Adding a big outfield bat is going to be tough for the Tigers at this stage of the offseason.
If it's going to happen, it would appear Detroit is either going to have to go at it through a window or a back door.
The free agent market for significant outfielders was thin to begin with and now has all but disappeared, at least from a Detroit perspective.
But there's more than one way to catch fish, and Tigers boss Dave Dombrowski is going to have to dig deep in his tackle box to avoid having his team return an outfield composed entirely of holdovers (Rondell White, Alex Sanchez, Bobby Higginson, Craig Monroe and Marcus Thames).
The Tigers might have to part with one of their starting pitchers, one of the team's strong points, but even that may not be enough to get the kind of help envisioned when last season ended.
Detroit returns five starters, only one older than 30 and all of whom have upsides of varying degrees. That means anything the Tigers could get in return likely would have baggage -- such as injuries or a contract big enough to put next to a redwood tree.
Even signing an established veteran free agent pitcher (the number shrinks by the day) might not change Dombrowski's thinking on which of his pitchers to deal for offensive help.
The Tigers will probably have to package an outfielder back the other way to obtain something of value.
It's going to challenge Dombrowski's ability to be creative, for sure.
--1B Carlos Pena agreed to terms Jan. 7, the last of Detroit's three arbitration-eligible players to come to terms.
Pena received a 1-year deal for $2,575,000, far exceeding his previous salary and the $1 million-plus contracts agreed to by 3B Brandon Inge and CF Alex Sanchez earlier.
Pena, 26, batted .241 with a team-high 27 home runs and 82 RBI in 142 games with the Tigers last season.
Pena's .995 fielding percentage was the second-highest in club history for first basemen playing more than 108 games.
Detroit has 15 players on its 40-man roster under contract.
Wilson, 31, is a career .254 hitter who hit .274 for New York in 67 games last season with four home runs and 21 RBI. He recently signed a one-year contract for $760,000. He also missed most of September after undergoing surgery to repair torn ligaments in his left hand.
Hernandez, 22, split time with Double-A Erie and Class A Lakeland last season. In 138 games he hit .283.
Hernandez is a glittering defensive shortstop with a strong arm who began to hit for average two years. He is strictly a singles hitter who strikes out more than he should and doesn't walk enough.
--OF Alexis Gomez, claimed off waivers by Detroit from Kansas City late last September, was designated for assignment by the Tigers on Jan. 6 to make room for C Vance Wilson on the roster.
Gomez hit .276 in 13 games for Kansas City and .251 in 109 Triple-A contests.
--Pitchers and catchers will report Feb. 17 to Lakeland, Fla., to begin spring training, the Tigers announced.
After taking physicals and pictures, they will have their first workouts Feb. 18.
The remainder of the squad has been asked to report Feb. 21 for physicals with the first full team workout the following day.
--2B Fernando Vina won't be ready for spring training and faces the end of his career as he continues to make very little progress in his efforts to come back from a partially torn patella tendon in his left knee.
Vina, who began 2004 as Detroit's starting second baseman but was limited to just 29 games by a hamstring and then the knee injury, probably won't be ready until long after Opening Day.
"We're not counting on him from a health standpoint," president/CEO/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "In all likelihood ... I know he is not going to be ready (for the start of the season)."
Vina declined surgery as an option because it was forecast he would be out at least a year, with no guarantee even that would solve the problem. He opted for extensive rehabilitation, which so far has not helped.
He has been commuting from his Nevada home to work with Sacramento Kings physical therapist Al Biancani.
"He's still not responding (to therapy)," manager Alan Trammell said. "There's been some slight progress. Really, it's not been any significant change."
Trammell said at the end of last season that even if Vina were to come in healthy, 2B Omar Infante would be the starter.
--INF Ramon Martinez signed a contract for slightly more than $1 million on Jan. 4 to be a backup infielder for Detroit next season.
Martinez, 32, spent 2004 with the Chicago Cubs and batted .246 with three home runs and 30 RBI in 102 games. He played 73 games at shortstop, 24 at third base and six at second base. The right-handed hitting Martinez is expected to complement left-handed hitting Jason Smith as a backup infielder with Detroit.
"I think with Brandon (Inge) being our third baseman and pretty much us coming to the conclusion that that was happening, it's a situation where we really do need two utility men," Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski said. "We like Ramon Martinez. He's established. He can play all three infield positions really well. With him being a right-handed hitter and Jason Smith batting left-handed, it's a good fit."
Martinez has hit .268 over 568 major league games spanning seven seasons with the San Francisco Giants (1998-2002) and the Cubs (2003-04).
"This doesn't mean Jason Smith is out of a job at all," Dombrowski said. "We're counting on both to be on the team."
Smith, 27, played second, short and third base for Detroit last season and hit .239 with five home runs and 19 RBIs in 61 games.
BY THE NUMBERS: 8 -- Saves blown by the Detroit bullpen in eighth innings last season. Converting those opportunities would have given the Tigers an 80-82 record.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've got to be more efficient. Guaranteed, when we get to spring training, that'll be my message and that's what we're going to hammer on. Now, how do you get it done? Whatever it is, we've got to buckle down a little bit." -- Manager Alan Trammell on his plans to emphasize defense this season, a category his Tigers have been the worst in the league at for two straight years.
Detroit has added three players, two of them backups, in its drive to improve for 2005. INF Ramon Martinez was signed to complement INF Jason Smith as reserves, and backup C Vance Wilson was obtained in a deal with the New York Mets. Closer RHP Troy Percival was the Tigers' marquee free-agent signee. Adding Wilson will let Detroit keep Brandon Inge on third base while giving manager Alan Trammell a competent catcher to give C Ivan Rodriguez 1-2 days of rest per week. The Tigers are still shopping for a significant outfield upgrade and could add a solid veteran starter, which would give it depth to make a deal in that direction.
ARRIVALS: C Vance Wilson (trade with New York Mets), INF Ramon Martinez (free agent, signed from Chicago Cubs), RHP Troy Percival (free agent, signed from Anaheim), RHP Colby Lewis (waiver claim, from Texas), OF Byron Gettis (waiver claim, from Kansas City), OF DeWayne Wise (waiver claim, from Atlanta).
BIGGEST NEEDS: Solid upper-tier veteran starting pitcher, second southpaw reliever, power-hitting outfielder.
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 is facing the end of his career. Won't be ready for spring training or Opening Day. RHP Nate Cornejo (right shoulder labrum surgery) will be brought 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.