Tigers seeking smooth transition at keystone
Johnson, Hill top list of free-agent second basemen
DETROIT -- The Tigers broke out of their organizational meetings Thursday night for a weekend break before club officials head to Milwaukee next week for Major League Baseball's annual General Managers and Owners Meetings. They'll arrive ready to get down to business, trying to solve the infield puzzle that ranks among the more intriguing situations in the American League Central this offseason.
The Tigers were not involved in the bidding for Jamey Carroll, who is reportedly on the verge of signing a two-year contract to become the starting shortstop for the division-rival Twins. While Detroit is believed to be open to the idea of a multiyear deal to stop the revolving door at second base, it wasn't expected to do that for Carroll, who will turn 38 in February.
The Tigers had already initiated contact with potential free-agent targets while they were meeting this week, but no deal is believed to be close. While Carroll was an intriguing option at second, where he played the majority of his games this past season with the Dodgers, he wasn't at the top of the second-base market, in part because of his age.
That market still begins with Aaron Hill and Kelly Johnson, two slugging infielders with baserunning speed who were traded for each other last summer. The D-backs are interested in keeping Hill, whom they acquired in that midsummer deal, but Arizona general manager Kevin Towers told reporters on Friday he wants an answer from Hill to their multiyear contract offer by the time the GM Meetings open. If it isn't accepted by then, the offer will be pulled.
"I made it clear that this was our final and best workup," Towers told reporters, including MLB.com's Barry Bloom, "and that we were going to give [Hill and his agent] a week to 10 days to find out where the market was for him."
The Tigers know Hill well from his six-plus seasons in Toronto, where he established himself as one of the game's emerging offensive threats at second before injuries derailed him. The Blue Jays dealt him to Arizona for Johnson on Aug. 23, after which he showed glimpses of his old form in 33 games as a D-back.
Johnson, too, had better numbers after his trade to Toronto, where he was more reminiscent of his 2008 and 2010 form. One challenge with the left-handed-hitting Johnson is his status as a Type A free agent, which under the terms of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement would force a contending team to give up a first-round Draft pick in order to sign him.
That current agreement, though, is set to expire next month, with a new CBA being negotiated to take its place. Whether that agreement will include the same free-agent compensation rules, requiring teams to give up picks for top free agents, remains to be seen. Some reports have suggested that the compensation rules could be changed, giving teams an extra pick for losing a free agent without penalizing the team that signs him.
That uncertainty could slow the market, at least for Type A free agents, until an agreement is either announced or clarified.
Other free-agent second basemen include Mark Ellis, an annual pest for the Tigers during his days with the Oakland A's, and Clint Barmes, a National League second baseman with right-handed power who spent his entire career in Colorado before going to Houston last season. Ellis turns 35 next June. Barmes turns 33 in Spring Training, while Johnson and Hill turn 30 around the same time.