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A sometimes-irreverent look at Detroit's Boys of Summer, the Tigers, as they try to return to the top of the American League Central.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Dombrowski, Tigers lay out offseason plan

The Detroit Tigers' offseason technically started just after the completion of the 10th inning in Sunday's game 4 of the World Series, when the San Francisco Giants finished off a sweep of the Tigers with a 4-3 win.

Both manager Jim Leyland and team president and general manager Dave Dombrowski made their rounds of the locker room later that evening, and into the wee hours of the morning, speaking to players who would be back, and those who won't. 

“I talked to all of our players that I needed to talk to on Sunday after the game. It was a very busy time period, of course a heartbreaking loss and finish to the season," Dombrowski said, "but I also like to be in a position where you talk to the players directly when they’ve been with you for an extended period and it’s a situation also where they deserve that courtesy in my mind, to do it face to face — if you can, it’s not always possible — rather than picking up the phone a day down the road or two days down the road.”

But it wasn't officially an offseason until Dombrowski held his after-season news conference to review the season with members of the media, and look forward to the offseason. In his annual address, the GM lays out the team's likely course for the offseason, highlighting what changes and tweaks to be expected.

For the most part, it's merely putting voice to plans that have been in the works for several weeks.

"We had talks about three weeks ago, a month ago, with all the coaches, and Dave — not that we knew we were coming back then, because we didn’t — but we went over the whole team, what we thought we needed. So Dave has a list — I mean, he’s the best when it comes to that. He’s got everything prioritized, he’s got it all down. He knows exactly what he’s doing. Guys give their opinions. Mine wasn’t the same as some of the coaches. Some of the coaches’ wasn’t the same as mine. Some of them were exactly alike," Leyland said Tuesday, when he spoke after Dombrowski.

"That’s how you get good. That’s how you get good, when people have different opinions, and everybody doesn’t agree with everybody all the time."

Here is a short synopsis of some of the high points of the discussion with Dombrowski:

Leyland and his coaching staff were brought back on a new one-year contract, a discussion that Dombrowski said took about two minutes.

DOMBROWSKI: “I think he knew from the perspective that, a while ago, once the season was over, it was pretty clear from my angle that we would love him back. He just didn’t want to discuss it. I also knew from Jim’s perspective that he doesn’t want focus on him — really at any time, but especially at that time of the year. It’s about the team and winning games.”

• There will be some responsibilities switched around among members of the coaching staff.

DOMBROWSKI: “The way I’d answer this question is that we’ve had some conversations for a lengthy period about making some possible transitions with responsibilities, nothing reflective upon what’s happened in the year past. But I’m not in a position to address that at this point.”

• The club exercised its $6 million option on the contract of shortstop Jhonny Peralta.

DOMBROWSKI: “With Jhonny, and I did talk to him about this,  the second half of the year he started doing some more agility drills and I think it showed and improvement. We talked about him doing that this winter time to help him improve to make the effort to help with the quickness of his feet. The other part of it is, you’re always looking to get better, but when you look at the obvious alternatives at this time —  because you don’t know what else is out there— I don’t know where that obvious alternative is. Where you just say automatically that guy is there, you’re going to get him, he’s going to be significantly better.”

• Reliever Octavio Dotel also had his option ($3.5 million) picked up by the club.

DOMBROWSKI: "I’d say it was an answer that was pretty obvious for us, yeah. You weight that. He’s getting older, but he still threw the ball well. His arm strength is getting good. It’s for one year. The outspoken nature, he’s a good guy, he spoke his mind and what he felt. We didn’t have any problem with that.”

Dombrowski said the Tigers would love to retain midseason trade acquisition Anibal Sanchez.

DOMBROWSKI: “I know it’s not going to be an easy pursuit by any means. I’d love to have Anibal Sanchez back if we could.”
"Do I think it helps that we had Sanchez? My answer would be yes but I’m also practical enough to know that in other ways, no, because when you get to this point, probably offers being equal, it helps you. Offers that blow you away, it doesn’t really make much difference and really what ends up happening is you’ve been through this process before, it’s the player’s right, they can do what they want, you thank them for what they did and if they get an offer that you think, hey, how can you turn it down? You wish them well. I’m not sure where it’s going to lead with him but I do know that he’s a very sought-after guy and people have to make their decisions on what they’re going to do.”

• The Tigers will not pursue re-signing Jose Valverde, leaving the closer's job up in the air.

DOMBROWSKI: “Papa Grande’s case, I do not think we’ll be pursuing him to re-sign him. We told him that, thankful again for what he’s done. He’s done a very good job for us over the last three years. Very fine individual, brought a lot to the clubhouse, great person, and despite a tough finish, really did a fine job for us throughout his career.”

• With no Valverde, the Tigers may go to a closer-by-committee approach, a situation that might possibly include minor league phenomenon Bruce Rondon.

DOMBROWSKI: “We do have guys in (Joaquin) Benoit, Dotel, (Phil) Coke if we decide to mix and match, some young arms with (Brayan) Villarreal and (Al) Alburquerque. ... I would not discount Bruce Rondon in the competition for our closer role for next year. I’m not saying he’s going to be our closer but I do not discount him in that role. He is a guy that throws, and people don’t sometimes believe this, but it is true. He averages 100 miles an hour and topped off at 103, and throws his breaking stuff for consistent strikes. We really, really, seriously thought of, before the 1st of September if we should bring him up and let him join us for the postseason. And probably, if I’d have known how things were going to go with Valverde at that point, would have done that, but I did not anticipate the struggles during the postseason — otherwise we didn’t really have a role because we had a lot of other good arms out there.”

Delmon Young is another free agent the Tigers will not try to re-sign.

DOMBROWSKI: “There’s really not a spot open for Delmon Young at this time. I’m sure somebody could look at him as a left fielder, perhaps so, but for us, right now, we looked at him more as more of a DH situation. ... He understood because we have Victor Martinez coming back. It’s an automatic, Victor sliding into that. We feel Victor will be ready to go next season.”

• While the Tigers would be open to re-signing backup catcher Gerald Laird, he may try to look for a starting job — and starter's money to go with it. That would leave the Tigers with rookie Bryan Holaday as the primary backup to starter Alex Avila.

DOMBROWSKI: “We basically told Gerald this situation: I know he’s looking for a little more playing time, he’s looking for a little more finances. That’s not going to come from us.
“We did not close the door, but also told him it would be a situation where we thought he may as well go ahead and pursue what’s out there and we’ll see what takes place. In that spot, we do feel comfortable with Bryan Holaday as a guy that can step in and be a backup catcher.”

• Paying for arbitration raises may offset a great deal of the payroll money freed up by the departures of guys like Valverde, Young, Laird.

DOMBROWSKI: “(The payroll is) always a conversation I have with Mr. I (Ilitch) at the appropriate time. And even though you take that money off, we have a lot of guys that are due for significant increases through arbitration.”
“We’ve pushed the payroll as you’re aware in the last few years, many times. But I can’t say that we’re actively going to participate in trying to sign some big-dollar free agent player, but I’m not saying that we’re not going to do it at this time either. I still need to have those conversations with Mr. I.”
“We have more arbitration-eligible players this year, than what we’ve had. There’s some significant guys that fit that category, and that will take up a significant amount of dollars for us.”

• The Tigers fully expect Victor Martinez to be ready to resume his role as full-time DH in the spring. 

DOMBROWSKI: "From the injury perspective, I think he’ll be fine. I’m not worried about that part of it. We actually slowed him down a little bit because we didn’t need to progress him any more because you know at one time we had thought about him being ready maybe later in the year. But the strength aspect of it wasn’t quite there. The strength is there but we’ve asked him to slow down the process, take some time. He continues to rehab, just not at a quick pace. I’m assured that he’ll be ready for spring training as far as on field is concerned. We do not look at him as a catcher at this point. We look at him as a DH, maybe play some first base if you give Prince a day off and decide to DH him, which doesn’t happen very often. He can do that. Guys’ skills, how long do they stay? It’s like anybody else, it’s tough to take a year off but I also know he’s a very good hitter. He’s not one of those swing and miss power hitters so I would anticipate that he would be fine. Is he going to hit .330 and drive in 100-plus? I don’t know that but I think he’ll be a good hitter.”

• Set at six of the eight starting positions, as well as DH, the key spots for the Tigers to look for an upgrade would be in the two corner outfield slots. But the GM warned that their might not be a 'Fielder-like' surprise signing in the free agency period.

DOMBROWSKI: “I don’t think we’re going to do that. I think we’ll be better for a couple reasons. First of all, this year there were some areas where we were below average that we can address. I think that the players — although I’m not going to predict a Triple Crown from Miguel — but I think we have other players that are in the prime of their career that will continue to produce at the results that they have given us or close to those results of star players. I think also the experience this club has gained over the last couple years, being in the postseason. And I also think the factor of having them together as a group through the postseason run is a great benefit and they won’t rest on their laurels because they’re not that type of makeup and we have a manager who won’t allow it. Sometimes you have a club that’s really good that wins a lot of games or gets some push, you can’t say, ‘Well this is an area, this is an area, this is an area,’ I think our club, we have a couple areas, we talked about corner outfielders. I think a couple guys can come back and have better years than what they had. I think Alex and Jhonny can have better years from an offensive perspective. So I think that combination would be the two [reasons we’ll be better]. Now I’m not sitting here saying it’s going to be easy, but I’m saying we have the chance to do that.”

DOMBROWSKI: “Dirks is a good player. Is he an every-day player at this point? I don’t know. He might be. I know he’s a real good player. Can he combine with somebody? So I think we’ll just kind of look at that.”

Avisail Garcia may be a guy who earns time in a platoon situation, but he may also not be ready for full-time action at the big-league level.

DOMBROWSKI: “It’s a tough call. I would say the way I describe Garcia is that he’s improved by leaps and bounds. We think he is going to be a star. Has star potential. He’s a five-tool player. I’m not sure that he’s ready as a corner outfielder to give us the contributions that we need on the overall basis at this time, but I’m not sure that he’s not. He is going to play everyday in Winter Ball for Magglio’s (Ordonez's) team in Venezuela. I think he’s a guy that we’ll keep a real close eye on in how he develops over the winter time. He’s got so many plus things. There’s no question that’ll he’ll benefit over the experience he had over the last couple months, but we’ll also need him to give us some production. And when I see that you’re willing to take less production out of a younger guy as they grow, but if you have watched him take batting practice you could see the type of power that he has. Some of that will eventually have to translate to the game, and you know it will but it’s just a matter of when it happens. I don’t think any of us, when we have our conversations, I don’t think anybody knows that, but if I had to settle for him, (Nick) Castellanos, Dirks with one of the roles and you do something else somewhere else, well maybe that’s something you do. I think it just depends on the options as you progress through the winter.”

Brennan Boesch will be tendered a contract, as the Tigers still think he has value and untapped potential. But they won't be handing him one of the corner outfield jobs.

DOMBROWSKI: “I think in the case that he still has ability. He still hit the ball out of the ballpark. We still see some untapped potential. He has struggled some. He hasn’t made the strides we’d like him to make. However, sometimes power hitters take longer to come about, too. But I cannot look and tell you he’s a given, that one of those corner outfield spots are his at this time. That’s something he’d have to earn, by all means. But that doesn’t mean you’d non-tender him because I think he has value as a player.”

DOMBROWSKI: "In Donnie Kelly’s case, I may get in trouble here because we’re not supposed to talk about it but we’re going to take him off our roster. I’ve talked to Donnie about that so he’s aware of the situation. It will happen in the next couple days. There’s some procedural aspects of it that we have to follow. Clubs can claim him and keep him in the big leagues when that happens. If not, if he goes through, we would have interest in signing him to a minor league contract and bringing him to camp to compete for a job. He knows how well thought of he is here. But I also know that other people are in a position where somebody may offer him a better opportunity. That’s what guys look for when they’re free agents."

Quintin Berry will also be given a chance to come to camp and compete for a job. 

DOMBROWSKI: "I will say that Quintin Berry did a real fine job for us early in the season. He added a dimension that we don’t have much, which is speed. Did a good job, enthusiasm. His offense waned as the year went on.  I would say he’s a guy that we look to compete for a spot on our club. How much he does and how much playing time he gets, we’ll see."


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