Tigers Winter Meeting Roundup

If you were expecting an active week at the Winter Meetings from the Tigers, you certainly came away disappointed – though in retrospect, it’s not a huge surprise. Market values were still being set, and with Jayson Werth and Carl Crawford signing for $126 and $142 million, respectively, the Tigers were pretty much out on any major names.

Essentially, what we learned this week is that the Tigers unsurprisingly are very interested in bringing back Magglio Ordonez, and that Scott Boras wants a 2 year, $20m deal for Ordonez. The Tigers are balking at the multi-year commitment, but essentially, think of it as the $15 million vesting option for 2011 being exercised (which it was well on its way to doing) and tacking on a second year at $5 million. Boston’s signing of Crawford eliminates them as a serious suitor, and it looks like the Tigers are by far the most serious team left in the Ordonez conversation. They saw him in a private workout yesterday as well.

Oh, and the Tigers may or may not be interested in adding another starter. They apparently offered Armando Galarraga to the Cubs for Tom Gorzelanny, but nothing seems to be coming out of that.

Fox Sports also reported that the Tigers showed interest in trading for Padres outfielder Ryan Ludwick, but the asking price appears high and such a deal is unlikely.

In other words, the Tigers appear to be just about done for the winter. They’re still after that power bat in the outfield, and it appears they are focusing exclusively on Ordonez to fill that role. They may be in the mix for another starter and a left-handed relief pitcher, but otherwise, the major pieces appear to be in place.

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Two days into the Winter Meetings, what have we learned?

Things have been generally quiet on the Tigers front in the first two days of the Winter Meetings. Here’s what we know:

– Jon Morosi reports the Tigers aren’t in on Carl Crawford. Not a huge surprise, as Crawford was a long shot to start with, and Jayson Werth’s contract was probably the last straw. They’ll look into cheaper corner outfield options, such as…

– Magglio Ordonez. The Tigers have had contact with Scott Boras about Ordonez, but the Phillies and especially Red Sox are said to have interest as well. One would have to believe that the Tigers have the inside track on bringing Ordonez back, but his return is far from assured, especially in the wake of Werth going off the board.

– The Tigers have called the Nationals on Josh Willingham, but Ken Rosenthal says the asking price is “absurd.” He’d be a nice fit, but it seems unlikely that anything comes of this.

– Detroit did sign Omir Santos to a minor league contract to essentially replace Robinzon Diaz as the Toledo depth catcher.

– The Tigers have apparently expressed interest in non-tendered outfielder Fred Lewis, but this one doesn’t make a ton of sense to me.

– Detroit is also considering adding another starter, according to Morosi, a move I would really like to see – though the starter market is brutal this winter.

– Oh, and Alfredo Figaro might be going to Japan.

In short, nothing looks imminent for Detroit, in spite of the amount of activity elsewhere around baseball. Many teams are waiting for the Cliff Lee domino to fall.

Jayson Werth to Nationals….for a lot more than he’s worth

Jon Morosi confirms the Tigers were in on Jayson Werth, but they lost out – the Washington Nationals, out of nowhere, signed Werth to a 7 year, $126m contract. That’s more than Matt Holliday got from St. Louis last winter (and Holliday has far more career accomplishments than Werth does) – in fact, Werth is making more millions (126) than he has career home runs (120).

It’s disappointing that the Tigers lost out on Werth, but not at this price – Werth will be 39 when the deal expires and was indeed vastly overpaid by the Nationals. It has already been unfavorably compared to the Barry Zito contract. Detroit could not – and should not – have tried to beat Washington’s offer.

Logically, the Tigers will probably zero in on bringing back Magglio Ordonez, though with some added competition now – though Detroit obviously has a built-in advantage with that contest.

(Also, Carl Crawford is a very happy man right now. And Theo Epstein, who also looks like he’ll lose out on Adrian Gonzalez after extension talks failed, is a very unhappy man.)

Adrian Gonzalez trade isn’t great news for Detroit’s pursuit of Werth

Before we begin, happy third anniversary of the Miguel Cabrera trade, which is worth celebrating even more these days in light of the fact that the two big pieces Detroit gave up to get him have either been traded for middle relievers (hi, Cam Maybin) or non-tendered (what’s up, Andrew Miller?).

Anyway, when I first heard that the Boston Red Sox were on the verge of acquiring Adrian Gonzalez from the San Diego Padres, I thought… great! Maybe now that they’ve added such a huge offensive piece, they’ll cool on Jayson Werth, decrease the market by a team, and give the Tigers a better shot at the prized right fielder.

Well, I was wrong, and Ken Rosenthal corrects me here. The Red Sox have been the frontrunner for Werth all along, but now, his right-handed bat would give balance to a lineup that already boasts four left-handers, plus switch-hitting catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

In other words, the sell gets tougher for the Tigers. Outbidding Boston is a tough task in itself, and if the Yankees get involved, forget it (they claim they aren’t interested, but it is the Yankees and stranger things have happened – and do you really think they’re just going to sit tight after Boston acquires a player of Gonzalez’s caliber?).

So, now might be a good time to get comfortable with the idea of re-signing Magglio Ordonez as the primary right fielder, if you haven’t already. With the Winter Meetings taking place this coming week, we’ll have a much better idea of where things stand this time next week, but for now, it doesn’t look good for a Werth-Tigers marriage.

– Sidenote: on the Gonzalez trade itself, I think the Padres did the right thing trading Gonzalez and trading him now. They got multiple blue-chip prospects, which was a must. But if I’m Jed Hoyer, I don’t pull the trigger on this deal unless I get at least one major league-ready player out of it. The Padres didn’t get that, and subsequently, I’m fairly lukewarm on the deal from San Diego’s perspective. I didn’t think the Red Sox would be able to get it done without including Jacoby Ellsbury, but they somehow did. It’s a huge coup for Boston, as Gonzalez is a Gold Glover who hit 40 home runs in what is arguably the most pitcher-friendly park in baseball. If we put Gonzalez’s 2010 numbers (.298 avg, 31 homers, 101 RBIs, .393 OBP – and all that with an injured shoulder) into the Minor League Equivalency Calculator and translate it to Fenway Park, his average jumps over 20 points to .323, his OBP surges to .417, and he jumps to 34 home runs and 110 RBIs. He is going to be huge in that ballpark, especially with the protection of players like Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, et al – the caliber of which Gonzalez never had surrounding him in San Diego.

– Another Sidenote: St. Louis signed Lance Berkman, which is all well and good, but he can’t play first thanks to some guy named Pujols holding down that spot – so the Cardinals will put him in left and move Matt Holliday to right. That outfield defense will certainly be something to watch next year. I hope Colby Rasmus is ready to cover a ton of ground.

Jayson Werth an excellent fit, but at what cost?

Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings take place next week, and the Tigers are expected to be in the market for a power-hitting corner outfielder. While Victor Martinez will provide middle of the order protection for Miguel Cabrera, they could still use another bat in the 3 or 5 hole, and they would like to upgrade in right field.

Jayson Werth may be the right felder the Tigers are looking for, but he won't come easily. (Getty Images photo)

I believe Jayson Werth is a perfect fit for the Tigers. He is one of the top two position players available (the other being Carl Crawford, who, while a tremendous player, is not as good a fit for the team’s RBI needs). While it’s true that he played in an excellent hitter’s park in Philadelphia, Werth still posted three excellent seasons for the Phillies as a full-time starter. In 2009, he hit 36 home runs. Last year, he hit .296. He finished in the top 20 of National League Most Valuable Player voting twice. He is regarded as an above average defender and an excellent all around player.

Without taking other factors into account, Werth is a fantastic fit and could slot in perfectly either 3rd or 5th in the middle of the Tigers’ batting order and play a solid right field. But it’s not that easy. The major factor is that Werth is a client of agent Scott Boras, known for lengthy, difficult, and high-priced negotiations. The Tigers are no strangers to dealing with Boras – Ivan Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, and Kenny Rogers were all clients of his. The major difference, however, is none of those players were as prized as Werth is – the Tigers were essentially the only remaining suitors for the three aforementioned players, while the Tigers will likely have to outbid the deep-pocketed Boston Red Sox – at least – for Werth’s services. It’s not clear if owner Mike Ilitch would be willing to spend a huge amount of money on a Werth contract after already committing a considerable sum of money to Brandon Inge, Jhonny Peralta, Joaquin Benoit, and Martinez. Werth will command a very large long-term contract.

These factors make a Werth signing unlikely for the Tigers, but it does not change my mind that he should be their top target. Otherwise, I would like to see the Tigers pursue a two-year deal with another Boras client – Magglio Ordonez, who has indicated that he would like to return to the Tigers and would likely remain a good offensive player and handle the bulk of the work in right field. Remember, Ordonez was well on his way to an excellent rebound season before his season-ending ankle injury in July. He would also be a considerably cheaper option than Werth, and for fewer years, the long-term risk would be diminished as well.

After Werth and Ordonez, the corner outfield market declines dramatically, so it might be in the Tigers’ best interest to keep close tabs on both players and act fast to ensure the need is addressed.

Why Adam Dunn isn’t a “perfect fit” in Detroit

The Detroit Tigers are in the market for a big left-handed bat in the middle of the order, and with Adam Dunn being a free agent, the two parties have been linked together frequently for the last few weeks. Just last week, it was reported that the two sides were engaged in “serious discussions.”

Adam Dunn has the power the Tigers are seeking, but negatives may outweigh positives. (AP Photo)

At first glance, it makes a lot of sense. Dunn is a left-handed hitter, and he has hit 40 home runs five times in his career. Slot him in the 5th spot and he’s a huge threat behind Miguel Cabrera. Dunn’s offensive skills aren’t the problem at all. But where does he fit and how much does he get paid?

It gets complicated figuring out where Dunn plays. In the past, he has spoken negatively about the idea of being a full-time designated hitter. The problem is that he is a very poor defender. Cabrera’s presence ensures that first base is not an option for him. He last played in the outfield in 2009, and according to Baseball Reference, in 84 games, he was worth 27 runs below average. In simplest terms, he is bad. And at 285 pounds and two years removed from regular outfield playing time, there’s no reason to believe he would be any better – or capable of holding down right field for Detroit – in 2011.

Even if we were to operate under the assumption that Dunn would give in and accept a full-time DH job, how much (and how long) would the contract be for? ESPN Chicago reports that a starting point for any deal with Dunn would be 3 years and $40 million. Such a deal would take Dunn through age 33, which isn’t too bad. But is paying a designated hitter $13 million yearly a good idea? By comparison, MLBTradeRumors.com speculates that Vladimir Guerrero, another free agent DH who had a fine 2010, could be had for one year and $8 million. While it’s true that Guerrero is older than Dunn – and lacks Dunn’s power – it’s probably safe to say the Tigers would be overpaying Dunn at $13 million annually. Plus, anything more than 3 years if probably a risk I would not be comfortable taking.

It’s worth noting that the Tigers came to an agreement with Victor Martinez today, a switch-hitter who will take a lot of at-bats as designated hitter, so Dunn is probably even more unattractive to Detroit now. However, if they’re still looking for another DH option, I suggest calling on the aforementioned Guerrero, or even Jim Thome – both of whom would come at one year and considerably cheaper than Dunn. This would allow them to set their sights on a reasonably-priced corner outfielder as well – or even pursue Jayson Werth, who, while pricey and represented by Scott Boras, would fill multiple needs and really solidify the middle of the order.

Why Javier Vazquez might fit well with the Tigers

The Tigers are looking into options for another starting pitcher, and there is no frontrunner. In-house options might be someone like Andy Oliver, who struggled in a short stint in 2010, and Armando Galarraga. Galaragga has had a tumultuous career, from being arguably Detroit’s best starter in 2008 to a bullpen demotion in 2009 to his near-perfect game and a dugout shoving match with his catcher in 2010. Combine his inconsistency with his qualification for Super Two status and it’s an open question whether the team will even bother tendering him a contract offer.

Javier Vazquez (Reuters image)

There’s a lot of low-risk, high-reward options on the free agent market this offseason (think Brandon Webb) but one name that stands out in particular to me is Javier Vazquez. The veteran right-hander is coming off the worst season of his career with the Yankees (10-10, 5.32 ERA) and will come cheap. There are, however, reasons to believe he can rebound after a woeful 2010.

First, Vazquez is a proven commodity. As an Atlanta Brave in 2009, he won 15 games, finished with a 2.87 ERA, struck out 238 batters in 219.1 innings, and finished fourth in National League Cy Young Award voting. He historically has good control, walking not much more than two batters per nine innings. Perhaps most importantly, he’s a reliable arm, having pitched at least 200 innings in nine of his thirteen major league seasons. Considering Justin Verlander’s and Max Scherzer’s occasional habit of throwing a lot of pitches in too few innings, it would be nice to have someone in the rotation who can go deep into ballgames.

Second, Vazquez has pitched in the AL Central before. He spent three seasons with the Chicago White Sox from 2006-2008, including an excellent 2007 season in which he won 15 games with a 3.74 ERA.

Third, there’s Vazquez’s history with the Yankees. He had two stints with them and posted an overall ERA over 5. However, his career ERA pitching for other teams are a respectable 4.13, or 4.41 in the AL only. They’re not ace numbers, but they are solid for a middle of the rotation option – and that is what the Tigers would be looking for.

Over his career, Vazquez has given up over a home run per nine innings – but he has also had to pitch in some good hitter’s parks, including Chase Field in Arizona, Yankee Stadium in New York, and U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago. Comerica Park could help him slightly in terms of home runs against, especially in center. The 34-year-old Vazquez could also provide veteran leadership to a rotation whose current oldest member is 28-year-old converted reliever Phil Coke. On a one year deal, he could also hold down a spot in the rotation while a pitcher such as Andy Oliver continues to progress in the minors for a possible 2012 debut.

Would Vazquez come to Detroit? He does have a stated preference to pitch on the East Coast, and many executives think it would be wiser for him to sign with an NL team instead. He has frequently been linked to the Washington Nationals. But if I were the Tigers, I’d see Vazquez as an attractive option. He’s proven and could probably be signed on a relatively cheap one year contract. It is, if nothing else, something to think about.

What the Tigers have in place for 2011

It’s been written at length about what the Tigers need to address this offseason, but it is worth noting what players the Tigers currently have under contract to examine where the holes are.

Can Alex Avila hold down the starting catcher's role? (AP photo)

First, the Tigers are prepared to enter the season with Alex Avila as their starting catcher. He is, however, the only legitimate major league catcher under contract for 2011. First base is no issue, with Miguel Cabrera set there for the next few years. Carlos Guillen is under contract and has also played first base before in his career.

The team’s current second base options are essentially Will Rhymes, Scott Sizemore, and, if necessary, Danny Worth or even Ramon Santiago. Guillen played there last year and could presumably play there again if the Tigers need him to – though he was suspect defensively and is still injury prone.

Brandon Inge is re-signed to play third base and Jhonny Peralta is back to play shortstop. Worth and Santiago can play short too.

The outfield gets a bit shaky. Austin Jackson will be the starter in center, and Ryan Raburn may well be the favorite to win the job in left field. Brennan Boesch will likely be in the mix for a spot, and the Tigers still have Clete Thomas, though he’s coming off microfracture knee surgery which cost him all of 2010 and can’t be counted on for much. Casper Wells saw some action at the major league level in 2010. There’s no denying though that the Tigers are currently fairly weak in the outfield.

The 2011 rotation is almost set already. Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Rick Porcello are in, and the club plans to convert Phil Coke into a starter. The fifth spot is less clear. Armando Galarraga is a possible, but he’s eligible for salary arbitration and it’s not a given that the Tigers keep him around. Andy Oliver and Alfredo Figaro are starters who have pitched at the major league level, but the Tigers seem more inclined to pursue a veteran starter through free agency or trades to fill this role.

The bullpen is a bit less clear. The Tigers auditioned a lot of young arms in the last few months of 2010, and some of them will likely face expanded roles in 2011. Jose Valverde is still the closer, and Ryan Perry will have a spot. With Coke moving to the rotation, their top bullpen lefty is now Daniel Schlereth. Robbie Weinhardt could be in the mix. Fu-Te Ni is still under contract. And there’s always Joel Zumaya, though at this point he can’t be counted on to give the Tigers a full healthy season. The Tigers will be looking to upgrade the bullpen this winter.

In short, much of the Tigers’ 2011 plan is already set. They need help in the outfield and the bullpen and may add another starter, and it’s anyone’s guess who will fill a DH role next year. But, generally, their infield and much of their rotation is set.

Some information for this post comes from Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

Is Carl Crawford a real possibility for the Tigers?

The World Series ended Monday night, thus opening the five day period in which teams have exclusive negotiating rights with their own free agents. Last week, I discussed the possibility of one of those soon-to-be free agents, Victor Martinez, joining the Tigers. But since then, we’ve heard that the Tigers are “deeply interested” in the player widely considered to be the top position player available – Rays left fielder Carl Crawford.

There are plenty of reasons that Crawford is such an appealing player. Ken Rosenthal notes the ground he could cover in left, especially paired with center fielder Austin Jackson. And Comerica Park would play well into his gap-hitting style. The Tigers don’t really have a number two hitter right now – Johnny Damon filled the role for a good part of 2010, but he won’t be back. Crawford would fit in nicely in that spot. And he’s clearly in his prime at just 29 years old.

There is reason for pause, though, even with a skilled player as Crawford. First, he is obviously going to cost a whole lot of money, and it will be a long-term commitment. Mike Ilitch can afford him if he wants him, but the Tigers would almost certainly have to battle with the Boston Red Sox for his services, and the Red Sox are capable of outbidding almost anyone if they want to. The Angels, who have been willing to hand out big contracts in the past (see: Vladimir Guerrero), are also expected to pursue Crawford. Are the Tigers willing to commit five to six years and as much as $150 million to Crawford?

Second, how big a need is Crawford? He would undoubtedly be a major upgrade over any left fielder on Detroit’s roster right now. But he doesn’t really fit with the Tigers’ stated desire to add an “RBI man.” Crawford is not a middle of the order hitter, and has never driven in 100 runs in a season before. I don’t think that’s a reason to not pursue him at all, but in comparing him to a legitimate big bat, say, Adam Dunn, it should be enough to make the Tigers consider their options.

There are plenty of good arguments why the Tigers should go all out in pursuing Crawford, and there are good reasons why they should look in another direction as well. But for now, if the rumors are true, it looks like the ballclub will be going after Crawford.

What could Victor Martinez do for the Tigers?

It’s looking fairly likely that the Tigers will at least contact the representatives of soon-to-be Red Sox free agent catcher Victor Martinez, though the front office has stated its intent to move forward with Alex Avila as everyday catcher. Martinez is a tempting option for Detroit, as they could stand to upgrade the catcher position and Martinez, a career .300 hitter, fits the description of a middle-of-the-order RBI man the Tigers are in the market for.

Positionally and offensively, it looks like an excellent match. Defensively, though, Martinez might be a letdown. Outgoing catcher Gerald Laird, for his many offensive faults, was considered enough of a threat defensively that he neutralized opposing running games. Even Avila threw out 32% of base runners attempting to steal in 2010. Martinez has thrown out only 24% of base runners in his career, including a dismal 14% mark in 2009 – it improved only slightly to 21% in 2010.

This brings up a point – Martinez, already on the wrong side of 30, might have more of a future as a first baseman than as a catcher, and the Tigers certainly have no need to fill at first. And they have enough defensive questions before bringing Martinez into the fold.

That said, Martinez is known as a great clubhouse presence – as a member of the Indians, he invented a unique handshake with each of his teammates – and could bring a .300 average and at least 20 home runs to the middle of the order. The Tigers would have to find a place to put him defensively, though, where he can be a liability. And with the team putting an emphasis recently on getting younger, it’s hard to imagine them giving a long-term contract to a catcher who will be 32 years old on Opening Day, 2011 (although they‘ve done such a thing before). It is something to keep in mind, though, as Martinez reaches the open market in November.