Tigers not eager to deal Monroe

Tigers not eager to deal Monroe

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- For a team that continues to say it doesn't have to do anything, the Tigers are still listening.

While president/general manager Dave Dombrowski would not confirm an ESPN.com report that the Orioles expressed interest in a trade for Craig Monroe, he confirmed that the two clubs talked on Tuesday morning. However, he also indicated that it was the O's who initiated the talks, which didn't get far.

The Tigers spent the second day of baseball's Winter Meetings listening to overtures from other clubs. Monroe, despite the talks, appeared less likely to be moved. Yet, though Dombrowski said early Tuesday evening that the Tigers weren't close on any deal and hadn't had any talks for a major swap, rumors picked up later in the night.

The Tigers were reportedly one of a half-dozen teams involved in talks for Devil Rays center fielder Rocco Baldelli. However, other Major League sources later suggested the Tigers were not one of those six interested teams.

The Florida Marlins continue to be linked as the most aggressive in discussions with Tampa Bay, which is in need of young starting pitching.

Rumors about Monroe's availability began to surface on Monday night and lingered into Tuesday. As of early Tuesday evening, Dombrowski said that he believes his lineup is set.

"I think so," he said. "It's not like we're looking to change anybody that's in our everyday lineup. You can never tell what happens, but I don't anticipate anybody coming along with what we've talked about that would change that mindset. It's not perfect, but it's pretty good."

In some ways, Monroe fits that description himself. He batted .255 in the regular season, the lowest for him since 2003, and he surpassed 100 strikeouts for the first time in his career by fanning 126 times. However, he also reached career highs with 28 home runs, 89 runs scored and 92 RBIs. Seven of those homers and 20 RBIs came in the seventh inning or later of games when the Tigers were either up a run, tied or had the potential tying run on deck.

"He matured from Spring Training all the way through the season," Leyland said. "He took a tremendous step producing in the late innings. He's got it figured out a little bit, and I think he's starting to smell how good a player he can be. He's a very talented guy."

Monroe is eligible for arbitration for the second time this winter, earning him another bump to his $2.8 million salary for 2006, but he won't be eligible for free agency until after the 2008 season. By then, even without trades, the Tigers could be looking at an outfield of Cameron Maybin, Curtis Granderson and Magglio Ordonez, with Gary Sheffield at DH.

The Tigers' chances of dealing an outfielder appear to lie more with Marcus Thames, who continues to draw interest. Though he enjoyed his breakout season with 26 homers and doesn't become eligible for arbitration for another year, he's a right-handed-hitting outfielder out of Minor League options, and the Tigers would like a left-handed hitter on their bench.

The Tigers are believed to have had discussions with the Nationals regarding Ryan Church, the former prospect who has been shopped by Washington. Church also bats left-handed and can play center field, though he'd most likely fit as a reserve in Detroit. Like Thames, Church is out of options.

Honors for Tigers: By most views, the Winter Meetings had been going quietly until free agent deals in the evening sent J.D. Drew to Boston and Greg Maddux to San Diego. From the eyes of Justin Verlander and Andrew Miller, though, it was relative chaos. Neither had ever seen a Winter Meetings, but neither had a reason to visit until the two had to stop by to pick up awards.

Baseball America's annual end-of-season awards gala on Tuesday became a showcase for the progress of the Tigers organization. While Dombrowski and Leyland were honored as the Major League Executive and Manager of the Year, respectively, Verlander received another piece of hardware in his collection of Rookie of the Year awards. Miller, meanwhile, collected his honor as College Player of the Year for his efforts in helping North Carolina to the College World Series title game.

Both paid visits to the lobby at the Dolphin Hotel and saw the activity.

"It's kind of crazy down there," said Verlander, who made the short drive up Interstate 4 from his second home in Lakeland, Fla. "It's kind of a circus down there."

That said, it was a way for Verlander to start thinking about baseball again instead of going stir crazy from inactivity. He has spent most of his offseason resting, part of the Tigers' effort to let his arm recover from the 207-inning workload he endured in his rookie season.

He just recently resumed some activity, doing some work to strengthen his right shoulder.

"I'm already getting the itch to play again," Verlander said. "At least I can come here and talk to some guys about it."

Miller, too, had some extra time off to recuperate from a long season that began with him pitching college ball in mid-February. Back then, he was living in an off-campus apartment at Chapel Hill. Now he's a new homeowner, having purchased a house in his native Gainesville, Fla., while he gets into his offseason throwing program.

Yes, he's a Florida Gators fan. And yes, Michigan fans, he's happy with the matchup for the Bowl Championship Series, though he's hoping the whole mess becomes the catalyst for a playoff at long last.

As it is, Miller thinks that Florida's defense can make it a close game against Ohio State.

"I think Florida can beat them," Miller said. "I think they can surprise a lot of people. Then again, it could be a blowout."

More awards: Other Tigers honors came earlier in the meetings. Longtime Tigers traveling secretary Bill Brown was named Traveling Secretary of the Year by his Major League peers. Meanwhile, the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society selected the Tigers -- Kevin Rand, Steve Carter and Doug Teter -- for its annual Major League Athletic Trainer Staff of the Year Award.

Two lefties: The Tigers continue looking for a second left-handed reliever who can balance out their bullpen along with Wilfredo Ledezma. Yet while Leyland has usually had a preference for two lefties in his bullpen, he's not quite so adamant about it now.

"I do have two lefties in the bullpen," Leyland said. "I've got Ledezma and [right-hander Fernando] Rodney, if you want to know the truth."

Like Dombrowski, Leyland likes Rodney's ability to change speeds against hitters from either side of the plate.

"I want the best pitchers," said Leyland, pointing out that the Angels didn't have a left-handed reliever for much of 2004 and 2005 before signing J.C. Romero last year.

It's about hitting: While most teams plan on having their contigents leave town by Thursday night, most Tigers officials will be sticking around until Friday. It's been their habit to stay an extra day for the past several years, but this year, they plan to use the time to have an organizational meeting on hitting.

"Since we have most of our people here, we wanted to have a conversation on some organizational thoughts on hitting," Dombrowski said. "We have some other people coming in to join us, actually."

Dombrowski wants to kick some ideas around, as he put it, and one topic is expected to be the hitting at the Minor League level. While the Tigers have improved their prospect rankings in terms of offensive players over the past few years, they've also suffered from some of the same inconsistencies as the big-league club. That holds especially true for walks and strikeouts.

While Maybin and Brent Clevlen rank as the top positional prospects in the organization, they combined to strike out 254 times over 780 at-bats at Class A West Michigan and Double-A Erie, respectively. Others have struggled to make contact at times, too.

That said, Dombrowski is not trying to forge an organization-wide hitting philosophy.

"We have some organizational philosophies, but we also individualize a lot of our teaching program," Dombrowski said. "There are certain thought processes that we have that are consistent. Toby Harrah, for example, is our hitting coach at the Minor League level, so he's going to teach a lot of the same philosophies through our hitting coaches. But the more they progress, the higher up the ladder, the more individualized the programs become."

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