Tigers fans may have wanted their team to nab a young stud prospect, collectively waiting with bated breath for news of a big-splash signing or trade to come out of Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings.
Instead, it appears they’re getting a more practical early holiday gift — the baseball equivalent of socks — in the form of an old warhorse, veteran reliever Octavio Dotel.
Reports had the 13-year veteran on the verge of signing with the Tigers late Wednesday night, giving them another reliable option at the back end of the bullpen. That need was most glaring in the postseason, when the Tigers went almost exclusively with three pitchers — closer Jose Valverde, set-up man Joaquin Benoit and left-handed specialist Phil Coke — in relief.
[UPDATED FRIDAY, DEC. 9: The Tigers confirm having signed Dotel to a 1-year contract with a club option for 2013. Reports had it worth $3.5 million. “We are pleased to add an established reliever like Octavio Dotel,” Tigers GM David Dombrowski said in a release. “He has been successful in various roles throughout his major league career and his addition to our club solidifies our bullpen for the 2012 season.”
CBSSports.com’s Danny Knobler reported that the Tigers had manager Jim Leyland telephone Dotel — against whom right-handed batters have hit just .202 over the years — to express the team’s interest.
The 38-year-old Dotel appeared in 12 of the 19 postseason games for the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals this fall. He was traded by the Toronto Blue Jays to the Cardinals in the eight-player deadline deal that included Colby Rasmus and former Tiger Edwin Jackson as its centerpieces.
If he does not re-sign with the Cardinals, Dotel will be headed for his sixth team in 23 months, and will have pitched for a MLB-record 13 teams in his career, including Detroit’s American League Central rivals, the Chicago White Sox (2008-09) and the Kansas City Royals (2007). Only Matt Stairs has played for as many teams in his career.
Ranked as a type-A free agent, signing Dotel will not cost a team a draft pick, thanks to changes in the free-agent compensation rules written into the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
It fits with Detroit’s offseason theme of minor retooling. Detroit re-signed utility infielder Ramon Santiago to a two-year deal, and back-up catcher Gerald Laird to a one-year contract. Collectively those two contracts add up to just $5 million, far less than came off the books with a handful of free agents, including Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez.
Given the perception that the Tigers have money to burn, they have been linked to a slew of big names throughout Winter Meetings, including former Mets shortstop (and Marlins signee) Jose Reyes, former White Sox left-handed starter Mark Buehrle (another Miami-bound free agent), Cubs free-agent third baseman Aramis Ramirez and A’s left-hander Gio Gonzalez, but haven’t really been close to making any of the moves.
Much was just rumor or conjecture.
Of potential talks with the free-agent Buehrle, who reportedly was looking for a long-term deal with a no-trade clause, Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski told reporters, “We haven’t had any.”
He also said the Tigers made no offer to Reyes.
The asking price for Gonzalez in trade purportedly included top prospects Jacob Turner and/or Nick Castellanos, as well as a young, inexpensive outfielder like Brennan Boesch, but was apparently too steep for the Tigers.
The one big name that the Tigers may still be pursuing might be Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes, a five-tool outfielder who could potentially hit leadoff for them, increasing the team’s speed in the outfield and on the basepaths. Dombrowski confirmed this week that he’d recently flown down to the Dominican Republic to visit with Cespedes in person.
Matthew B. Mowery covers the Tigers for The Oakland Press. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @matthewbmowery. To get updates on the team sent to your phone, text “Tigers” to 22700. *Msg & Data Rates May Apply. Text HELP for help. Text STOP to cancel.