Celebrated Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski has a very difficult couple of months ahead of him. Not only is he faced with the annual questions about the state of his bullpen, but he could lose 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer and 2014 AL MVP candidate Victor Martinez in free agency.
The Tigers prepared for Scherzer’s departure when they made the David Price trade in July, so they can subtract their best pitcher and still have one of the AL’s best rotations with Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello and Anibal Sanchez sticking around. They’ll probably add a veteran fifth starter, too, or at least someone who can compete with internal candidates like Kyle Lobstein and Robbie Ray.
The lineup is a bigger concern. Martinez seems happy in Detroit and will be quite a bit cheaper to retain than Scherzer. There’s a good chance Dombrowski can convince him to stick around, perhaps for something like $60 million for three years. The Tigers will also have to decide whether to retain Torii Hunter in free agency. He might choose to retire. They’ll need to go out and get a center fielder after trading Austin Jackson as part of the Price deal. The shortstop situation could be resolved if Jose Iglesias makes a successful return after missing the season with shin splints. Thoughts of trading Ian Kinsler and installing Eugenio Suarez at second base should be on the backburner now after the rookie’s disappointing finish.
Of course, Dombrowski can be expected to throw some more money at the bullpen this winter. Last year, he let Joaquin Benoit and Jose Veras go, replacing them with Joe Nathan and Joba Chamberlain. He also traded for Joakim Soria in July. Nathan is due to return in 2015, but Chamberlain is a free agent. The Tigers hold a $7 million option on Soria’s contract that they might prefer to decline. Expect Dombrowski to open the wallet for a lefty this time around. Andrew Miller , who pitched 3 1/3 hitless innings in the ALDS, would be ideal, and the Tigers might well be the favorites to land him. Zach Duke, Neal Cotts and Joe Beimel would be more affordable options. Depending on how much he spends on offense, Dombrowski could also sign one of the top righties available from the group of David Robertson, Koji Uehara, Francisco Rodriguez and Sergio Romo.
With the Royals expected to lose James Shields and no one else spending big in the AL Central, the Tigers will likely enter next year as division favorites once again. After all, they have one of the best GMs around and almost twice the budget of their competition. It just won’t be as clear cut as it has been in recent seasons, at least not unless Dombrowski has something truly special in store.