12/03/07 11:03 PM ET
Notes: Tigers exploring their options
GM Dombrowski is content with current club, but will field offers
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
Or as Dombrowski put it, they're exploring.
"We're very happy with our positional players, and we're content with our pitchers," Dombrowski said on Monday night. "But you still have to say, 'Well, you can always use more pitching,' which everybody probably can say. You listen to any and everything, but you never have enough pitching, so you just explore all options."
That's where the interest seems to be focused. While Dombrowski said again on Monday that his group believes recent signing Francisco Cruceta can pitch in the big leagues right now in big situations, that won't preclude them from checking out more options.
The Tigers were scheduled to meet on Monday night with Dan Horwits, the agent for free-agent reliever Octavio Dotel. In addition, they're expected to meet at some point with fellow free agent LaTroy Hawkins' agent, Larry Reynolds. At this point, however, there's no reason to believe any deal would be close.
The Detroit Free Press first reported interest in Dotel and Hawkins. The Tigers also reportedly had some interest in David Riske, but his contract with the Brewers is expected to be announced during these meetings, possibly as soon as Tuesday.
That deal could put more teams into the mix for Dotel and Hawkins, not to mention Yankees reliever Luis Vizcaino, potentially raising the prices on what was already being seen as an inflated market for middle relievers and setup men.
"We're not actively involved in many free agents," Dombrowski cautioned.
On the flip side, Dombrowski said they've had more conversations with other clubs than they normally do, a byproduct of the mentality of many teams this offseason that they're better off swapping than buying. They are not actively involved in the big-ticket sweepstakes for Johan Santana or Miguel Cabrera, but their smaller potential deals include trades that could happen if a team adds a bigger-name player.
Dombrowski couldn't indicate either way yet whether they'd be more likely to add a reliever through free agency or trade. If nothing happens either way, however, they'll go with the guys they have, with closer Todd Jones working the ninth inning and Fernando Rodney handling the bulk of the setup chores in front of him.
Where Cruceta falls behind them is a good question, but Tigers officials are saying he could handle an important role.
Special assistant Dick Egan, who scouted Cruceta several times over the years and watched the 26-year-old right-hander pitch in the Dominican Winter League last week before the Tigers signed him to a Major League contract, backed up what team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said was his evaluation last week. Cruceta, he reiterated, has the ability to pitch very well in relief for Detroit.
"To me, it's an outstanding opportunity for him," Egan said.
Ability has rarely been the big question for him. Instead, his command woes and other issues seemed to hold him back. However, it appears that maturity -- both personally and developmentally -- has helped him improve into what the Tigers hope is the kind of pitcher he can be. His curveball and splitter are strikeout pitches, and his fastball is considered above average.
"He always was regarded as a quality prospect. We've had very good reports on him for years," Dombrowski said. "But he was never able to get over that proverbial hump to make himself a good big-league pitcher. He's always had a good arm and good stuff. He pitched well in Triple-A -- of course he missed some time there this year -- and in winter ball he was pitching outstanding."
Dombrowski said he knew of at least two teams, and possibly a third, that offered Cruceta a big league contract, but that the Tigers beat them to it.
"It's just one of those things," Dombrowski said. "Sometimes you continue to develop guys, and you hope you get them at the right time. We'll see. Only time will tell, but we think that he has a chance."
Manager Jim Leyland backed up the point.
"Right now the focus is Santana, Cabrera, I guess [Erik] Bedard," Leyland said, "and I was making the point to our guys today: Who the heck at these meetings last year was talking about LaTroy Hawkins and [Matt] Herges? They just helped the Colorado Rockies to the World Series. So sometimes it's something like that that comes along. You catch lightning in a bottle. Who knows? Those are the kinds of things that are interesting to me.
"We're not going to shut off everybody and think we've got some kind of untouchable powerhouse, because we don't. But we're very happy. Through conversations, if something made sense, then I'd assume we'd be interested."
It's open competition: Leyland put it at 99 percent certainty that the Tigers will go with a younger or less proven starter for the fifth spot in their rotation. However, he did not put Andrew Miller -- or anyone else -- as a favorite.
"I don't want to take away somebody's determination and desire and hopes," Leyland said. "But realistically, from everything we've seen so far, it's probably time to settle him in, get some time under his belt, and then I think you're really going to have something.
"Is he a candidate? Yes, he's a candidate. But would it be wrong to send him out [to the Minors] and get him settled in somewhere? I'm not sure it would be. This guy just has such a tremendous upside. We want to make sure we're doing the right thing."
Leyland would not name a favorite for the job, but it's believed that Yorman Bazardo has put up as strong or stronger of a case as anyone entering next season. Jason Grilli, Chad Durbin and Zach Miner are also likely candidates.
"I just think that within the organization right now, we have a guy who will be a very competent fifth starter, whoever that may be," Leyland said. "I think we have one."
Bettis in town: While plenty of baseball's big-name officials will be seen roaming the lobbies and walkways of this hotel over the next few days, one face that was surprising to see was former NFL star and Detroit native Jerome Bettis. The ex-Steelers great is a part-owner of the Altoona (Pa.) Curve of the Double-A Eastern League.
Fetzer falls short: Former Tigers owner John Fetzer received votes from four of the 12 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame's new Veterans Committee voting on baseball executives and pioneers, falling short of the nine needed to qualify for induction.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.