December 8th, 2009

Tigers still looking at veteran relievers

Unless the Tigers go with an experimental 10-man bullpen, they’ll have more young relievers than they’ll likely have spots in their bullpen once the agreed-upon trade of Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson becomes official. But that apparently doesn’t rule out the Tigers dealing for a veteran closer.

Quite the opposite, the Tigers would like one, and they’re expanding their search after Fernando Rodney and Brandon Lyon turned down Detroit’s arbitration offers late Monday night. They remain interested in bringing one of them back, but they’re preparing as if both of them move on.

Whether it’s Lyon, Rodney or someone else, the Tigers are hoping to have a veteran reliever.

“It doesn’t have to be now,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. “We didn’t sign Brandon Lyon [last winter] until late January, but ideally we’d like to have somebody [experienced] out there, yes.”

By adding potential future closer Daniel Schlereth from Arizona and lefty Phil Coke from the Yankees, Detroit further bolstered a group of young relievers that Dombrowski already praised for its potential depth. Ryan Perry was already expected to compete for a setup role next spring, while similar hard-throwing righties Cody Satterwhite and Robbie Weinhardt could crack the big leagues later in the season after getting more seasoning at Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo.

Add in lefty Fu-Te Ni, still-young Zach Miner and a potentially healthy Joel Zumaya, and Detroit’s bullpen has the chance to be very deep, very soon. That doesn’t, however, mean that they’re going to take over the late innings completely quite yet.

When asked about an established closer on Monday, Dombrowski suggested the Tigers could go a different route. On Tuesday, Dombrowski confirmed they were talking with more veteran arms, as well as maintaining talks on Rodney and Lyon.

“Both of them were looking for multi-year deals,” Dombrowski said. “They made that clear. We continue to have interest in them, but I’m also sure that they want to explore what’s out there, and that’s what they’re doing. We continue to talk to them and are interested in them.”

Whether the Tigers would be willing to offer a multi-year deal just became an interesting question. A trade of Granderson and Jackson will open up payroll space, giving the Tigers some much-needed flexibility to address needs. However, it also gives Detroit yet another closing option for the very near future.

The rest of the market is an interesting mix of candidates, and the Tigers are exploring. A FOXSports.com report listed Detroit among clubs interested in free agent J.J. Putz, a trade market of the Tigers last year before the Mariners traded their former closer to the Mets. Any interest would be relatively new; Detroit hadn’t so much as talked with Putz’s agent as of last week.

Detroit also was reportedly among a handful of teams with early interest in former Cubs closer Kevin Gregg.

“We did talk to a couple people, yes, once we knew that they were not accepting arbitration for sure,” Dombrowski said. “Now, we continue to have interest in [Rodney and Lyon], but we also have to start doing our homework. In case they go to other places, we have to be prepared.”

Tigers sign Diaz, could be backup over Avila

While the Tigers still aren’t commenting on their blockbuster deal, they did announce a smaller signing Tuesday that should help their depth. They agreed to terms on a Minor League contract with catcher Robinzon Diaz, who is expected to serve as either insurance at Triple-A Toledo or potentially a backup in Detroit out of Spring Training.

Essentially, the Tigers suggested, Diaz will serve as a catching option if team officials decide catching prospect Alex Avila needs more time in the Minor Leagues. To that end, he received an invitation to Major League camp.

“We like him,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. “Some of people really like him, a couple of our guys, and think he’s a guy that could possibly compete for a job as a backup catcher in Spring Training. We’re still in the mode where, I’m sure in Spring Training, we’re going to have to sit back and decide which way we want to go with our backup catcher.

“We know who our No. 1 guy is, but does [manager Jim Leyland] want to keep Alex Avila? Has he progressed enough? Will he get enough at-bats? Should we send him out to Triple-A to play? Does this guy fit the hole? But we do feel like he’s got the capabilities to do that.”

Diaz profiles as a catcher with respectable offense for a reserve role, though not the same kind of offense as Avila. The 26-year-old hit .279 in 41 games with the Pirates last season, adding seven doubles to go with a home run and 19 RBIs. He backed that up with a .262 average over 44 games at Triple-A Indianapolis with three homers and 15 RBIs.

Diaz carries a .301 average over eight Minor League seasons.

His credentials, however, will probably be secondary to the question of Avila’s readiness. The 22-year-old closed out his first full professional season by batting .279 (17-for-61) with four doubles, five home runs, 14 RBIs, 10 walks and 18 strikeouts in 29 games as a Tiger, making an immediate impression on club officials. However, Dombrowski cautioned Monday that he couldn’t be expected to hit that well over a full season, that he’ll go through the typical struggles of youth and have to make adjustments.

There’s also the question of how much more work Avila needs behind the plate. He didn’t begin catching until his junior year at the University of Alabama, a couple years before he went to the Tigers in the 2008 Draft.

Granderson, Jackson deal agreed upon … now the wait

The Tigers, Diamondbacks and Yankees have agreed in principle on their trade, sending Curtis Granderson to New York and Edwin Jackson to Arizona. For now, however, the trade is still pending final reviews. Granderson hasn’t yet heard from the Tigers, much like Andrew Miller didn’t hear from the Tigers after he was in the Miguel Cabrera trade. In fact, Granderson hasn’t heard from the Tigers for a while now, which wasn’t a good sign in itself.

I think everybody anticipated the fallout from this deal was going to be big. Judging from what I’m hearing from folks back in Detroit, it’s huge. How that follows over the coming days as the reports and the interviews unfold is going to be very interesting.

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