Tiger News & Notes: 12/29

After a strong start with the addition of Troy Percival, the Tigers haven't been able to nab another impact free agent this offseason. However, the Tigers have now added a local product, and could be pursuing another one. Plus, the roster report.

It would not be surprising to see Detroit overpay slightly to land free agent RHP Derek Lowe.

Shut out in its efforts to land a proven two-way third baseman, Detroit might wait to reach that goal.

Signing someone such as Lowe would give the Tigers flexibility to reach that goal in spring training or at a point during the season when someone loses a starting pitcher.

Detroit has a rotation it considers solid and promising, though it doesn't match up with what a championship team should have at this point.

RHP Jeremy Bonderman, LHP Wilfredo Ledezma and LHP Nate Robertson form the core of the rotation's future at this point. Adding Lowe would make RHP Jason Johnson and LHP Mike Maroth expendable. Further, the Tigers have RHP Gary Knotts as a viable rotation alternative.

Lowe, one of many Michigan products Detroit has managed to let slip away over the last 20 years, isn't going back to Boston, and that's a red flag of its own. Even though he was the first pitcher to win the clinching game of the division, league and World Series, the pitching-needy Red Sox clearly thought that was outweighed by his declining performance over the last two seasons.

His value will likely grow, at least on a limited basis, as the remaining group of free agent pitchers shrinks. That may be one of the reasons he had not signed as the holidays approached.

A change from Fenway to Comerica Park could be helpful to Lowe. Keeping the ball down or away from left-handed hitters would let him take advantage of Comerica Park's pitcher-friendly distances in center and left.

The Tigers have demonstrated that money won't prevent them from achieving their goals -- but only to a point. Whether circumstances will allow Lowe and Detroit to get together could be determined soon.

--CF Alex Sanchez and 3B Brandon Inge avoided arbitration Dec. 20 by agreeing to one-year contracts with the Tigers worth an estimated $1.35 million each.

The signings left only 1B Carlos Pena eligible for arbitration.

Sanchez, 28, returns to play center field for Detroit after the Tigers tried to replace their leadoff hitter with someone who plays better defense and hits with more authority.

"There's no question he does a lot for us at the top of the lineup," president/CEO/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "He really makes things happen."

Sanchez hit .322 with 19 stolen bases in 79 games for Detroit and led the American League with 29 bunt singles. His 37 infield hits ranked him third in the AL. He made nine errors, walked only seven times, rarely saw a three-ball count and batted just 40 times after the All-Star break because of leg-muscle problems.

Detroit tried to sign a free agent who could play third or center. Had it been successful, Sanchez would have been the odd man out with Inge taking over the vacant position.

Inge, 27, played five positions for Detroit and blossomed as a hitter, especially when he didn't catch. His defense at third base was dazzling at times, and the Tigers figure if he plays regularly at that spot he could improve on his figures from last season, when he hit .287 with 13 home runs and 64 RBI in a career best 131 games.

--3B Eric Munson may blossom as a power-hitting run producer -- it just won't be with Detroit.

The Tigers, who invested nearly $10 million dollars in Munson since making him the third player taken in the 1999 draft, did not offer the third baseman a contract Dec. 20 and thus allowed him to become a free agent.

It would have cost Detroit another $1.2 million to sign Munson, and he didn't figure to play much. Originally a catcher at USC, he was immediately switched to first base for defensive reasons when he signed with the Tigers. He was blocked there when the Tigers acquired Carlos Pena, and Munson was switched to third base before the 2003 season.

He did well there initially but regressed last season and didn't hit well, either.

Munson, 27, saw his average drop to .212 from .240 in 2003, although he did hit 37 home runs in the two seasons, many of them coming at opportune times. He made 35 errors in the two seasons.

"He's just not a fit for us at this point," president/CEO/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "We'd come to the conclusion he's not a third baseman. We tried to trade him, but that didn't work.

"I don't know if it was because other clubs thought we weren't going to tender him or what, but I think most people look at him as someone who's going to be a first baseman, not a third baseman."

"I'm sorry it didn't work out with Eric," manager Alan Trammell said. "Initially I thought it would. It just didn't happen, though. This was my call. I just think Brandon (Inge) gives us more defensively at third."

--RHP Andrew Good, a product of nearby Rochester (Mich.) High whom Detroit passed on in the 1998 draft, has signed a minor league contract with the Tigers after being released by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Good, 25, had surgery in September to remove bone chips from his elbow.

Good has pitched part of the last two years for Arizona, starting 12 times and making 21 relief appearances. He was 5-4 with a 5.30 ERA overall and appears to be a long relief candidate for Detroit.

BY THE NUMBERS: 1 -- Free agent signed by Detroit entering the holidays, RHP Troy Percival. The Tigers remain hopeful of adding at least one more.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We want a little more from him and we'll focus on that in spring training. But improvement defensively is something I'm going to stress with the entire team, not just Alex." -- Manager Alan Trammell on the defensive shortcomings of CF Alex Sanchez that induced Detroit to make its unsuccessful attempts to replace him during the winter. It's part of an overall drive by the Tigers to upgrade a defense that has been last in the league in Trammell's two years as manager.

Detroit signed closer RHP Troy Percival as part of its drive to upgrade the bullpen but was shut out elsewhere in the winter meetings. Could still trade last year's closer, RHP Ugueth Urbina for help elsewhere but will be asking for a lot. Stymied in efforts to land a potent two-way third baseman or center fielder, the Tigers stayed in-house and will apparently have Alex Sanchez and Brandon Inge in center and at third, respectively. Tigers would like to add a solid veteran starter, which would give it 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: Solid upper-tier veteran starting pitcher, second southpaw reliever, backup catcher. Would take a productive two-way third baseman or center fielder but lacks material to trade for one.


IN LIMBO: 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. RHP Ugueth Urbina could be dealt if a suitable taker could be found. CF Alex Sanchez signed, but the club would take an alternative if it can find one.

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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