President and general manager Dave Dombrowski believes that once his group of position players heals up and is fully ready to play together in 2006, they'll be able to produce plenty of runs, especially with manager Alan Trammell out of the equation, who many indicated was becoming a hindrance in the locker room to some of the team's most important offensive producers, like catcher Ivan Rodriguez.
Instead, Dombrowski will focus his offseason efforts on improving his pitching staff, namely replacing free agent Jason Johnson as well as looking to add a bona fide closer to the club. While the team still has a small bit of hope, they will not rely on Troy Percival for any role in 2006 – and if he happens to return to form, he'll be a welcome bonus.
The Tigers have three spots believed to be locked in heading into next season; Jeremy Bonderman, Mike Maroth, and Nate Robertson. The Tigers also appear intent on holding a spot open for one of their many young, talented arms. That still leaves one spot open to fill via the free agent market.
Unfortunately, there isn't exactly a plethora of starting pitchers out on the market. The highlight of the group is A.J. Burnett, who will leave the Florida Marlins. Of course, Burnett has not yet reached his incredible potential. Burnett's career is likely highlighted by a no-hitter in which he walked an astounding nine batters.
Next to Burnett, the only top of the rotation starter available is Kevin Millwood, who will be looking for a more secure package this offseason after settling for a one year deal in 2005. Millwood, who turns 31 in December, posted his best ERA in six years at 2.86.
Luckily, the group isn't quite as thin when it comes to closers. Billy Wagner, Trevor Hoffman and B.J. Ryan highlight the list of available closers. Unfortunately, the Tigers are likely to face stiff competition for all three, especially Wagner.
Ryan might be the most likely target, who excelled as a closer in his first full season attempt at the job. Ryan saved 36 games while posting a 2.43 ERA for the Orioles. Ryan certainly won't come cheap either, but at 29 would likely be a better option than Hoffman, who at 38 would carry some of the same concerns as the Percival signing of a year ago did.
Dombrowski and company will have money to spend, but the question will be (much like last offseason), will there be anyone interested in taking it. The heavy competition and the Tigers step back in 2005 certainly won't help convince anyone to come to Detroit, so Dombrowski certainly has his work cut out for him.
His job may become increasingly more difficult in the coming weeks, as assistant general manager Al Avila continues to receive more consideration for open general manager positions. Avila lost out on the general manager position in Arizona, which went to Red Sox assistant Josh Byrnes. Currently, he doesn't appear to be a frontrunner for any other job available, but being one of the top potential general managers in the game, it seems to be only a matter of time before Avila gets the chance to take over his own team.