Detroit's Erie farm club, and another SeaWolves pitcher, RHP Felipe Garcia, was taken by Pittsburgh for its Triple-A team.

Former Tigers draft pick RHP Landon Stockman was selected in the Triple-A phase by Milwaukee. Detroit released Stockman last spring, and he signed with an independent league team, which later sold him to Cleveland.

--RHP Matt Anderson has become a free agent after Detroit bought out his contract option for next season.

The move was not unexpected. Anderson has failed to regain his once-fearsome fastball in the two seasons since suffering an armpit-muscle injury, and he also has had trouble adding other pitches and controlling them.

Anderson had 22 saves in his best season with Detroit, 2001, after being made the first overall pick in the 1997 draft. He could still re-sign with the organization if he's willing to accept a minor league contract.

BY THE NUMBERS: 0 -- Players selected by Detroit in the Rule 5 draft this year after winding up with three in each of the previous two seasons. Five of those six made it through a whole season with the Tigers, although one (RHP Lino Urdaneta) was released after this season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I consider him our nugget, our wild card. I'm comfortable with him anywhere. But that will all unfold over the next few days, or the next few months. At this point, I can't tell you what position he's going to play." -- Detroit manager Alan Trammell on where UTIL Brandon Inge fits into the Tigers' 2005 lineup.

Detroit signed closer RHP Troy Percival as part of its drive to upgrade the bullpen but was shut out in the winter meetings. Could still trade last season's closer, RHP Ugueth Urbina for help elsewhere, but the price will be high. Still looking for a big bat in center or at third, with UTIL Brandon Inge providing flexibility because he can handle either position. The Tigers would like to add a solid veteran starter, which would give them some depth to make a deal for aid at another position.

ARRIVALS: RHP Troy Percival (free agent from Anaheim), 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), RHP Esteban Yan (free agent, signed with Anaheim).

BIGGEST NEEDS: Productive two-way player in center or at third, solid veteran upper-tier starting pitcher, second left-handed reliever.

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.

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