MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Upcoming season pivotal for 10 potential free agents

Price, Heyward and Zimmermann among best who may test open market

Upcoming season pivotal for 10 potential free agents

The Detroit Tigers have been aggressive in recent seasons in an effort to end a 30-year championship drought. They have advanced to the postseason the last four seasons, even getting to the World Series in 2012, where they were swept by the Giants.

Is their window to win a title about to close?

The Tigers head to Spring Training next week with every reason to feel they can win the AL Central this year, but also with a roster that will force management to make tough decisions by season's end.

The Tigers have six potential free agents among their key players for 2015, plus closer Joe Nathan, who does have a club option for 2016 worth $10 million.

The potential free-agent list includes outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, projected starting pitchers David Price and Alfredo Simon, late-inning reliever Joakim Soria, catcher Alex Avila and fourth outfielder Rajai Davis. Lefty reliever Tom Gorzelanny is also signed to a one-year deal at $1 milllion.

What will be factored into decisions about re-signing any of the potential free agents is that the Tigers already have $111.8 million committed for next year to five players -- Justin Verlander ($28 million), Miguel Cabrera ($28 million), Victor Martinez ($18 million), Anibal Sanchez ($16.8 million) and Ian Kinsler ($14 million) -- plus the $1 million buyout for Nathan, and $6 million to the Rangers to offset Prince Fielder's contract.

Price, Avila and Cespedes are among the 10 potential free agents who will be under the spotlight this season.

C Avila, Tigers, 28: A left-handed-hitting catcher who can be a threat (50 home runs the last four years with Comerica Park as his home field), Avila has thrown out at least 30 percent of potential basestealers in four of his last five seasons, including 34 percent last year. He doesn't turn 29 until the offseason.

Outlook: Cespedes, LF, DET

OF Cespedes, Tigers, 29: When he defected from Cuba, the key to his signing with the A's was Oakland agreed to a four-year deal that allowed Cespedes to become an unrestricted free agent at the age of 30. He has a flair for the dramatic in the outfield thanks to his strong arm and has hit .263 with 71 home runs, 262 RBIs and a .780 OPS in three years.

1B Chris Davis, Orioles, 28: Davis opened eyes with a .286 average, 53 home runs and 138 RBIs two years ago, but last year he took a hit. He hit .196 with 26 home runs and 72 RBIs and missed the final 42 regular season games and seven postseason games as part of a 50-game suspension for violating baseball's drug agreement. Davis, who turns 29 in March, will miss Opening Day to finish that suspension and then will have 161 games to re-establish market value.

Outlook: Heyward, RF, STL

OF Jason Heyward, Cardinals, 25: Heyward was dealt by the Braves to the Cardinals in the offseason and goes into a season where he needs to reaffirm his offensive impact. After what seemed like a breakthrough 2012 season (27 home runs, 82 RBIs and .269 average), he has hit .264 with 25 home runs and 96 RBIs total over the last two seasons. Hitting primarily in the leadoff spot last year, he did show he can run the bases, succeeding on 20 of 24 stolen base attempts.

RHP Tim Lincecum, Giants, 30: A Cy Young Award winner in his second and third year in the Majors, Lincecum was a combined 49-22 in 2008-10, but is 45-52 with a 4.18 ERA since. The Giants were concerned enough last season that he was limited to just 1 2/3 innings of relief in the postseason and worked out of the 'pen in the final weeks of the regular season. Lincecum needs to reaffirm his command. He walked 315 batters in 756 1/3 innings the last four seasons.

RHP Rick Porcello, Red Sox, 26: Porcello was in the big leagues at the age of 20, and is coming off back-to-back winning seasons for the first time. In 2014 he tallied a career-best 15 wins and 3.43 ERA. Now he gets to adjust from pitching-friendly Comerica Park to the nuances of Fenway.

MLB Now on Price's future

LHP Price, Tigers, 29: A left-hander with command (2.4 walks per nine innings in his career) and durability (200-plus innings four of the last five years, including a career-best 248 1/3 last year) set a bidding bar when he signed for $19.75 million to avoid arbitration this year. He is 25-20 with a 3.29 ERA the last two seasons after a 20-5, 2.56 ERA effort in 2012. The Tigers have an investment, having given up lefty Drew Smyly, outfielder Austin Jackson and prime shortstop prospect Willy Adames to acquire him from the Rays.

RHP Jeff Samardzija, White Sox, 30: A former receiver at Notre Dame, Samardzija has athleticism and a live arm, which is why the A's traded for him in the second half last year and the White Sox swung a deal to acquire him in the offseason. He has not, however, had that breakthrough season. He's coming off three consecutive losing seasons in which he was a combined 24-39 despite a 3.70 ERA. He did surpass 200 innings and 200 strikeouts the last two seasons.

Outlook: Wieters, C, BAL

C Matt Wieters, Orioles, 28: A year ago Wieters, who turns 29 in late May, was the game's elite catcher. A switch-hitter with power (67 home runs, 230 RBIs from 2011-13) he also has thrown out 33 percent of potential basestealers in his career. Off to the best start of his career last season, he was sidelined in May and underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in June. His catching will be limited early on, but he can DH and there's hope he can start showing his offensive potential as early as Opening Day.

RHP Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals, 28: The right-hander battled injuries early in his career, but in the last three seasons he is 45-22 with a 2.96 ERA, working more than 195 innings in each. With the Nationals adding to their roster in the offseason, Zimmermann will be pitching for a team that is favored to win its division, which should enhance his opportunities to build a stronger resume before having a chance to test the open market.

Tracy Ringolsby, the 2005 recipient of the Hall of Fame's Spink Award, has covered Major League Baseball since 1976. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.