Offseason In Review: Detroit Tigers

Tigers owner Mike Ilitch spent aggressively on one of the top free agents available to bolster an already formidable offense.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Notable Losses

Draft Picks Gained or Lost

  • Lost 27th overall selection to Brewers for Fielder. 

Back in October, the Tigers’ chances of signing a major free agent seemed decent, if not particularly strong.  Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins, Aramis Ramirez, Mark Buehrle and Yu Darvish all made a certain amount of sense for the Tigers, a team without certainty on the left side of the infield or a proven fifth starter. But Prince Fielder? Not a chance.

Prince Fielder - Tigers

Things changed pretty quickly once Victor Martinez tore his ACL during an ill-fated offseason workout. Within ten days, owner Mike Ilitch had approved a $214MM contract for Fielder and, just like that, the 2012 Tigers were a changed team. 

Fielder, undoubtedly one of the top offensive producers in baseball, has averaged 160 games in six full seasons. He brings durability and pure left-handed power to a Tigers lineup that placed fourth in the majors in scoring a year ago. They’ll put up a few runs again in 2012.

Detroit’s infield defense could become a concern as a result of the Fielder signing. Fielder will play first base and Miguel Cabrera will play third, a position at which he has played just 14 MLB games since being traded to Detroit after the 2007 season. Now that the Tigers have promised both superstars an everyday job in the field, they face a potentially difficult situation. Should Cabrera’s defense prove to be a real barrier to the team’s success, manager Jim Leyland and GM Dave Dombrowski will have to find a way to keep him in the lineup at another position. 

When the Tigers’ offseason began, its success seemed to hinge on Dombrowski’s ability to obtain a second baseman and add pitching depth. The Fielder deal pushed Brandon Inge from third to second, where he’s competing for the starting job alongside the versatile Ryan Raburn and Ramon Santiago, who re-signed in Detroit after testing the free agent market. The Tigers apparently preferred their internal options to free agent second basemen such as Aaron Hill, Kelly Johnson and Mark Ellis.

The Tigers’ rotation features an enviable top four and their bullpen includes a number of proven relievers, but they added less pitching than I expected this winter. They inquired on Roy Oswalt, using the defending Cy Young and MVP as a recruiter, but the choosy right-hander didn’t reciprocate the team’s interest and he remains unsigned. 

Speculation linked the Tigers to left-handed free agent starters such as Erik Bedard, Paul Maholm, Jeff Francis and Joe Saunders throughout the offseason, but the club ultimately passed on every one of them. They’ll go with an internal candidate for the fifth starter’s job, a role for which a group of left-handers are currently competing. 

The Tigers could have added a starter on a minor league deal, even if they believe their young arms are ready to contribute at the Major League level. Most teams go through nine or ten starters over the course of a full season, so the additional depth would have helped. Perhaps the Tigers did show interest and starters such as Francis decided they'd have a better chance at winning a starting job elsewhere.

Dombrowski added Octavio Dotel to the bullpen, and though the veteran reliever is essentially a right-on-right specialist at this point in his career, the one-year deal makes sense. The Tigers traded flame-throwing former first rounder Ryan Perry for long relief option Collin Balester, but didn’t acquire others who are likely to make an impact out of the ‘pen in 2012. The Tigers’ bullpen doesn’t have many openings and the front office apparently determined that major turnover wasn't necessary.

The Tigers arrived at a turning point when the ligament in Martinez’s knee snapped two months ago. They could have made do without the switch-hitter and would have been favored to win the division even if they had allowed Fielder to go elsewhere. Instead, infield defense be damned, they signed Fielder to one of the biggest contracts in baseball history. The deal has its critics, as most nine-figure agreements do, but few will deny that the Tigers are a serious threat to repeat as AL Central champions and play deep into the postseason once again.

Photo courtesy Icon SMI.

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10 Comments on "Offseason In Review: Detroit Tigers"

3 years 5 months ago

I think Dotel will be the best/most unheralded signing by this team. 3.5m was probably an overpay and you don’t want to bring him into an inning with runners on base already, but into a “clean” inning, but this 39YO has been one of the most consistent middle inning relievers for 15 seasons and that is rare. Something that is not seen and give Detroit credit for getting a middle guy with a track record over someone with 1-2 years of relief history.

Running Scared
3 years 5 months ago

to be honest Im surprised he wasn’t a tiger years ago. Seems to be the type of guy we have always had in BP. 

3 years 5 months ago

My main concern is that Dombrowski didn’t address their lack of a leadoff hitter. Austin Jackson, with his extreme propensity to strikeout, is not the long-term answer. I’m not saying I wanted Jose Reyes, but I am sure Dombrowski could have gotten more creative. 

I am not nearly as worried about the lack of a fifth starter as everyone else seems to be. The fact of the matter is that with the four right-handers they have solidified in the rotation, the Tigers need a lefty in the fifth spot, and 3 of their top 10 prospects happen to be LH starters in Drew Smyly, Casey Crosby, and Andy Oliver. I am sure the Tigers are equally confident that they can find a 5th starter in at least one of these 3. Not mention, they have a top 50 RH pitching prospect in Jacob Turner if need be.

The move to 3b for Cabrera is also overdramatized. He is eager to prove the doubters wrong and through hard-work, he will be an average fielder. The offensive of gain of Cabrera plus Fielder far outweighs the defensive cost.

I do think that they need to address the middle of the infield defense however. It might have been a good idea to sell high on Jhonny Peralta after a career year and focus on defense up the middle and at SS. I think the Braves would have been an excellent trade target for them. A deal of Peralta + Raburn and cash to cover salary differences for Prado to play 2b might have made sense for both squads.

The Dotel signing was a very smart baseball move, even if it was a bit overpriced.

Overall, I love the Tigers offseason and can’t complain about the moves they made. Looking forward to another great season of Tiger baseball.

3 years 5 months ago

I agree that AJax is not the answer now at the lead-off spot. In a year or two, perhaps, but for now he needs to be 7 or 8. Lets see how the final rosters shakedown and see if DD finds anybody worth picking up.

3 years 5 months ago

The Notable Losses section for the Tigers should probably be re-labeled to “Guys that are finally not Tigers any longer!”

3 years 5 months ago

That doesnt kick in till Inge leaves…

3 years 5 months ago

I take it you don’t think it will work?

3 years 5 months ago

I don’t see where you see Peralta as being below average. Don’t get me wrong his range is not great but he almost never misses. Peralta I would say is average at least and possibly a little better.

3 years 5 months ago

Are you saying that you’d rather have a great defensive infield over the leagues top offense

3 years 5 months ago

 It’s going to work just fine. Cabby has looked good at 3rd this spring, the ball in the face (that nobody else in the league would have dodged) notwithstanding. He’s lost some weight and he’ll be fine at 3rd. They don’t need him to be Brooks Robinson, they just need him to be capable, which he EASILY looks to be. His arm is also TREMENDOUS. Peralta has little range but is a plus glove. You’re just plain WRONG featherboy…