Inside Pitch: Signing the Florida Stars

The Tigers moved quickly with new starting pitcher Dontrelle Willis, signing him to a three year extension that will keep him a Tiger through 2010. Will the Tigers make the same attempts to sign third baseman Miguel Cabrera?

Detroit did not obtain third baseman Miguel Cabrera and left-hander Dontrelle Willis from Florida just to let them leave via free agency after the 2009 season.

Both were eligible for arbitration this winter, and both could have become free agents in two more years.

The Tigers have already completed a deal to keep Willis long-term, and they are working on getting Cabrera signed, too.

Willis agreed to a three-year, $29 million contract on Dec. 20 even though the lefty has yet to throw a pitch for manager Jim Leyland.

Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski seems to feel Willis' disappointing season in 2007 was just an anomaly. He wants some stability in his rotation to avoid having to face more than one rotation crisis at a time.

Lefty Kenny Rogers is working year-to-year, as he is 43 years old. Left-hander Nate Robertson, who could become a free agent following the 2009 season, wants a long-term contract. Right-hander Justin Verlander is entering his third year in the majors, and righty Jeremy Bonderman signed a four-year deal prior to last season.

Detroit showed its attitude toward Cabrera by moving quickly to assure him he would play third base, his preferred position, for the Tigers.

That may have left incumbent Brandon Inge out in the cold, but it showed the club wants a happy Cabrera because it could have kept Inge at third and asked the newcomer to play left field. That would have frozen out new acquisition Jacque Jones, but Detroit didn't get him to sit him.

Some teams would choose to wait until the spring or midseason to begin negotiations on a new contract, see how they adjust to a new league, but Dombrowski feels Cabrera and Willis have track records of major league success that don't make that necessary.

"We hope sometime to sign (Cabrera) this winter," Dombrowski said. "We hope. That doesn't mean it's going to happen. But we hope."

--LHP Dontrelle Willis and the Tigers agreed to a three-year, $29 million contract, covering Willis' final two arbitration-eligible seasons and his first year of potential free agency. Detroit has RHP Jeremy Bonderman signed for the next three seasons, and RHP Justin Verlander is in his third major league season, but the other two starters can become free agents after 2008 or 2009.

--LHP Nate Robertson, who can become a free agent after the 2009 season, says he wants to remain with Detroit beyond that season. Robertson's agent, Steve Canter, said his client is seeking a long-term contract with the team this winter. "He appreciates everything they've done for him and his family," Canter said of the Tigers. "He's a proven guy in big games. He finished strong this year. If you look at what he's done career-wise, it's pretty significant." Robertson, 30, lives in the Detroit area year-round. He made $3.26 million last season, when he went 9-13 with a 4.76 ERA in 30 starts.

--C Ivan Rodriguez could be batting ninth in the order on a regular basis for the first time since early in his major league career. The All-Star catcher hit .281 last season, but his 11 home runs were his fewest since his third year in the majors. Rodriguez, who turns 36 next season, drove in 63 runs, the second-lowest total of his four years with Detroit.

--OF Freddy Guzman will have a chance to make the Detroit roster in the spring. Guzman, obtained from Texas in a trade for 1B Chris Shelton, is out of options and would have to clear waivers to be sent to the minor leagues. Guzman, 26, led the Class AAA Pacific Coast League with 56 stolen bases this year. He is a switch-hitter who can play center field if something happens to Curtis Granderson. He has one home run, against Detroit, and only a .213 batting average in 37 major league games.

--RHP Jeremy Bonderman needs to throw an authoritative changeup to become a star, his manager says. "For him to get over the hump and be the great pitcher he can be, he's going to have to master that changeup," Jim Leyland said. "If he doesn't, in my opinion he'll be a good pitcher. But if he can master the changeup, he's going to be the great pitcher he can yet be."

Bonderman, who suffered through a poor second half in large part because he pitched with a sore elbow, feels the changeup isn't an issue. He adopted a different grip toward the end of last season and was throwing more and better changeups than ever before.

"I feel good about it," Bonderman said. "I changed the grip at the end of the year, and actually threw it consistently those last few starts. I feel like it'll be there for me when I need it. I feel like I can establish a four-seamer (fastball) in to lefties, and a sinker down and away, and I should be able to have a second half as good as that first half (of 2007)."

BY THE NUMBERS: 0 -- Arbitration hearings the Tigers have been involved in since Dave Dombrowski became the club's chief executive officer and general manager. Four players remain eligible for arbitration this winter, but all are expected to be signed before hearings can take place.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The only loser in this thing -- if we don't win -- is me. I'd be picking something with the chickens in Lima, Ohio." -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland on his thoughts when he looks at the potential in his 2008 lineup.

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