The Tigers’ brain trust just got done chatting with the Detroit media for more than a half hour, and per usual, they touched on a number of topics.
Here are the quick-hit highlights:
* The Tigers will never publicly discuss their pursuit of any play, though GM Dave Dombrowski did seem to hint that nothing big is in the works. He said they’re plenty happy going into spring training with Ramon Santiago and Ryan Raburn platooning at second base, Brandon Inge manning third, Delmon Young playing left field and the rotation as is. If the Tigers do sign a fifth starter, it likely won’t be a big splash — but rather someone who can provide insurance should one of several Tigers youngsters (Jacob Turner, Drew Smyly, Duane Below, Andy Oliver, Adam Wilk, etc.) not step up. Any signing to fill out the rotation likely would be a guy who also could comfortably slide to the bullpen.
In other words, any such signing might be even less of an impact move than Brad Penny last offseason.
* Dombrowski confirmed that he did visit and scout international outfield prospect Yoenis Cespedes, but declined any additional comment other than to say, “He’s in better shape than anybody in this room.” Dombrowski never discusses targets; Cespedes, we know, is a serious target.
* Interestingly, Dombrowski said the current roster really leaves room for one more position player (that’s assuming there are no trades, and that’s obviously no given with this team). Cespedes has to be priority No. 1. If they miss on him, the last position player could already be in the system.
* The Tigers aren’t saying who would be the primary second baseman — Santiago or Raburn. It’ll likely to depend on who’s hot. Raburn is the stronger hitter, but Santiago is the clear superior defender and provides a left-handed bat (he’s a switch-hitter).
* As for the catcher position, the Tigers aren’t putting a target number on the games on backup Gerald Laird, but it’s a good bet they won’t catch Alex Avila nearly as much as they did this year (133 games). So it’s a safe assumption Laird could play in 40ish, more with an Avila injury, obviously.
* As for Avila, he’s feeling great now after his workload caught up to him in the postseason. He played much of the playoffs with nagging injuries, including an aching left knee, and his offense dropped off dramatically. His dad, Tigers assistant GM Al Avila, said he’s rehabbed the knee and the rehab process is complete.
* Also on the injury front, Tigers reliever Al Alburquerque is healthy. The Tigers’ top rookie of 2011, he could’ve had a banner season had it not been for a fluke concussion (batting practice ball to the head) and a sore forearm. But he’s recovered nicley and will pitch in winter ball.
* Alburquerque’s health could be key to the 2012 Tigers. They’re set at the back end of the bullpen, with Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit. It’s the middle innings that need some serious addressing. Besides Phil Coke, the arsenal is thin. It’s why middle relief might be what the Tigers address first and fast in free-agency.
* Tigers manager Jim Leyland didn’t openly committ to Austin Jackson remaining at leadoff after his sophomore slump, but he suggested the Tigers don’t have anybody else on the roster today who is an ideal candidate. Hitting coach Lloyd McClendon has been studying film, and is expected to visit Jackson soon to start tackling the deficiencies.
* Dombrowski said the Tigers had no talks with star shortstop Jose Reyes or his representatives before he agreed to a six-year deal with the Marlins. The Tigers did discuss Reyes internally. That’s not surprising. They discuss dozens, if not hundreds, of players.
* Dombrowski said in an ideal world, outrighted slugger Ryan Strieby would catch on with another organization. With Detroit, he’s going nowhere fast — with Miguel Cabrera at first base and Victor Martinez the designated hitter at the major league level.
* In regard to the Tigers’ pursuit of speed, Leyland quipped, “I’d rather have slow players who can hit than fast players who can’t.”
Be sure to check back with Covering the Bases, as Tony Paul blogs throughout the day Monday-Wednesday from the winter meetings.