12/02/08 10:00 AM EST
Tigers in search of a shortstop in Vegas
Club's main priority is to fill hole left by free agent Renteria
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
The Tigers approached the first couple weeks of offseason shopping expecting that their dealings wouldn't pick up until they neared baseball's Winter Meetings from Dec. 8-11 at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. With the Thanksgiving holiday now behind them and the meetings looming, Detroit is set to turn its many possibilities into some moves.
It's a different approach than past offseasons, when the Tigers became known for moving quickly on trades for Edgar Renteria last fall and Gary Sheffield two years ago. Yet, depending on how other teams proceed and which need the Tigers can fill first, this could still end up being an eventful holiday shopping season in which what happens in Vegas defines Detroit going forward.
"It'll probably move at a faster pace getting into the Winter Meetings," assistant general manager Al Avila said last month.
They certainly don't lack for possibilities.
Before Tigers officials headed home for the holiday, they had cast a wide net in their search for a wide-ranging shortstop to replace Renteria. With officials from around baseball wandering the halls of the Bellagio on the Las Vegas strip, the Tigers are expected to go from surveying their options to whittling them down and trying to find a match for their need for a short-term shortstop until they can fill the spot from the farm system as soon as 2010.
Those potential options include Detroit's on-again, off-again discussions with the Pirates for Jack Wilson, a rumored Tigers target ever since the summer of 2007. They could also revisit their earlier interest in Padres shortstop Khalil Greene should San Diego decide to move on dealing him, something the Padres had cooled on earlier.
Then there's the long-rumored but still possible contract swap with the Red Sox, who could send out Julio Lugo in return for one of Detroit's back-end starting pitchers, reportedly Dontrelle Willis. That appears to be a fallback option for now.
If it becomes apparent that the trade front won't give them what they want, the Tigers could change directions quickly to the free-agent market, where their interest has been limited but where they have potential fits. The Tigers will likely stay out of the top tier, where speedy Rafael Furcal has dominated the market, but they could try to pick off one of the shortstops below him with a short-term deal. While reliable gloves such as Adam Everett and Nick Punto remain available, they could reportedly also look at Orlando Cabrera if he doesn't get a long-term deal, though Chicago's decision to offer arbitration to Cabrera could cool off any rumored interest.
How the Tigers fill their shortstop void, and how soon they can do it, will likely affect Detroit's other needs, both in the bullpen and behind the plate. Between a slew of free agents and a few arms potentially on the trading block, closers are in ample supply for teams such as Detroit and its division rival, Cleveland. The Tigers, however, have only so many parts they can deal without narrowing their prospect rankings, and so much they can spend and still hold payroll steady as planned.
While the Tigers will pass on top free-agent closer Francisco Rodriguez, they have checked out the next level of free agents, a group that includes Trevor Hoffman, Brandon Lyon and David Weathers. Potential trade options with other clubs include the Rockies, who recently acquired Huston Street. Like at shortstop, however, the Tigers have the future to consider -- notably, a number of relief prospects that includes Ryan Perry, their first-round selection from last summer's First-Year Player Draft who could compete for a big league role as soon as next spring.
With Rodriguez likely to remain unsigned through the meetings, the rest of the market could still be in limbo, as could the Tigers on that front when they leave Las Vegas. However, Detroit has a better chance at resolution in their search for a lefty reliever, an area of need in past offseasons but one that the Tigers have been aggressive to pursue this winter. They've shown varying levels of interest in free agents Joe Beimel, Darren Oliver and Arthur Rhodes, all of whom will induce plenty of conversation amongst clubs next week.
While Detroit's relief options are numerous, the search for a catcher remains murky, and there's no guarantee that the Winter Meetings will clear it up. At some point, the Tigers will have to decide whether a trade for a catcher is realistic. The Rangers have the most young catching talent to offer clubs, but they're also in a position to demand plenty in return, especially in terms of young pitching that's close to Major League ready. With September callup Dusty Ryan capable of some kind of role, the Tigers could end up acquiring or signing a veteran backstop to serve as both a mentor and a platoon mate.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.