Winter Meetings Preview

The winter meetings get underway officially on Monday in Las Vegas, Nevada, but action was already picking up on Sunday as teams arrived. For the Tigers, their mission at the winter meetings is quite clear.

That mission is clear – to try and find additions to the team at catcher, shortstop and in the bullpen.

Rumor has it the Tigers might be close to already finding an answer to one of the three problem positions – the Tigers are reportedly close to acquiring catcher Gerald Laird from the Texas Rangers in exchange for minor league pitcher Guillermo Moscoso.

Laird, 29, has shared the catching duties in Texas over the past few seasons. In 2008, Laird hit .276 in 344 at-bats. Also known for being solid defensively, Laird would likely be brought in to compete for the Tigers' starting catching role, likely sharing duties with rookie prospect Dusty Ryan.

If the Tigers do acquire Laird, that takes one question mark off the list, and allows them to concentrate on the other two slots.

Rumors were flying last week that the Tigers would be acquiring shortstop Jack Wilson in exchange for a prospect, however, the Tigers denied a deal was done or in place, and nothing at this time appears imminent. Wilson is strong defensively, but has been inconsistent at the plate, and is still owed over $7 million in 2009, making a deal likely requiring the Pirates to cover a large portion of that salary.

If Wilson doesn't become a Tiger, the club also could pursue free agents Adam Everett or Alex Cora. The question with both of course is whether or not they'd be an upgrade over what the Tigers already have – that being Ramon Santiago, plus prospects Mike Hollimon and Danny Worth – though Hollimon won't be available until midseason after undergoing shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum.

That leaves the Tigers focusing the rest of their attention on fixing a bullpen with few players proving in 2008 that they deserved another shot in '09. The biggest focus will be on trying to acquire a reliable closer that will help allow the team some flexibility in filling out the rest of the slots.

There are numerous free agent options, including Cubs' closer Kerry Wood. In addition, the Tigers are reportedly interested in trying to acquire Mariners' closer J.J. Putz – and may be holding off on the Jack Wilson trade to ensure that they have the prospects the Mariners want still in the organization.

Beyond closer, there are still lots of question marks in the bullpen, and it's likely that the Tigers will look to add at least one veteran middle reliever. The organization still has high hopes for Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya, but given their struggles on the mound and injury concerns, the Tigers are best off to have someone already in place in the event either or both aren't effective.

Of course, it's not a pre-requisite that the Tigers emerge from the Winter Meetings at the end of the week with all of their questions answered and their problems solved. If things don't look good, it wouldn't be surprising for the Tigers to be pretty much quiet as far as actual deal-making is concerned. If elite free agents especially continue to wait to sign, things with the mid-level free agents will likely remain quiet as teams wait for the market to be established.

Regardless though, it's clear that the Tigers are ready to start dealing and preparing to put a competitive product on the field for 2009. And the Winter Meetings could well be the start of the road to recovery.

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