Tigers gear up for Winter Meetings

Tigers gear up for Winter Meetings

CLUB NEEDS:

SHORTSTOP -- The Tigers decided to look for a defensive upgrade at short after Edgar Renteria showed a surprising drop in range in his lone season in Detroit. With the progress that prospect Cale Iorg showed in his first full season of pro ball, however, the Tigers have decided to look for a short-term fix for one or two seasons rather than a longer-term option, leaving the spot open for Iorg or fellow prospect Danny Worth as soon as 2010. They've had more trade talks on this spot than others, including reported discussions with the Pirates for Jack Wilson, which might make more sense than trying to sign a mid-level free agent to a short-term deal. If they do go the free-agency route, they could sign someone to platoon with Ramon Santiago if it frees up payroll to put elsewhere.

CATCHER -- Again, the Tigers aren't looking for a long-term option unless it's a younger player. And unless Detroit can somehow put together the prospects for a trade with Texas for one of the Rangers' many catchers, possibly Gerald Laird, it'll have a tough time finding a longer-term backstop. That likely leaves the Tigers looking for a veteran to mentor and possibly platoon with Detroit's own catching prospect, Dusty Ryan.

CLOSER -- The inconsistencies of Fernando Rodney showed the kind of task the Tigers face in replacing the recently retired Todd Jones, who had his share of topsy-turvy performances but proved effective on the whole. Again, the Tigers feel like they have help coming in their farm system, but not quite yet. That places Detroit on the hunt for short-term help, most likely through free agency. Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski has said they don't plan to be in play for top free agents such as Francisco Rodriguez, but they've looked at the next group, including Trevor Hoffman, David Weathers and Brandon Lyon. Unlike shortstop and catcher, the market has plenty of closers available whether through free agency or trade.

LEFT-HANDED RELIEVER -- This area isn't as pressing as the others; Detroit has left-handed relievers on the roster with Bobby Seay, Clay Rapada and Macay McBride. Their struggles this year, however, helped push the Tigers to at least explore the market for the proven southpaw they've been unable to add in years past. They've been aggressive in their pursuit of free agent Joe Beimel, but he also has a good amount of interest.

WHO THEY CAN OR NEED TO TRADE:

OF Marcus Thames -- He has been an off-again, on-again starter in left field for the past four seasons, but Carlos Guillen's move from third base to left leaves Thames looking at another year as a fourth outfielder unless Detroit can deal him. The club has checked the trade market for interest on him in offseasons past and hasn't gotten what it wanted, but with Thames eligible for arbitration and the Tigers relatively rich in outfield prospects, they have the motivation to at least see what they can get.

OF Magglio Ordonez -- Between the Tigers' payroll, Ordonez's age and the three huge years left on his contract, they could justify dealing him if he can land them the help they need in their many areas. However, Ordonez is the kind of run producer that most teams would have a hard time replacing, especially Detroit. Moreover, he's identifiable enough in Detroit that the Tigers could alienate fans by trading him. The Tigers would have to be very impressed from an offer to swing a deal.

OF Matt Joyce -- He's the kind of left-handed power hitter the Tigers could use, but so could other teams who could help fill Detroit's other needs. The Tigers have enough outfield depth to get along without him, but his lefty power bat would be tougher to replace.

IF Jeff Larish -- Like Joyce, Larish is a lefty power bat, and he made an impression with his offense in the Arizona Fall League while showing his ability to play third base as well as first. With Miguel Cabrera set at first for several years and third base likely no more than a fill-in spot for Larish, he's expendable from a positional standpoint, but the Tigers could really use his punch off the bench.

OF Brent Clevlen -- He's one of the best athletes in the organization, with a gifted arm to fire from the outfield to the plate, but the Tigers have spent the last few years trying to shore up his bat. He's now out of Minor League options, but at age 25, he still has a chance to emerge. He has drawn some interest from teams over the past couple years.

LHPs Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson -- The Tigers could use starting pitching depth, but with both Willis and Robertson under contract for two more years at lucrative salaries, they might also have use for swapping one of those contracts and putting a similar contract toward one of their voids, possibly Boston shortstop Julio Lugo. It isn't their preferred route for offseason shopping, but it's a fallback option.

TOP PROSPECTS:

RHP Rick Porcello -- He's the envy of just about every other big league organization, a soon-to-be 20-year-old with a polished arm well beyond his age, but he's untouchable as far as the Tigers are concerned.

SS Cale Iorg -- He's likely the future of the organization at shortstop, so he's just about untouchable unless the Tigers somehow pulled off a deal for a long-term fix at short.

OF Wilkin Ramirez -- Like Clevlen, Ramirez is a gifted athlete whose offense has been inconsistent. However, Ramirez has emerged over the last two years, including a berth in this past summer's Futures Game. Of the many Tigers outfield prospects, he's probably the least likely to be dealt.

RHP Guillermo Moscoso -- He pitched his way into the Tigers' prospect ranks with an impressive 2008 season, adding some pitching depth to help replace what they had lost in previous trades. If the Tigers must trade Minor League pitching, he could conceivably go, too.

RHP Luis Marte -- The gifted but erratic arm put up an impressive season at Double-A Erie before going to the AFL.

BIG CONTRACTS THEY MIGHT UNLOAD:

Ordonez ($18 million in '09, options for $15 million each in '10 and '11 guaranteed with 124 games or 447 plate appearances next year).

ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE:

Thames, RP Rodney, RHSP Justin Verlander, RP Joel Zumaya, SS Santiago, RP Seay and RP Aquilino Lopez (possible non-tender).

PAYROLL SUMMATION:

Dombrowski expects to keep payroll steady at this year's level, which was up around $138 million to open the season but fell closer to $135 million by season's end after trading Ivan Rodriguez in July. The challenge in doing that is that the Tigers have around $102.7 million in guaranteed salary on their roster for next year before their many arbitration cases. That's why the Tigers are expected to stay away from bigger-name free agents.

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