It looks as if the Tigers are going to try to sell a new bullpen brick as a new wall.
The bullpen Detroit takes into 2005 will be peopled by faces largely familiar to Tigers fans save a couple of changes.
He also replaces RHP Ugueth Urbina as Detroit's closer although the incumbent remains for the moment the new setup man.
The Tigers might be inclined to shave Urbina's $4 million salary -- but might be able to afford it given how things stand now.
Eighth innings were a source of trouble to Detroit last year as eight leads got away because of inefficient setup men. Urbina, who blew just three of 24 save chances, would figure to stop that trend.
He could also double as a save alternative to Percival, whose age and fragility might prompt the Tigers to keep him from working three games in a row.
Leading candidates to back up the top two are all familiar Detroit arms, some of whom have yet to demonstrate they are up to performing at the major league level.
LHP Jamie Walker will be Detroit's chief left-handed reliever. He has improved over the last two years but often is forced to work outside the typical parameters for a southpaw specialist because he's been the Lone Ranger of Tiger lefties.
The Tigers hope LHP Steve Colyer can step up to help Walker, but he was erratic last year. He did finish the season well with Detroit, though, working to one or two hitters at a time.
RHP Franklyn German has been up and down between the majors and minors the last couple of seasons but had a good winter league season after doing well for Detroit in late September. Like Colyer, sometimes he can't locate the plate if you take him by the hand.
RHP Fernando Rodney was supposed to challenge for the closer's role last spring but came down with a sore elbow that required surgery to repair a ligament. He's progressed well, they say, but who knows how that will translate when it counts.
Detroit also has RHP Gary Knotts for long relief and spot starting. Knotts improved as the season went along and had several good late season starts for the Tigers.
Counting on all those pitchers to have solid seasons at the same time defies history. It will be enough to ask the group to better the collective performance of the bullpen last season.
--OF Byron Gettis might have earned himself a closer look in spring training with a hot winter season.
Gettis, claimed off waivers from Kansas City just before the 2004 season ended, hit .389 with one home run and 12 RBI in 26 games for Mayaguez in the Puerto Rican Winter League.
His downside was that he still struck out too much, 20 times compared to just 10 walks. But Gettis, who has some speed, might challenge for an extra outfielder spot with Detroit in the spring.
Also impressing in his winter league experience was RHP Jason Karnuth, who played for Aragua in the Venezuelan League. Karnuth went 2-0 with five saves and a 0.69 ERA in 22 games for the Tigres. He gave up 25 hits in 26 innings with five walks and 18 strikeouts. Karnuth probably won't make Detroit's roster, but he could have gotten himself on the Tigers' radar screen.
2B Omar Infante had a solid winter season for Oriente of the Venezuelan League. Infante, who enters the spring as Detroit's regular second baseman after a solid 2004, hit .301 with three home runs and 17 RBI in 38 games.
RHP Franklyn German, fighting for a roster spot with Detroit, made some strides in harnessing his control problems this winter with Escogido of the Dominican Republic Winter League. German was 0-1 but had a 2.20 ERA as a setup man. He pitched in 12 games but walked only three batters in 16 1/3 innings, allowing just nine hits and striking out nine.
1B Carlos Pena, a regular for the Tigers, hit .338 with five home runs and 14 RBI in 22 games for Licey of the Dominican winter league. Pena drew 24 walks but also struck out 21 times, figures reflecting his finish over the last three months for Detroit.
--Dave Dombrowski, president, chief executive officer and general manager of the Tigers, doesn't want disappointment seeping in because Detroit had landed only one free agent as the calendar was turned to 2005.
"Sometimes it gets lost that our first priority was to address the bullpen," said Dombrowski, whose chief free agent acquisition was new closer RHP Troy Percival. "And now it even looks like the setup situation could be solved because it wouldn't surprise me if (2004 closer RHP Ugueth Urbina) is our setup man.
"We have a third baseman in (Brandon) Inge that we like. And in center field, (Alex) Sanchez did hit .322 last year.
"You want to make sure you're upgrading before you just add. Maybe our improvement comes from our young players getting better."
--RHP Ugueth Urbina figures to be Detroit's setup man although Detroit will still be open to trading last year's closer.
"Things can change," president/CEO/general manager Dave Dombrowski said, "but I would not be surprised when we get to spring training that Ugie's with us.
"So for us in late innings, it's Urbina and (new closer Troy) Percival, with (RHP) Fernando Rodney leading up to them. Basically, our bullpen is set and our rotation is set unless we have a big upgrade with somebody.
"Quite a few clubs have explored -- kicked the tires -- (about trading for Urbina), but no one has stepped forward to make a deal that we think is anywhere close to the value in return.
"Our bullpen is much improved. I thought we would trade Urbina and come up with a setup man some other way, but if it doesn't happen, we're prepared to go the way we are."
BY THE NUMBERS: 3 -- Save chances squandered by RHP Ugueth Urbina for Detroit last season. He had 24 save opportunities.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "If it happens, great. If it doesn't, he'll be our eighth-inning guy." -- Detroit general manager/CEO/president Dave Dombrowski on the chances of RHP Ugueth Urbina getting traded before the 2005 season begins.
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.
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.