Inside Pitch: Dombrowski Filling Holes

The Winter Meetings haven't even started yet, but this time around, Dave Dombrowski can head into the meetings knowing he's already accomplished his big goals; settle on a first baseman, and add a big bat for the middle of the lineup.

Dave Dombrowski completed his two major offseason roster goals, and without touching any of his talented young pitchers.

The No. 1 objective was to add a middle-of-the-order bat, which the Tigers president/CEO/GM feels he did by acquiring designated hitter Gary Sheffield from the Yankees. The cost was three top minor league pitching prospects, but Detroit feels it still has a pool of talented young pitchers to draw from.

That left finding a left-handed hitting first baseman, which Dombrowski did Nov. 16 by opting to bring Sean Casey back on a one-year contract. Casey, acquired by Detroit at the July 31 trade deadline, filed for free agency while waiting to see how the Tigers filled their big bat need.

"Obviously you weigh all your options," Casey said, "but I told my agent that when things were all done, my first choice, if things were to open up in Detroit, was to come back with Detroit. I love the situation here. I love the team. I feel like I'm going to have a big year."

Dombrowski didn't want to get caught up in the high-dollar, multi-team chase for Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee -- and risk getting shut out of acquiring a big bat altogether or having to overpay for one in a last-minute trade.

It's a sign of the strength of the Detroit farm system that he was able to put together the pitcher package that induced the Yankees to send Sheffield to the Tigers instead of elsewhere. And that no pitchers off last season's 25-man roster were needed to do it.

"It was a goal if we could accomplish it," Dombrowski said. "You have to be open to possibilities that come up. And you know we have (Mike) Maroth coming back."

The only loss on the pitching staff to date was left-hander Jamie Walker, who signed a three-year contract with Baltimore as a free agent. He will have to be replaced.

History suggests Detroit won't lead the league in pitching next year (see the 2006 White Sox, for instance) but the Tigers felt their best chance for success in 2007 was to not tinker with something that wasn't broken. The loss of Maroth last year showed they have enough staff depth and minor league talent to fill as necessary.

"I like our position players," Dombrowski said. "I talked to our scouts; I talked to Jim (Leyland), and he's very happy with the way the club shapes up at this point.

"You always listen, though. It would be nice if one of the bats on our bench was left-handed, but it's probably not going to shape up that way. We will look more at trying to fill the left-handed relief spot, and keep an open mind but not expect other things."

--1B Sean Casey, who filed for free agency while he waited for Detroit to fill its need for a slugger, agreed Nov. 16 to return to the Tigers on a one-year deal that reportedly will pay him roughly half the $8.5 million he earned last year.

"We have a lot of right-handed hitters in the lineup," Casey, 32, said. "I thought with (Detroit signing DH Gary) Sheffield that would open up the lineup for a left-handed bat. I feel like when they signed Gary, it was almost a perfect fit for me to come back with Detroit."

Casey's deal is reportedly for $4 million, with another half-million possible if he bats often enough.

The left-handed hitter doesn't fit the classic first base mold because his power is limited, but he is excellent defensively and is a career .302 hitter. Detroit obtained him in a July 31 deal with Pittsburgh. He hit a combined .272 in the regular season but banged away at a .529 clip in the World Series with two home runs and five RBIs.

"When I got here, it kind of exceeded my expectations," he said. "What I found was a great bunch of guys, a lot of good character people and some great young talent. It's a good mix of young players and veterans.

"When you look at winning teams and teams that do things right ... they have a lot of good guys in the clubhouse. Being in the World Series last year and coming into spring training with an opportunity to win the World Series, for me, this was a no-brainer. This is where I wanted to be."

--Detroit will have to replace LHP Jamie Walker, who left as a free agent to take a three-year contract from Baltimore, but GM Dave Dombrowski feels a left-handed relief specialist might not be as critical for the Tigers as for some teams.

"He wanted a three-year deal," said Dombrowski, who only offered two. "We'll try to get a left-handed reliever now.

"But it's a little different for us. When (RHP) Todd Jones closes with (RHPs Fernando) Rodney and (Joel) Zumaya, we don't have to take them out for left-handed hitters. But we'll go out there and we'll try to do something (about bringing in a southpaw)."

Zumaya held left-handed batters to a .183 average, while Rodney limited them to a .202 mark.

Detroit will receive a draft pick between the first and second rounds for losing Walker.

--Jim Leyland was named Manager of the Year in the American League on Nov. 15, becoming the third manager to earn the award in both major leagues.

Leyland was voted first on 19 out of 28 ballots cast by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox are the others selected Manager of the Year in both leagues.

"It's obviously a big thrill for me," Leyland said. "These are individual honors, but they're really a result of a lot of things, starting with support of your family, the ownership, the general manager, the entire organization (that) supported me, and most importantly, good players that had good years. That's usually how something like this happens to an individual."

Leyland, who turns 62 on Dec. 15, was hired right after Detroit's 2005 season ended with 91 losses. The manager, who had spent six years on the sidelines, helped Detroit to its first winning season in 13 years with a 95-67 record, dropping out of first place in the AL Central on the last day of the season.

"The reason this one means so much is that I've received this award in both leagues, and when you join Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa, that's something to feel good about," Leyland said. "I think the No. 1 thing was getting the fans back out to the ballpark. To see the atmosphere back in the city of Detroit -- it's a great baseball town, and I'm very proud of that."

Leyland won the honor with Pittsburgh in 1990 and 1992 but had to end a losing mentality when he took over the Tigers, something he was unable to do in his previous stop in Colorado.

--RHP Justin Verlander was selected as the American League Rookie of the Year Nov. 13 in voting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Verlander was picked first on 26 of 28 ballots cast for a total of 133 points. He topped Boston RHP Jonathan Papelbon, who had 63 points, and Minnesota LHP Francisco Liriano, who had 30 points. Verlander and Baltimore OF Nick Markakis were the only players to receive first-place votes.

Verlander became the first Tigers player to win the honor since 2B Lou Whitaker in 1978. Other Tigers winners were Mark Fidrych in 1976 and Harvey Kuenn in 1953.

"(Pitching coach Chuck Hernandez) just called," Verlander said, "and we talked a little bit about what I can do to get better. One thing would be my fielding. I think the whole world saw Game 5."

The pitcher's throwing error to third base set up St. Louis' two-run fourth inning, helping seal the Cardinals' World Series title.

Verlander was the first starting pitcher to win the AL award since Yankees LHP Dave Righetti in 1981.

"This is something the organization can be very proud of, and something Verlander should be very proud of," manager Jim Leyland said. "Now he has to continue to move forward to be the pitcher he can be."

The rookie threw a total of 207 2/3 innings, counting postseason play, after throwing 130 in 2005, his first pro year.

Verlander said the Tigers training staff advised him to rest his right shoulder early in the offseason, then begin exercises designed to strengthen his rotator cuff.

"They told me it was a little weak," he said. "It's like the brakes on a car, and I need to come back next year with better brakes."

His ERA over his last nine starts was 5.86, but overall he was 17-9 with several big wins.

--1B Chris Shelton may have to open the 2007 season in the minors as a result of Detroit's signing of 1B Sean Casey to a one-year deal.

Shelton hit 10 home runs last April to help Detroit get off to a hot start but then got caught up in a home run swing that eventually led the Tigers to send him to the Triple-A Toledo to try to get his stroke back.

He had mixed success at that, and the Tigers opted to acquire Casey from Pittsburgh at the July 31 trade deadline. Shelton rejoined the team before September but was not on the postseason roster.

"We like Chris," GM Dave Dombrowski said. "I talked to him after the season ended. He had a tough second half; he needs to go back and get his mind back together again. He'll come to spring training and try to open eyes. We need to go out there and see it again on a regular basis."

BY THE NUMBERS: 28 -- Seasons between Rookie of the Year awards for the Tigers. RHP Justin Verlander was named the Rookie of the Year in the American League for 2006 by the Baseball Writers' Association of America on Nov. 13. The last Detroit player named Rookie of the Year was 2B Lou Whitaker in 1978, two years after RHP Mark Fidrych won the honor.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "My top priority was to just let them know what I was about and to let them know what my expectations were. It wasn't my way at all. It was the right way. There's a right way to do things, and I was just going to make sure that my team was going to do things right." -- Jim Leyland on what his primary task was at the start of a season that culminated with his being named Manager of the Year on Nov. 15 by the BBWAA.

Detroit filled its two primary offensive needs quickly, moving Nov. 10 to acquire DH Gary Sheffield from the Yankees for three minor league pitchers and six days later getting free agent 1B Sean Casey to agree on a one-year contract to return to the Tigers.

ARRIVALS: DH Gary Sheffield (trade with Yankees).

DEPARTURES: LHP Jamie Walker (free agent, signed with Orioles).

BIGGEST NEEDS: A replacement for Walker must be found. The Tigers addressed their two biggest needs, a big bat and a first baseman, with the acquisition of Sheffield and the signing of Casey. Detroit's payroll may go north of $100 million, but the Tigers were willing to do that to stay ahead of the competition in the AL Central and to get back for another try at winning the World Series. There is an open rotation spot but no shortage of candidates on hand to fill it.

FREE AGENTS: DH Matt Stairs, RHP Troy Percival. Stairs won't be back, and neither will Percival, whose career ended in 2005 with a torn elbow muscle.

ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: RHP Jeremy Bonderman, LHP Nate Robertson, RHP Fernando Rodney, INF Brandon Inge, INF Omar Infante, INF Ramon Santiago, LF Craig Monroe.

Inge can become a free agent after 2007 while Bonderman and Monroe are up the year after that, so look for GM Dave Dombrowski to seek multiyear contracts of varying lengths to take them beyond those dates; that's his track record. Dombrowski keeps his arbitration cases to a minimum, so Rodney and Infante probably will agree to one- or two-year deals. Santiago's role as a spare infielder could depend on whether Infante and/or INF Neifi Perez, return but he would be offered arbitration as a last resort.

IN LIMBO: INF Neifi Perez, INF Omar Infante, INF Ramon Santiago, LHP Mike Maroth, OF Marcus Thames, RHP Zach Miner.

Among the infielders, Perez is not assured of a roster spot despite a contract calling for $2.5 million. Maroth's status will depend on the health of his surgically 'scoped left elbow, while Miner is expendable if a deal is needed. Thames or Miner might be traded to obtain a catching prospect.

PROSPECT WATCH: CF Cameron Maybin is seen as the best position player in Detroit's system, and he was outstanding as a teenager playing his first year of pro ball in the low Class A Midwest League. He is targeted for arrival in 2008 or early 2009. LHP Andrew Miller, the Tigers' first choice in the June draft, had a contract clause that would have brought him to the majors in September, but his three games of high Class A relief were so impressive Detroit brought him up before Sept. 1. He'll go to spring training as a starter, but he probably will open 2007 in Double-A, with a jump to the majors possible by midseason. OF Brent Clevlen performed better with Detroit in a brief trial than he did in most of a season at Double-A and could make the team as a reserve with another good spring training.

LHP Mike Maroth (left elbow surgery) made a late-season comeback after having bone chips removed on June 2 but wasn't effective enough to make the postseason roster. He needs to show a winter of rest can restore him to full duty.

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