Inside Pitch: Tigers Done Dealing?

The Tigers have made their big impact moves of the offseason, but that doesn't mean they're done dealing yet. What allowed them to improve so much without giving up much to their core, and what else are they still likely to do?

INSIDE PITCH
Ignoring Major League Baseball's signing guidelines was a key factor in Detroit being able to trade two prime prospects for a pair of All-Stars.

Detroit gave up two of baseball's best prospects, center fielder Cameron Maybin and left-hander Andrew Miller, for Florida third baseman Miguel Cabrera and left-hander Dontrelle Willis.

The deal would not have been possible had Detroit not drafted and signed both Maybin and Miller in 2005 and 2006, respectively. The pair were ranked among the best amateur prospects in the country at the time of their drafts but perceived signing demands caused both to fall further down than predicted.

The Tigers paid far more than the dollar amount recommended by the commissioner's office for the position both were drafted, the same as they did last June with their top draft choice, right-hander Rick Porcello.

"I tip my cap to our scouting and player-development departments," general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "We have acquired (shortstop) Edgar Renteria, Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera, and we haven't traded one player that we thought was going to be on our major league club to start the season. That's not easy to do."

Had Detroit listened to Major League Baseball, neither player would have been signed. And the Tigers would have been among those sighing as Cabrera and Willis were traded elsewhere.

The deal pretty much completed Detroit's offseason roster remake.

"I feel good," Dombrowski said at the end of the winter meetings. "You always try to keep things in perspective, but I like our ballclub. I think we were able to help it.

"I'm sure we'll do some other little things as time goes on, but the core of our club is there at this point."

NOTES, QUOTES
--RHP Chad Durbin was allowed to become a free agent by Detroit, which decided not to offer him arbitration by the Dec. 12 deadline. Re-signing LHP Kenny Rogers and acquiring LHP Dontrelle Willis filled the two winter vacancies in the Tigers rotation. "I kind of like to think like a GM," Durbin said. "I told my wife, 'I can't see them paying me what the numbers call for if I'm going to be a front-end-of-the-bullpen, or back-end-of-the-rotation guy.' But I'm fine with things, absolutely." Durbin made 36 appearances, 19 starts, for Detroit this year and posted an 8-7 record and 4.72 ERA. He was paid $385,000, but the Tigers would have had to pay him more than $1 million for 2008. "We just can't see a definite spot on the staff for him," GM Dave Dombrowski said.

The Tigers offered Durbin a much smaller contract loaded with incentives, but the right-hander turned it down. They were also unable to trade him.

"There are mixed emotions," Durbin said, "because in the clubhouse, the guys, the staff, everybody involved with the Tigers, there was an air of integrity. And you get comfortable in any organization if you're there for more than a couple of weeks. But I'm grateful for the opportunity they gave me. If they hadn't, I wouldn't have had the leverage as a free agent I do today."

--LHP Tim Byrdak avoided arbitration Dec. 12 by agreeing to a one-year contract worth a reported $700,000. The deal also contains a clause for a $12,500 bonus if he appears in 55 games, which would be 16 more than 2007. Byrdak, 34, came up from Class AAA Toledo in mid-May and was an effective member of the Tigers bullpen. He held left-handed batters to a .176 batting average and finished with a 3-0 record and 3.20 ERA in 39 games.

--OF/1B Marcus Thames was offered arbitration Dec. 12 by Detroit, which may still try to trade the right-handed-hitting slugger. Thames was paid $432,000 last season and hit 18 home runs in just 269 at-bats. "Some days I wish I could get more at-bats -- everyone wants to play every day if you're a competitor," Thames said. "But I've finally got my chance to be a part of something (playoff contention)." He would be the primary backup to 1B Carlos Guillen, although Detroit might try to teach UT Ryan Raburn to play the position if Thames were traded. He probably will earn in excess of $1 million, and Detroit may decide that's too much for a part-time left fielder/first baseman.

--LHP Dontrelle Willis is interested in a long-term deal with Detroit even though he has yet to throw his first pitch for the Tigers. "Detroit pays fair-market value for guys, and guys are happy playing there," Willis' agent, Matt Sosnick, said Dec. 11. "He's really excited about going there." Willis, 25, has two seasons to go before being eligible for free agency. "If we did something this year and the team showed confidence in him, then hopefully at the end of the contract, they will feel like it was a bargain," Sosnick said. Willis was 10-15 with a 5.17 ERA for the Florida Marlins this past season but led the National League with 35 starts.

--OF Timo Perez signed a split contract with Detroit, turning down free agency after being designated for assignment Nov. 30 by the Tigers and being outrighted to Class AAA Toledo. Perez agreed to a one-year major league contract worth $525,000. He is guaranteed $150,000 whether in the majors or minors. Perez, 32, batted .389 with 13 RBIs in 29 games for Detroit after being called up to replace injured DH Gary Sheffield. He had a brief stay with Detroit earlier in the season.

--3B Brandon Inge has told Detroit he would rather be someone else's starting third baseman than a utility player with the Tigers. "He's loved his time here," GM Dave Dombrowski said. "He loves the city. He loves the organization. But at this point in his career, he would like to continue playing third base on an everyday basis."

Inge, 30, said he does not want to return to catching, the position he played with the Tigers before becoming their regular third baseman. Inge was displaced by the acquisition of 3B Miguel Cabrera. Dombrowski said he will attempt to trade Inge.

"For as much as he's done for us, and as hard as he's played, it makes a lot of sense for us to do that," Dombrowski said.

Inge has three years and $19.1 million remaining on a four-year deal he signed before last season. He slid to a .236 batting average with 14 home runs and 71 RBIs last season. Dombrowski said Inge was not angry over being supplanted.

"He was super when I talked to him on the phone," Dombrowski said. "He's a tremendous person. He didn't act angry with me, but I'm sure there's a part of him with mixed emotion."

BY THE NUMBERS: 5 -- Players Detroit offered arbitration by the Dec. 12 deadline: 3B Miguel Cabrera, LHP Dontrelle Willis, LHP Nate Robertson, OF Marcus Thames and LHP Bobby Seay.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "If we make a long-term deal now, Detroit's risk is that he's got to pitch well and our risk is if he pitches really well. Because after (2008), he's only one year from free agency. If we did something this year and the team showed confidence in him, then hopefully at the end of the contract, they will feel like it was a bargain." -- Agent Matt Sosnick in announcing he'd like to negotiate a long-term deal for client LHP Dontrelle Willis, just acquired by Detroit from Florida.

ROSTER REPORT
Adding 3B Miguel Cabrera and LHP Dontrelle Willis created ripple effects on Detroit's roster. Cabrera forces Brandon Inge off third base, and the Tigers hope to be able to honor his request for a trade so he can remain a major league regular. Willis filled a rotation spot that RHP Chad Durbin hoped to fill, so Detroit elected not to offer Durbin arbitration, making him a free agent, after attempts to trade him failed. OF Marcus Thames was offered arbitration but remains a likely trade candidate. Re-signing free agent LHP Kenny Rogers filled the other vacancy in the rotation. Re-signing RHP Todd Jones as the closer eliminated a chief need that arose when RHP Joel Zumaya as forced out until at least midseason with shoulder surgery. The acquisition of LF Jacque Jones added a decent left-handed outfield bat to the lineup. The club solved its shortstop problem with the acquisition of Edgar Renteria to facilitate the shift of Carlos Guillen to first base next season. Detroit gambled RHP Francisco Cruceta can provide a cheap, viable alternative to a high-priced, late-inning reliever.

ARRIVALS: SS Edgar Renteria (trade with Braves), OF Jacque Jones (trade with Cubs), RHP Denny Bautista (trade with Rockies), 3B Miguel Cabrera (trade with Marlins), LHP Dontrelle Willis (trade with Marlins), OF Freddy Guzman (trade with Rangers).

DEPARTURES: RHP Jair Jurrjens (traded to Braves), INF Omar Infante (traded to Cubs), RHP Jose Capellan (traded to Rockies), LHP Andrew Miller (traded to Marlins), CF Cameron Maybin (traded to Marlins), C Mike Rabelo (traded to Marlins), 1B Chris Shelton (traded to Rangers).

BIGGEST NEEDS: Deal Inge for a relief pitcher or prospects, lower the bench payroll to accommodate higher salaries for regulars, bring in another arm for the bullpen and see if there's a cheap left-handed bat available for the bench. A backup catcher may become necessary if C Vance Wilson (Tommy John surgery) can't throw.

FREE AGENTS: 1B Sean Casey, INF Neifi Perez, RHP Chad Durbin (non-tendered). Casey was told he won't be offered a 2008 contract, and Perez won't be back, either. Durbin became a free agent after declining a salary offer and not being offered arbitration by Detroit.

ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: LHP Dontrelle Willis, LHP Bobby Seay, LHP Nate Robertson, 3B Miguel Cabrera, OF Marcus Thames. All five were offered arbitration.

IN LIMBO: Inge asked to be traded following the acquisition of Cabrera, and the Tigers agreed to try even though the $19.1 million he is owed over the next three years may make it tough to do so. Thames was offered arbitration, but the Tigers may try to trade him because they could feel he's too high-priced to be a part-time player.

MEDICAL WATCH: 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.

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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