Inside Pitch: Closer Becomes a Priority

The Tigers were hoping to bring back Todd Jones this offseason, but in the event they couldn't, they were going to hand the job to youngster Joel Zumaya. That's no longer an option - and the Tigers will need to look aggressively to find a replacement should Jones not return.

The search for a closer is no longer a casual affair for the Tigers.

The news that closer-in-waiting Joel Zumaya will have to wait until at least midseason before pitching again has put added pressure on the organization, which was waiting and hoping free agent right-hander Todd Jones would return to spend the 2008 season tutoring Zumaya to be his successor.

If Jones were not to return, the Tigers simply were going to hand the ball to Zumaya and let him learn on the job. It now becomes risky to count on his effective return at all.

"You think he'll be back, but I can't 100 percent count on that," Tigers' general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "We can't count on that contribution this year. We have to plan our staff without him being there."

If Jones signs with another team now, and he reportedly would prefer to go with Atlanta only because it's closer to his Alabama home, Detroit is left with no closer at all save for the sometimes-erratic Fernando Rodney.

Dombrowski said the Tigers would be "very aggressive" in their pursuit of a closer if Jones does not return.

"Now, we can't count on that," Dombrowski said. "If it's not Todd, we have to be aggressive to find somebody to pitch on the back end."

--RHP Joel Zumaya is going to be lost to the Tigers for at least a half-season for the second year in a row after undoing AC joint reconstruction in his right shoulder Oct. 31. Zumaya was injured Oct. 27 when a 50-pound box fell on his shoulder as he moving items in the attic during the California wildfires, which came two miles from his San Diego home. Zumaya must rest for six weeks and then begin a rehabilitation program that will lead to a strengthening program not to begin for three months. It will be a month after that before Zumaya will be able to begin throwing again. The club said it was told Zumaya could return by the middle of the 2008 season but is not counting on him coming back at all. Doctors told Zumaya he was 90-95 percent probability for a complete recovery. He had a torn tendon in the middle finger of his throwing hand last May and, following surgery, did not pitch again until mid-August. "I want to apologize to Tiger fans and the Tiger organization," Zumaya said. "I'm sick to my stomach about this. But I guarantee you anyone else in the same situation would have been trying to get their stuff together."

--SS Edgar Renteria was reunited with the management team that won the World Series for Florida in 1997 when he was acquired by Detroit from Atlanta on Oct. 29 in exchange for two solid young prospects. Renteria, 32, batted .332 for the Braves in 2007 with 12 home runs and 57 RBIs. His acquisition allows Detroit to go through with its anticipated shift of last year's shortstop, Carlos Guillen, to first base in the spring. The deal reunites Renteria with his GM and manager in Florida, Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland.

"We were able to address our biggest need with one of the best shortstops in the game," Dombrowski said. "He's a quality player, a proven winner, a tremendous leader in the clubhouse. We gave up a couple of good young players. But in order to acquire a player like Edgar, we knew we'd have to give up some talent."

"I'm thrilled to death to have him," Leyland said. "Obviously, he's been part of one of the biggest (experiences) of my life. To be reunited with Edgar, a quality player and quality young man, is a thrill."

Renteria, who hit .276 for Boston in 2004 during his only American League season, had a .390 on-base percentage and .860 OPS figure this year. To get him, Detroit sent RHP Jair Jurrjens, who pitched for the Tigers late last season, and CF Gorkys Hernandez, who played low Class A ball as a teenager last summer.

--RF Magglio Ordonez was voted winner of the Luis Aparicio Award, (Most Valuable Venezuelan Player) by Venezuelan media. Ordonez received all 100 first-place votes to easily outdistance Angels RHP Kelvim Escobar. Tigers SS Carlos Guillen finished seventh in the voting. Ordonez was the American League batting champion.

--RHP Todd Jones filled for free agency on Oct. 29, the first day he was eligible to do so. Jones knows the Tigers are interested in having him back on a one-year contract, but it's believed he would prefer to sign with Atlanta because it's closer to his Alabama home.

--1B Sean Casey filed for free agency the day after the World Series ended. He was told before last season ended the Tigers wouldn't re-sign him, a decision confirmed by the trade for SS Edgar Renteria. Casey, 33, acquired at the trade deadline in 2006 and re-signed to a one-year deal last offseason, batted .296 this year with four home runs and 54 RBIs.

--3B/1B Mike Hessman, who hit .235 in 17 games for the Tigers this year, has signed a split contract with the club for 2008. Hessman gets paid $390,000 when he's in the majors and $120,000 in the minors. He will be with the Tigers in spring training but will have to earn a roster spot.

--INF Neifi Perez, who won't be offered a 2008 contract by the Tigers, filed for free agency Oct. 30. Perez batted .172 with one home run and six RBIs in 33 games but did not play after July 5 because of two suspensions involving positive amphetamines tests. Perez, 34, still has 26 games remaining on his suspension.

--LHP Kenny Rogers formally filed for free agent status on Oct. 31, a move viewed by Detroit as allowing the pitcher to keep his options open. The Tigers and the veteran southpaw, who turns 43 on Nov. 10, have mutual interest in another contract -- if Rogers decides not to retire. Rogers was limited by two injuries last season, and his victory total fell from 17 to just three.

--Matt Walbeck, the Eastern League Manager of the Year for the Tigers' Class AA Erie affiliate this year, will return to the same job next year. Walbeck was considered a candidate for the Texas Rangers' third base coach job. Erie hitting coach Glenn Adams also will return.

BY THE NUMBERS: $2.67 million -- Amount of SS Edgar Renteria's $9 million salary that Boston will be paying to have him play for Detroit this season. The Red Sox also would be on the hook for the $3 million buyout of his $11 million option for 2009 if the Tigers decline to pick it up. Both conditions were part of the deal in which Boston traded Renteria to Atlanta following the 2004 season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "That's not accurate. We have our infield, and we're very happy with our infield." -- GM Dave Dombrowski, on reports the Tigers were interested in acquiring the services of Alex Rodriguez.

Shoring up the front and back ends of the staff are twin tasks facing the Tigers now that RHP Joel Zumaya is lost until at least midseason. The club solved its shortstop problem with the acquisition of Edgar Renteria to facilitate the shift of Carlos Guillen to first base. 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. The loss of Zumaya means if RHP Todd Jones does not return to close, the Tigers will have to aggressively pursue an alternative. 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: A starting pitcher -- two if LHP Kenny Rogers decides not to return. The loss of RHP Joel Zumaya for at least a half-season means a veteran closer will 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 may be headed elsewhere now that Detroit has obtained the shortstop it wanted. 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, while RHP Jose Capellan is one of many Detroit pitchers who is out of options and thus subject to inclusion in a deal. 3B/1B Mike Hessman showed power and Detroit signed him to a split contract, but he could still find himself included in a deal.

RHP Joel Zumaya (right shoulder AC joint surgery in October 2007) will be out until at least midseason.

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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