Inside Pitch: Long Winter for Rabs

Mike Rabelo was forced up to the big league club this spring when Vance Wilson went down and held his own as the team's backup. But now, it will be a long winter for Rabelo, as his big league future (with the Tigers) will now likely come down to the health of the elblow of Vance Wilson.

It's going to be a long winter for Tigers catcher Mike Rabelo.

Barring a trade, his major league future is going to rest in the hands of Vance Wilson.

Or rather, Wilson's recuperating throwing elbow.

Wilson never played an inning for Detroit last season. Pain in his elbow wouldn't go away during spring training, and it was determined after a futile early-season rehab assignment that he would need Tommy John surgery immediately.

Wilson is optimistic about an early spring training return, but with arm and shoulder injuries, especially for catchers, the proof will be in the throwing.

He is entering the last year of his contract with Detroit, and the Tigers are likely to keep him if he shows he can throw effectively.

Meantime, Rabelo, who performed well as the Tigers' backup to Ivan Rodriguez, must wait out the long winter and what could be an even longer spring to see whether his season will begin with Detroit or in the minors with Class AAA Toledo.

A trade, at least until spring training is well under way, is unlikely as Detroit wouldn't want to be caught without a backup alternative in case Wilson can't throw.

--C Vance Wilson entered the offseason optimistic the Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow was taking. Wilson missed the entire 2007 campaign after early spring surgery. He has been diligent in his rehab and feels he'll be able to throw when spring training beings.

--CF Cameron Maybin was expected to miss a week's worth of games in the Arizona Fall League following a slight left shoulder strain. Maybin suffered was hurt swinging a bat on game Oct. 22. Maybin, 20, was hitting .219 in nine AFL games with two solo home runs accounting for both his RBIs. He batted .143 in 24 big-league games this year.

--CF Curtis Granderson finished third in the Players Choice Awards for Outstanding Player in the American League. He was behind winner 3B Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees and his Tigers teammate, RF Magglio Ordonez. Granderson hit 23 triples, the highest total since Dale Mitchell had 23 in 1949. Granderson got three hits in the final game of the season to finish with a .302 batting average. His .361 on-base percentage was fifth among major league leadoff hitters.

--INF Michael Hollimon has begun training with Team USA in preparation for the World Cup next month in Taiwan. Hollimon, who played second base during the season in the Tigers' farm system but was at shortstop this winter, was hitting well in the Arizona Fall League before leaving. Hollimon was a 16th-round draft choice by Detroit out of Oral Roberts in 2005 and is seen as having a chance to be a backup major league infielder or better because of his bat. He spent most of the season at Class AA Erie and hit .282 last season.

--SS Danny Worth is trying to convince Detroit it needs a shortstop to replace Carlos Guillen for only two years at the most. Worth, picked in the second round of the June draft out of Pepperdine, was sent to high Class A Lakeland and hit .251 in 171 at-bats but was clicking at a .300 rate at the end of the season. He has hit well in the Hawaii Winter Baseball league since being shipped there to replace sixth-round choice SS Cale Iorg. Detroit has been impressed that his glove has lived up to the scouting reports and that he's adjusted to wooden bats as well.

BY THE NUMBERS: .926 -- CF Curtis Granderson on-base plus slugging percentage figure, the second best in baseball among leadoff hitters (to Florida SS Hanley Ramirez).

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was a little more severe than the doctor expected. The doctor was amazed that Gary played with that much (pain) in the shoulder." -- Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski on what DH Gary Sheffield's shoulder surgery disclosed. Sheffield is expected to be ready for spring training.

Shoring up the rotation is the chief task ahead for the Tigers in the offseason, with the acquisition of a new shortstop next on the list. There's a small list of shortstops available, so it's probable Detroit will have to dip into its pool of minor league pitching to get something done on that front. The Tigers would like LHP Kenny Rogers to come back, which would mean they would only have to get one starter. They prefer to have their top prospects open the season in the minors. A southpaw-swinging left fielder with some thump would be nice, but Detroit would accept opening the season with a platoon of Marcus Thames and Timo Perez in left.

BIGGEST NEEDS: The Tigers are seeking a starting pitcher -- two if LHP Kenny Rogers decides not to return -- plus a solid defensive shortstop (who can provide a little offense) so the club can effect its decision to make Carlos Guillen its regular first baseman. A veteran closer will also be needed if free agent RHP Todd Jones decides to pitch elsewhere.

FREE AGENTS: LHP Kenny Rogers, RHP Todd Jones, 1B Sean Casey, INF Neifi Perez.

Rogers will decide in November, when he turns 43, whether he wants to pitch next season, and he likely would re-sign with Detroit if that's the case. Jones has told Detroit he'll sign a one-year deal and it wants him back, but Atlanta might enter the picture because it's close to his home. Casey has already been told he won't be offered a 2008 contract, and Perez won't be back, either.

ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: LHP Tim Byrdak, LHP Bobby Seay, LHP Nate Robertson, RHP Chad Durbin, UT Omar Infante, SS Ramon Santiago, OF Marcus Thames, OF Timo Perez.

GM Dave Dombrowski likes to avoid arbitration and probably will try to get each signed to a one- or two-year deal before the deadline. Robertson will be expensive, but it's going to get done.

IN LIMBO: UT Omar Infante is probably headed elsewhere if Detroit obtains the shortstop it wants. RHP Chad Durbin's status could be contingent upon whether RHP Todd Jones comes back. OF Timo Perez had a hot September and might have limited market value. RHP Jose Capellan is one of many Tiger pitchers who is out of options and thus subject to inclusion in a deal. 3B/1B Mike Hessman showed power and Detroit talked him up, perhaps hoping to enhance his market value.

DH Gary Sheffield (right shoulder surgery in October 2007) should be able to hit by the start of spring training, but he might need more time before he starts throwing.

C Vance Wilson (Tommy John surgery in June 2007) hopes to be able to throw well sometime in the spring.

RHP Jeremy Bonderman (right elbow strain) was shut down in late September; rest is his prescription.

LHP Kenny Rogers (sore left elbow) ended the season pitching with an elbow that wasn't 100 percent, but rest is the cure.

RF Magglio Ordonez (sore left heel) just needs to keep off his foot to be ready to go in the spring.

C Vance Wilson (Tommy John surgery in June 2007) feels he'll be able to throw by the time spring training starts.

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