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Tigers field pitching offers at Meetings

Tigers field pitching offers at Meetings

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- While the Winter Meetings began Monday at Walt Disney World, Mike Maroth might as well be a world away, even though he's just down the road.

The Orlando native and resident doesn't plan on visiting Tigers front-office officials while they're here, figuring that they'll be busy enough without him stopping by, and he doesn't plan on reading what goes on there. He has avoided keeping up with Hot Stove news, especially while he's one of the more interesting Tigers for other teams to ponder.

"It's like I've always said," Maroth said by phone on Monday evening. "I don't worry about it. It's out of my control."

As the going rate climbs for free agent pitchers this winter, Maroth is under contract at a relative bargain of $2.95 million in 2007, the final season of the two-year deal he signed in lieu of salary arbitration last winter. After parts of five Major League seasons, he's a young veteran, even though he's not eligible for free agency until after the 2008 season.

His 2006 season devolved following June surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow, but there's little doubt that he'll be ready to pitch when Spring Training games begin. It's likely he'll do that in a Tigers uniform, but it's far from guaranteed.

"I would say there's a real strong chance that we wouldn't trade the four guys who started for us in the postseason," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said on Monday. "And then beyond that, I'd have to say that you listen to what people have to say, but I can't give you any odds on that."

That quiets much of the trade buzz regarding Jeremy Bonderman, whose future in Detroit looked less certain before three solid postseason starts made Detroit more likely to sign him to a long-term contract. But it doesn't rule out dealing Maroth, who was left off Detroit's playoff roster while struggling to regain his old form coming off surgery.

The Tigers are not believed to be actively seeking deals on Maroth, either, but they'll listen -- something they've done plenty in general already. More clubs are calling the Tigers, Dombrowski said, rather than the other way around.

That's the position they've put themselves in between their pitching depth, early moves to shore up their lineup and their financial flexibility. Nothing clear emerged on Monday, and the Tigers weren't believed to be close on any deals.

"We're probably one of the few clubs that have five established starting pitchers, and then also have some depth behind them," Dombrowski said. "Because even though we made the [Gary Sheffield] trade, we've still got guys that are close to pitching. We've got [Wilfredo] Ledezma. We've got [Zach] Miner. [Jason] Grilli could start if he had to. In addition, we've got guys like [Jordan] Tata, [Jair] Jurrjens, [Eulogio] De La Cruz. We don't think those guys are very far away from being able to start. And of course, that doesn't include Andrew Miller.

"That is a strength of ours still, the young pitching. And you can tell people are interested. People call us. They ask us about it. We've had proposals made to us in that regard. We're going to just kind of listen and take some of that in and see if anything makes sense for us."

Going young, going left: The Tigers continue to keep their options open to bringing in a left-handed reliever, be it by trade or free agency. But at this point, the latter is looking less and less likely.

After watching the market escalate on situational relievers, the Tigers are reluctant to go into the territory of long-term deals.

"I know the market right now has really been a wild market," Dombrowski said, "and the one thing I don't want to do is to get somebody that fits that description and put us in a spot where we sign a contract that we're not happy with in a year. I really would rather have a short-term contract if it came down to that, or a young guy, unless the right guy you could sign. But I don't know who that guy is right now."

That leaves the options of either taking a chance on a lower-level free agent or pursuing a trade. That's one area where the Tigers have made proposals, Dombrowski said. So have other teams, of course, leaving Detroit in the position of pursuing younger, unproven lefties as well as veteran southpaws.

"I think we'd be open either way," Dombrowski said. "We're talking about both, so we really have discussed both types of guys."

The Tigers had brief discussions Monday with officials from the Marlins, who boast a young rookie lefty in 24-year-old Venezuelan Kenyel Pinto, but talks were not believed to be serious. They have also had discussions this offseason with the Rangers, who have a coveted lefty in C.J. Wilson and need starting pitching. However, Texas is expected to make Wilson a starter rather than deal him. The Rangers also have Ron Mahay, whom they retained by picking up his $1 million option for next season.

Unless Detroit trades an incumbent starter, the left-handed Ledezma is expected to open the year in the bullpen. Dombrowski cautioned that the Tigers view Ledezma more as a middle reliever than a specialist. Yet with setup men Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney effective against left-handed hitters, Dombrowski said that a middle-inning lefty could be what they need.

"Really, if we didn't do anything with our bullpen -- with Jones, Zumaya, Rodney, Ledezma, Grilli, and then we've got other guys there that we do like -- we'd be fine with that. It's not that we're not going to try to do something, but if we had to go there, we would be fine."

Shell game on Shelton: Could Chris Shelton's fall from power hitter in April to Triple-A Toledo in July be followed by a move to the trading block? Possibly, but not quite yet.

Three teams have inquired about Shelton since the Tigers contingent arrived here on Sunday night, Dombrowski said. None of those offers were very appealing.

"Normally when they inquire about him," Dombrowski said, "they're thinking that they're just going to get him for very little, because they think that it's a good time to try to get him. And we like him. I'm not saying we wouldn't necessarily trade him or anybody else. But we're not just going to be in a spot where somebody comes by and gets him for an A-ball fringe guy. We like Chris Shelton."

The Orioles are believed to be interested in him in their search for a right-handed power hitter. Meanwhile, Baltimore vice president of baseball operations Jim Duquette told reporters on Monday that he targeted talks toward teams in need of pitching, though most of the O's talks involved righty swingman Rodrigo Lopez.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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