DETROIT -- While the Tigers' focus in the Winter Meetings was on finding a left-hander for the bullpen, team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski cautioned that they could also add a right-hander for certain situations. He got his man, finalizing a one-year, $2.5 million contract on Monday with well-traveled veteran Jose Mesa.
The deal adds an experienced arm to a bullpen that lost some years when Jamie Walker signed with the Orioles as a free agent. In reality, though, the Tigers had been eyeing Mesa since before July's trade deadline.
The 40-year-old Mesa completed his 18th Major League season this year, pitching in a career-high 79 games for the Rockies. He went 1-3 with a 3.86 ERA, including an impressive 2.41 mark at Coors Field. He allowed 10 earned runs over 37 1/3 innings in the hitter-friendly ballpark, with at least half the offense coming on five home runs. He allowed just three homers over 41 1/3 innings in 46 appearances before the All-Star break, posting an impressive 3.05 ERA before tiring down the stretch, with a 4.94 ERA from there on out.
Most of that work came in setup duty behind closer Brian Fuentes after Mesa racked up five straight seasons of at least 24 saves. With Detroit, he'll take another step back from setup duty, bridging the gap between the Tigers' starting rotation and setup men Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney to help limit the multi-inning appearances they racked up down the stretch when they couldn't acquire Mesa at the deadline.
"We had talked to him about it beforehand," Dombrowski said, "because we wanted to make sure he's content with it. With [Todd] Jones closing and Zumaya and Rodney setting up, it's a role where he would probably pitch the sixth and seventh inning. He pitched a lot of games last year."
In other words, Dombrowski said, the signing is not a precursor to another move.
Mesa's 320 career saves rank him 13th on baseball's all-time list and fifth among active players. The Tigers become his eighth Major League team in a career that has seen him bounce from team to team after splitting a decade between the Indians and Orioles.
Mesa passed his physical on Monday. The Tigers must open a spot for him on their 40-man roster, but they don't have to do that until later this week. They will not do it by non-tendering one of their arbitration-eligible players at Tuesday's deadline; Dombrowski said they'll offer contracts to all five remaining eligible players, though he doesn't anticipate announcing any new deals on Tuesday.
The Tigers also formally announced their four-year, $24 million contract with third baseman Brandon Inge on Monday, locking up their third baseman through the 2010 season.
Negotiations began around the idea of a three-year deal, Dombrowski said, but they picked up a year as talks progressed. Inge becomes the first member of Detroit's younger core to be signed long-term.
"I think it's very important for us," Dombrowski said. "We've finally reached the point with the club where we're a much-improved club. We're a set club. You want to keep that core together. He's a very solid player offensively and defensively. We think he has a chance to continue to grow. There's just a lot of plusses about it."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.