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November 5, 2012 at 6:45 pm ET
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Detroit Tigers Offseason, Part One

Now that we are firmly planted in November, it’s time to take a look into my crystal ball and figure out what the Tigers need this offseason needs. Today, I’m going to look at position players. It’s an area that probably won’t see much turnover, with Victor Martinez’s return from the torn ACL that kept him out last season being the most notable addition.

Before moving ahead, it’s also worth discussing the team’s payroll situation. Last year the total salary outlay came to about $135 million. As of right now, the Tigers have a little less than $100 million in commitments, and that’s before they work out deals with their arbitration-eligible players, who represent one of the largest groups in all of baseball, including Max Sherzer, Doug Fister, Austin Jackson, and Alex Avila.

According to the MLB Trade Rumors projections (scroll about halfway down the page to find the Tigers’ numbers), that arbitration class should end up costing about $25 million. So, assuming the payroll for 2013 is going to be in the neighborhood of the 2012 number, that should leave general manager Dave Dombrowski with about $10 million to play with. Although, considering owner Mike Illitch’s strong desire to win a World Series in the next couple of years, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a little extra leeway built in.

Now, onto the roster…

There are five position players who are as close to being locks in the starting lineup next year as a major league player can get: Austin Jackson in center field, Miguel Cabrera at third base, Prince Fielder at first base, Alex Avila at catcher, and Victor Martinez at designated hitter. Not only are they sure things, but they should form the core of what will almost definitely be a better offense than the one Detroit fans witnessed in 2012.

Now we come to guys who are very likely to be in the lineup, but could end up being replaced if the right deal comes along.

Andy Dirks has earned a shot in left field, with Avisail Garcia as his platoon partner/outfield depth (this is an area of organizational strength, with Quintin Berry, Brennan Boesch, minor leaguer Ben Guez, and super prospect Nick Castellanos providing backup). Omar Infante and Jhonny Peralta are both reasonably priced middle infielders who would be hard to find major upgrades over. They could get replaced and/or traded, but I find it highly unlikely.

Opening/Free Agents
That leaves just one open everyday position – corner outfielder. Dirks, Garcia, et al, should be enough to feel safe at one corner position, while also providing plenty options for the fourth outfield spot. But for a team that is currently the odds-on Vegas favorite to win the 2013 World Series, you’re going to need a solid veteran to plug in to the other starting spot. In my opinion, that veteran should be someone who provides solid-to-excellent defense, can get on base (probably slotting into the number two spot in the order), and has a short-term contract, since there are several young options already in the Tigers system.

There has been some speculation that the much-maligned Melky Cabrera could be had at a relatively low price coming off his drug suspension. He can play either corner spot, provides another switch-hitter, and can probably be signed on a one or two year contract. He’s intriguing. I’m just not sure I want to take a chance on a guy coming off a suspension who already has a reputation for being a bit of a locker room pariah.

Luckily for the Tigers, the market for free agent outfielders is pretty flush this year. Cody Ross, Johnny Gomes, Scott Hairston, Torii Hunter, Ryan Ludwick, Ichiro Suzuki, and Shane Victorino should all be reasonably-priced, leaving the Tigers with enough money to fill any other needs. Of that group, I like Victorino the best, with Hunter (who might be too expensive), Ichiro, Ross, and Hairston coming in behind him. The nice thing is that there are a plethora of options, which should make it possible to sign someone to a solid, short-term contract, while not having to trade away any assets.

It’s an incredibly strong looking roster that only needs a minor tweak or two. Finding the right corner outfielder to fit in with what is already there should be the major, and likely only, offseason priority position-wise.

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