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AL Central off-season outlook: The Detroit Tigers

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The defending division-title winners are always good for one surprising move in the off-season. What does Dave Dombrowski have up his sleeve this year?

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

This week we take a look at the off-season outlooks for each of our Central Division rivals. Today, we begin with the defending division title-holders, the Detroit Tigers.

The Tigers already made their first big move of the off-season, re-signing designated hitter and 2014 MVP candidate Victor Martinez to a four year-$68 million deal. The move locks up a LOT of money into just five players for the Tigers. Detroit will pay $96 million in 2015 to Martinez, Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, Anibal Sanchez, and Ian Kinsler, with all of those players signed through 2017. The Tigers could add onto those commitments by re-signing pitcher Max Scherzer. Coming off a league-leading 18-win season and his second All-Star appearance, the 30-year old right-hander should be the most prized free agent this winter not named Jon Lester. Scherzer should easily expect a contract around $150 million, a price tag that may be too rich for the Tigers to counter.

To make room for a possible Scherzer signing, the Tigers have reportedly offered pitcher David Price in possible trades. Rick Porcello is also likely on the trading block as he is expected to command a hefty $11-13 million salary in arbitration. They also traded left-handed pitcher Robbie Ray to the Diamondbacks in a three-team trade that netted them Yankees pitcher Shane Greene. The Tigers addressed their outfield by acquiring center-fielder Anthony Gose from the Blue Jays for second base prospect Devon Travis.

The Tigers have already parted ways with right-fielder Torii Hunter. The bullpen was the glaring weakness for the Tigers last year, and one of the better relievers in the pen - right-hander Joba Chamberlain - is a free agent.

We talked to Rob Rogacki at our sister site Bless You Boys to discuss how the Tigers will approach this off-season.

Royals Review: The Tigers notoriously had bullpen issues last year. How do you see them tackling that problem?

Rob Rogacki: In a word, quietly. The Tigers exercised Joakim Soria’s $7 million option for 2015 and re-signed Joel Hanrahan to a minor league deal. They also claimed right-hander Josh Zeid off waivers from the Houston Astros and signed a pair of former Cubs relievers to minor league deals. This is standard operating procedure for the Tigers, who typically have not spent big money on non-closers. Dave Dombrowski said that Soria’s option effectively takes them out of the sweepstakes for the higher-priced relievers available. With Bruce Rondon coming back from Tommy John surgery, I would expect the Tigers to make one or two smaller moves to shore up holes. In particular, the team could use a left-hander to replace Phil Coke.

Royals Review: Dave Dombrowski seems to be full of surprises this time of year. Do you anticipate a big move from him this year or will he be content to keep this nucleus together?

Dombrowski already did a bit of both, trading left-hander Robbie Ray and infield prospect Domingo Leyba for starter Shane Greene in another three-team deal with the Yankees and Diamondbacks. The trade makes a ton of sense for the Tigers, as Greene still has six years of service time remaining but is ready to hold a spot in the rotation right now. The Tigers admitted that Ray probably wasn’t ready for MLB action in 2014, and his numbers reflected that fact. While Ray may still have the higher upside of the two starters, Greene is the more polished option at the moment.

There is always a chance that Dombrowski will shock the world with a bigger deal, but I have a feeling that this nucleus is what we will see for the considerable future in Detroit. Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander are locked up through the end of time, and several other key contributors are under contract for at least two or three more seasons. The only real question mark remaining is what the Tigers will do when David Price and Rick Porcello reach free agency after 2015, but we’re still a long way off from worrying about that.

Royals Review: Will the Tigers make a run at Max Scherzer or will he be pitching in another uniform next year? If he’s gone, how do the Tigers fill that hole?

Rog Rogacki: There have been rumblings that the Tigers are involved in negotiations with Scherzer, but I would not consider them the frontrunners. They have already filled his spot in the rotation by trading for Shane Greene, and re-signing Scherzer would take away some of their leverage when shopping Price or Porcello. It’s possible that Scott Boras goes over Dave Dombrowski to owner Mike Ilitch (something he presumably did when the Tigers signed Prince Fielder), but I don’t know if that tactic will work this year. It pains me to say this, but my prediction is that Scherzer signs with the Yankees. Trading Greene blew a hole in their rotation, and they have no shortage of money to spend.

Royals Review: Are the Tigers really shopping David Price and what kind of haul do you think they’re asking for?

Rob Rogacki: Others have disagreed, but I think that the recent trade for right-handed starter Shane Greene sets their rotation in stone for 2015. The Tigers were reportedly listening to offers for both Price and Rick Porcello, but seem reluctant to part with either starter. Both are free agents after the 2015 season, but I think the Tigers will cross that bridge when they come to it. If they part with either Price or Porcello this winter, it will be because someone else overpaid.

Royals Review: The Tigers have parted ways with Torii Hunter. How do they plan to fill the void in right field?

Rob Rogacki: The outfield has become one of the bigger sticking points of the offseason for Tigers fans. The team is currently planning on sliding J.D. Martinez over to right field, with Rajai Davis getting the majority of reps in left field. Anthony Gose is the team’s center fielder for better or worse, as his offensive numbers are very concerning. Ideally, the Tigers will pick up another corner outfielder, forcing Davis and Gose into a platoon in center. Davis actually rates as a better center fielder than left fielder defensively, and his speed makes him an attractive option off the bench late in games, a la Jarrod Dyson.

While the outfield is a concern, the Tigers don’t need to add much to replicate their 2014 production. Torii Hunter was worth just 0.3 WAR thanks to some awful defense, and Austin Jackson contributed 1.3 WAR before he was traded. If anything, their biggest task will be replacing the 3.7 WAR J.D. Martinez had last year. If he can prove to be 80 percent of the hitter that he was in 2014, the Tigers should be fine.

Royals Review: The Tigers have a lot of money locked up into a few players (Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler… possibly Scherzer if they bring him back). Do you anticipate a financial crunch the next few years?

Rob Rogacki: I think that we are already seeing a bit of a financial crunch from the Tigers. They re-signed Victor Martinez to a big contract, but have made a number of low cost moves to shore up holes elsewhere on the roster. Anthony Gose and Shane Greene will both make close to the major league minimum in 2015, and Joel Hanrahan will only make $3 million if he hits all of his contract incentives. The Tigers also surprised everyone by waiving Andy Dirks, who was only projected to make around $2 million in 2015. No one knows the true motive for that decision, but I imagine that finances played a role. Odds are Dirks’ spot will be filled by Tyler Collins, saving them $1.5 million.

Royals Review: Any other players you see the Tigers making a run at?

Rob Rogacki: Unless they make another big trade, I think the Tigers are done adding any noteworthy players this offseason. They may try to find another reclamation project for the outfield or bullpen, but neither Melky Cabrera nor David Robertson are walking through the door. I wouldn’t mind seeing them look at a player like Mike Carp, who could provide a bit of offense off the bench if he sorts out whatever plagued him in 2014. Chris Denorfia seems like an interesting option too, but I’m wary of his offensive upside. And I’d be happy with signing just about anyone for the bullpen. Something has to go right for them eventually in that regard.

Thanks to Rob Rogacki at Bless Your Boys for talking with us. You can follow all the latest news on the Detroit Tigers at www.blessyouboys.com.