The Tigers made a return to the American League Championship Series in 2013 but saw themselves on the outside looking in for a second straight season, with the Red Sox advancing to the Fall Classic.
- Prince Fielder, 1B: $168MM through 2020
- Justin Verlander, SP: $160MM through 2019 (plus $22MM vesting option for 2020)
- Anibal Sanchez, SP: $68MM through 2017
- Miguel Cabrera, 3B: $44MM through 2015
- Torii Hunter, RF: $14MM through 2014
- Victor Martinez, DH: $12MM through 2014
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses)
- Max Scherzer (5.079): $13.6MM projected salary
- Rick Porcello (4.170): $7.7MM
- Doug Fister (4.058): $6.9MM
- Austin Jackson (4.000): $5.3MM
- Alex Avila (4.061): $3.7MM
- Phil Coke (5.028): $2.1MM
- Andy Dirks (2.139, Super Two): $1.7MM
- Don Kelly (4.138): $900K
- Al Alburquerque (2.147, Super Two): $700K
The first order of business this offseason was shored up when Detroit hired Brad Ausmus as their new skipper, giving the former catcher a three-year deal despite no prior Major League managerial experience. The Tigers will hope that Ausmus is adept at managing a clubhouse as Mike Matheny has been in St. Louis. With that out of the way, on-field issues can be addressed.
Two players that won't be returning are Jhonny Peralta and Brayan Pena, but the Tigers have in-house replacements ready to go. Detroit acquired the slick-fielding Jose Iglesias in this summer's three-team trade with the White Sox and Red Sox, and the Rookie of the Year runner-up is set to man the position for years to come. The Tigers said early that Pena would be allowed to test the open market in favor of in-house options Bryan Holaday and James McCann, and Pena responded quickly by inking a two-year pact with the Reds.
Second base and left field could be addressed on the free agent market. Some have speculated that the Tigers could be fits for top free agents Jacoby Ellsbury (despite the presence of Jackson) and Shin-Soo Choo. Both would provide major upgrades to the lineup, and there's probably not a lot of harm in delaying a full-time role for Castellanos until 2015, when he'll still be just 23 years old. In that scenario, Fielder and Cabrera could split time between DH and first base, with Castellanos moving to his natural position of third base.
It'd make sense for Detroit to pursue a reunion with Infante, and the free-spending Tigers have to at least be mentioned as a dark-horse candidate for Robinson Cano. Given their commitments to Verlander, Fielder and Sanchez plus the increasingly pressing need to address a Cabrera extension, Cano, Ellsbury and Choo seem to be unlikely targets. However, owner Mike Ilitch could consider one of them the final piece needed to secure a World Series championship in his lifetime.
The Tigers marched to the 2013 ALCS with the game's most dominant rotation with the American League's most dominant rotation in terms of ERA (3.44) and Major League Baseball's most dominant rotation in terms of innings pitched (1,023), FIP (3.12) and fWAR (25.3). That entire group is set to return in 2014, but there are rumblings that Scherzer is on the trading block this offseason, as the Tigers can afford to deal from that depth and know they have little to no chance of extending the Scott Boras standout with his first taste of free agency so close at hand. Porcello's name has also come up in recent trade rumblings.
Any trade involving Scherzer could be used as a means to fill the team's hole at second base with Infante departing, and it could also bring in a more impactful bat behind the plate than Avila. The Tigers badly need bullpen depth, but a hard-throwing, high-upside reliever would be a mere complementary piece in a Scherzer trade as opposed to a focal point. Left field presents a need as well, though Castellanos could be a cost-effective option at that position.
Porcello would command a lesser return, though he's incredibly yet to turn 25 years old (he will in December). Porcello has two years of team control remaining and is coming off his best season in terms of strikeouts (142 total, 7.1 K/9), ground-ball rate (55.3 percent), FIP (3.53), xFIP (3.19) and fWAR (3.2). His 4.32 ERA doesn't paint as pretty a picture, but it was the second-best mark of his career.
The presence of Drew Smyly allows Detroit to consider moving one of Scherzer or Porcello, but it's fair to wonder if such a trade would simply worsen what was arguably the team's biggest weakness -- bullpen depth.
The Tigers may have enviable depth in the rotation, but that is not the case when it comes to their relief corps. Dombrowski and Co. elected to stay in-house last offseason and were met with a carousel early in the season that led to the return of Jose Valverde. While Papa Grande stabilized the position briefly, he soon melted down and found himself designated for assignment. Benoit solidified the position for the remainder of the season but now finds himself a free agent.
A reunion with Benoit would make sense and could cost something like $16MM over a two-year term, but the prize of the relief market is likely Joe Nathan. There's mutual interest between the Tigers and the 39-year-old Nathan, who leads all active pitchers in saves. Nathan is coming off the second-best ERA (1.39) and the best ERA+ (297) of his storied career. MLBTR's Tim Dierkes projected a two-year, $26MM contract for Nathan, and the Tigers are one team that could afford to pay him so lavishly. Theoretically, the Tigers may even be able to add Nathan and still ink Benoit on a two-year deal as a setup man.
The Tigers could also use a left-handed reliever. Coke is a non-tender candidate after a brutal 5.40 ERA, and the team already lost Darin Downs on waivers to the Astros. Names like Javier Lopez, J.P. Howell and Boone Logan are all available on the free agent market for lefty relievers.
Ultimately, the Tigers could stand pat this offseason and still perhaps be considered the front-runners for the AL Central crown, but don't expect that to happen. Dombrowski has routinely made significant additions over the past several seasons, and he's often acted quickly. Recent November moves have included the signings of Benoit, Martinez and Hunter as well as the Peralta's extension in 2010. The Tigers have a clear need at second base and figure to be aggressive in their pursuit of bullpen help as they look to capitalize on their brilliant rotation and the prime years of Cabrera's career.